By Ed Holliday and James Hull
POINT – by Ed Holliday
James, I congratulate Mayor Dupree as Mississippi’s first African-American Democratic nominee for governor. Diversity on the ballot is good for Mississippi. It also reminds me of two other constants that have not changed in generations.
I was born in Mississippi and have lived here all my life just like my parents and also their parents. My fraternal grandfather was born in 1880. My maternal grandfather was born in 1875. Two things have been constant since his birth. Mississippi’s House of Representatives has always had a speaker from the Democratic Party and Mississippi has been at the bottom in per capita income.
Those two constants were birthed in the tragedy of the Democrat Party’s “Mississippi Plan of 1875.” Every Mississippian should understand the horror of what happened in Mississippi politics in 1875. One thing for sure, it produced a Democratic speaker of the House for every legislature since 1875. After 136 years of one party rule the swamp waters are stagnant.
One thing I learned from diversity during the integration of our schools was a cheer for basketball games. African-American students introduced a cheer that the entire student body enjoyed chanting during basketball games. One group would start out, “Maybe you can do better,” then the next group would shout, “Get up off that bench, Now!” and the chant would continue hoping the coach would send in another player. (It seems I heard that cheer louder from the stands when I was in the game, but that’s another story.)
Northeast Mississippi will help determine who will be our next House speaker. In a handful of races where Republicans have a shot at winning for the first time since 1875, their races will determine if Mississippi has a conservative or a liberal speaker. Knowing diversity and change can bring a fresh approach, I think it is time after 136 years of dominance by one political party in the House of Representatives for change. What’s the worst that they could do? Take us to the bottom in per capita income? Oh, pardon me, we have been there for 136 years now.
COUNTER-POINT – by James Hull
This is a classic mis-direct: blurring the lines of distinction among political affiliation, political ideology and the advancement of diversity.
So, how does one associate a Democrat-in-name-only, like 50-year House Speaker Walter Sillers, who was a staunch segregationist, supporting Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats in 1948, with diversity?
The is the same Mississippi Sovereignty Commission Sillers who favored closing Mississippi’s public schools rather than integrate them. And, who, not coincidentally, was challenged only once for the office of Speaker. By whom? A young Progressive ideologue from Grenada named William Winter. Both were Democrats, only one supported diversity.
Speaker Sillers continuously subverted diversity in government by circumventing state legislative reapportionment.
Sillers – elected a Democrat – governed as a Dixiecrat. Today’s Republicans revere yesterday’s Dixiecrats. (Insert Trent Lott here.)
And then there was Sillers’ disciple, Buddie Newman, right-hand man to Gov. Ross Barnett and devotee of Barry Goldwater (both erstwhile paragons and champions of diversity and civil rights….not). Speaker Newman did all he could to defeat African-American and female candidates for the House, and block James Meredith’s enrollment into Ole Miss.
Fittingly, Newman was the last line of defense against implementing kindergartens in public schools
Sillers and Newman were Republicans in nature, and Democrats in name only.
Tim Ford and Billy McCoy were turning points, with Ford appointing African-Americans to major committees (including Judiciary) and McCoy appointing Percy Watson, the first black chairman of Ways and Means.
In the last 135 years of Democratic speakers, blacks and women have only fared nominally well since Ford’s assession in 1988. His Republican-minded predecessors led the charges against diversity and inclusiveness.
Diversity in state government can only be measured by gains among those who have been historically and systematically excluded from the processes of government, not simply by which party holds the speaker’s chair.
Diversity measured by party affiliation can be deceptive. To wit: if the party affiliation of the next speaker changes, and the repressive, backwards, exclusionary philosophies of Sillers and Newman are resurrected, diversity will take a major – perhaps lethal – blow in Mississippi government.
Dr. Ed Holliday is a Tupelo dentist who has written two successful books. Contact him at email@example.com. James Hull is an award-wining journalist and a political consultant. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.