JACKSON Last November’s big-bucks smear mail-out campaign by the Mississippi Republican Party in an attempt to defeat a dozen Democratic legislators is coming back to haunt the GOP.
In all but two instances, the mail-out blitz, done over the imprimatur of the Mississippi Republican Party, failed to unseat Democratic lawmakers.
The mail-outs, sent to constituents in each of the targeted lawmaker’s districts in the dying days of the campaign had alleged how they had voted on several voter-sensitive issues. However, the mail pieces contained some glaring errors and absolute falsehoods.
Now the episode, considered a new low in political dirty tricks in Mississippi, has landed the state GOP in court and could extend all the way to the Republican National Committee.
One lawsuit has already been filed against the state GOP by an aggrieved lawmaker and there appears to be more coming.
Thus far, in the disclosure process of the pending lawsuit, the Mississippi party has contended that the smear mail-out operation was the brainchild of, and financed by, the Republican National Committee, which incidentally, is headed by Mississippian Haley Barbour.
In documents on file in the Secretary of State’s office, it is evident that the Republican National Comittee last fall poured at least $205,000 into what is called the “Mississippi Legislative Trust” for the mail-out operation. The state party in disclosures has conceded that the research of the alleged voting records of targeted lawmakers was done by staffers sent in and paid by the RNC.
Former state Rep. Morris Lee Scott (D-Hernando), who was narrowly defeated for reelection after being targeted in a mail-out, has led off by filing a libel suit against the state GOP in DeSoto County Circuit Court. Scott is represented by his son, Paul, a Hernando attorney.
Scott has said he has “no doubt” that the mail-out wrongly saying he had voted for the 1993 one-cent sales tax hike is what cost him the election. Not only had Scott voted against the bill initially, he also voted to sustain Gov. Kirk Fordice’s veto, which was overridden.
Because the flier was mailed to his constituents in the final days of the campaign, Scott had no chance to refute it. In bold print, the mail-out made it appear Scott had raised his legislative pay $8,640, or 50 percent, while hiking the taxes of “working families.”
Scott had voted for one bill to increase legislators’ base pay and expense allowance, but it never became law after a gubernatorial veto. The flier, he contends, was wrong on the amount of raise lawmakers would have gotten, and the implication that they got it.
So far, the state GOP’s legal defense to Scott’s lawsuit, while admitting some of his charges, is contending that he was a public figure and that the party is protected by the First Amendment from any damages.
At least four other Democratic lawmakers hit by the GOP mail-out last November, are closely following Scott’s lawsuit, and are considering a class action suit.
Former Rep. Ayres Haxton of Natchez, one of the two Democrats narrowly unseated in the GOP mail-out blitz, has consulted an attorney about legal action, including the possibility of charging criminal violations of state and federal mail fraud statutes.
State Sen. John White (D-Baldwyn) said he is contemplating filing a lawsuit and is represented by his son, a Jackson attorney.
White said he was particularly disturbed by the GOP’s claim that he had voted for a legislative pay raise, which he had not. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” declared White, who was re-elected to a fourth term with 64 percent of the vote.
Rep. Pat Miller (D-Walls) has a little different sort of brief with what her Republican opponent said about her voting record in a political advertisement. The ad, placed by her GOP opponent in a local weekly the last week of the campaign, she says, “was wrong on four of five votes” it accused her of making.
Miller, who has also retained an attorney, won re-election despite having once withdrawn because of her mother’s grave illness in Chicago. However, she lost DeSoto County where the ad appeared.
Rep. Norma Bourdeaux (D-Meridian) was given perhaps the worst smear mail-out treatment at a time her husband, distinguished attorney Tom Bourdeaux, died suddenly. Bourdeaux, who says “I would like to (file a lawsuit),” is not doing so because she is too preoccupied with settling her late husband’s estate.
Bill Minor is a syndicated columnist who has covered Mississippi politics since 1947.