BOBBY HARRISON: Mississippi politics for 2011 begins shaping and emerging

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The two wild cards in the 2011 statewide elections are Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and state Supreme Court Chief Justice William Waller Jr.
Their decisions will have a tremendous impact on the 2011 state elections.
The conventional wisdom is that Hosemann, a first-term secretary of state, will seek re-election, and, if he does, most believe he will cruise to victory. And that same conventional wisdom has Waller remaining in the lofty position of chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court – a position he assumed by virtue of being the longest-serving member of the high court with the defeat of then-incumbent Chief Justice Jim Smith in November 2008.
That is conventional wisdom, but there have been persistent rumors that both Waller and Hosemann might be eyeing bids for the top of the ticket for governor.
It is all but certain that Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Gulf Coast businessman Dave Dennis will vie for governor on the Republican side. There might be other candidates, but both Bryant and Dennis will be well-funded and will run aggressive campaigns. While Bryant will be the favorite, it would not be unthinkable for Dennis to pull the upset – just as Vicksburg businessman Kirk Fordice did against then-Auditor Pete Johnson in the 1991 Republican primary for governor.
At one point, it was speculated that Treasurer Tate Reeves also would jump in the Republican primary for governor. He has at times aired some verbal shots that appeared to be targeted toward Bryant. But it now seems likely that both Reeves and Auditor Stacey Pickering, as well as Senate President Pro Tem Billy Hewes of Gulfport, will run for the lieutenant governor’s post that Bryant will vacate.
If all three run, the race for lieutenant governor will be one of the most compelling statewide contests in recent history. Regardless of the outcome, some major political players in Mississippi would be losing and returning home to pursue life in the private sector.
On the Democratic side, Clarksdale attorney/businessman Bill Luckett is running for governor. There are others rumored to be running, such as Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree and Greenville Mayor Heather McTeer Hudson.
If Waller does run for governor, it is generally believed it will be as a Democrat – like his father who served as governor in the 1970s. Waller’s races for the judiciary have been non-partisan, though he did run as a Democrat in a local election years ago.
Waller, no doubt, would be a credible candidate – probably a favorite in the Democratic primary since Attorney General Jim Hood has opted to run for re-election.
The reason most doubt the chief justice will run is because of the risk involved in seeking the governor’s office. He would be giving up the post as head of the state’s judiciary.
While Waller is not up for re-election until 2013, as soon as he announces his plans to seek another office, judicial rules would require him to step down from the bench. He in essence would be giving up one of the best public sector jobs in the state in terms of influence, prestige and compensation.
But all risks are relative.
The value of a former chief justice in the private sector would be considerable.
Perhaps, it would not be that farfetched for William Waller Jr. to give an all-out-effort to follow in the footsteps of his father and be elected governor.
And if he failed and lost his job as the leader of the state’s judiciary, life still wouldn’t be that bad. He could go to work in the private sector – if he chose to – with a compensation package that would far outdistance his salary as chief justice.
Now bear in mind I’m not saying he wouldn’t run with all his might for governor. I’m just saying once a person is chief justice of the Supreme Court that will always be part of his or her resume whether in the public or private sector.
By the way, here’s one more rumor that doesn’t seem that farfetched – outgoing Farm Bureau President David Waide running for either governor or lieutenant governor.
Bobby Harrison is Capitol Bureau chief in Jackson for the Daily Journal. Contact him at bobby.harrison@djournal.com or (601) 353-3119.