Coleman’s court win tracks conservative voters

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

Conservative voters’ domination in north Mississippi spelled victory Tuesday for Josiah Coleman’s quest to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
With 632 of 638 precincts reporting, the Oxford attorney garnered 58 percent of the vote, crushing opponent Richard “Flip” Phillips of Batesville.
Unofficial results show Coleman with 206,644 votes compared to Phillips’ 146,860.
The 353,504 total for both is about 24,000 votes short of 2008 contests to fill two of the region’s three seats on the nine-justice court, the state’s highest.
Longtime political observer Curtis Wilkie at the University of Mississippi says that despite the judicial race’s non-party labels, everyone knew from his backing that 40-year-old Coleman was the conservative choice.
“It’s conservative and it’s Republican,” Wilkie said Wednesday, noting Coleman “was identifiably the Republican in the race, despite the alleged nonpartisan nature of Supreme Court elections.”
The Mississippi Republican Party had endorsed Coleman.
While Phillips’ 40-year career trumped Coleman’s 13 years of legal experience, Wilkie said Phillips was portrayed “as a nefarious, rapacious trial lawyer” and that was “tarred” by independent spending advertisements by in-state pro-business, pro-doctors political action committees and at least one conservative out-of-state group.
“That ‘independent’ campaign no doubt helped Coleman,” said Wilkie.
Coleman will succeed Justice George Carlson of Batesville, first appointed to the court by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. Carlson retires at the end of the year.
Wednesday morning, Phillips, 65, wasn’t interested in talking about what went wrong with his campaign.
“It’s yesterday’s news,” he said via email. “I’ll leave that to the politicians and philosophers. Lots I can still do from THIS side of the bench.”
A look at Tuesday’s totals shows Coleman got strong support across 26 of the 33-county district. Both candidates got their highest county totals in population-rich DeSoto County where some 90,000 voters are registered.
By and large, Coleman’s county majorities tracked GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s wins in the presidential election.
Coleman also got other large returns in Lee, Lafayette and Lowndes counties, while dominating 2,853 to 635 in his Choctaw County native home.
Phillips carried only seven counties, including his home base Panola County by more than 2-1.
Coleman, who just celebrated his 40th birthday, is one of the youngest justices to join the Supreme Court since then- Itawamba legislator Michael P. Mills was appointed at age 39 by Gov. Kirk Fordice.
Mills is now chief judge of the U.S. District Court of Northern Mississippi.
Wilkie, a proponent of appointing judges rather than electing them, said it remains to be seen how or if Coleman’s decisions on the court are affected by the desires of his financial supporters.
“Those seats have been bought for years,” he said, noting until passage of legal reform in Mississippi, the court’s makeup was dominated by so-called trial lawyers.
patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com