SID SALTER: Bounds' partisan shift reshapes dynamics of the Mississippi House

By Sid Salter

State Rep. Scott Bounds’ decision to switch from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in advance of the 2011 statewide elections is one that demonstrates the extent to which congressional-style partisanship is now dictating policy at the state Capitol.
Bounds, 48, is a two-term state representative from Neshoba County. He holds a House seat that his father – a Democrat – held before him.
Bounds was first elected in 2003 as a Democrat and re-elected in 2007 as a Democrat. But Bounds’ district, comprised of about three-quarters of Neshoba County, has been steadily drifting toward status as a Republican stronghold in statewide elections.
In 2007, Republicans carried 7 of 9 statewide elected offices with only Attorney General Jim Hood taking a close win over GOP challenger Al Hopkins – and the closest margin in the eight statewide races was in Hood’s win.
Neshoba voters gave Democrat Lynn Posey the nod for Public Service Commissioner but gave their Transportation Commission vote to Republican Dick Hall.
Republican state Sen. Giles Ward of Louisville took Neshoba’s District 18 state Senate seat vote over former state Democratic Party Chairman Gloria Williamson of Philadelphia with 54.6 percent of the vote on the way to a 52.4 percent overall win.
Bounds was elected with 53 percent of the vote in 2003 over Republican opponent Kirk Morgan after defeating Democratic incumbent Rep. Mike Eakes – the man who had unseated his father – in a bruising three-man Democratic primary.
In his 2007 re-election bid, Bounds defeated then-Republican opponent Danny Petty (the third man in the 2003 Democratic primary contest with Bounds and Eakes – with 82 percent of the vote in taking 5,060 votes.
In that same 2007 general election, current Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Jamie Franks – who blasted Bounds on Monday after his party switch as a “Democrat in name only” – won 2,170 votes from Neshoba voters in his general election showdown with current Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant.
In his remarks reacting to Bounds’ decision to switch parties, Franks said: “What Scott Bounds did today was not switch parties, he just finally started telling the truth about what party he supports. He’ll have to answer to voters in Neshoba County about lying to them for so long.”
Given the fact that Bounds was more than twice as popular with Neshoba County voters than was Franks the last time they faced the electorate on the same ballot takes a little of the wind out of Franks’ sails.
Bounds’ switch to the GOP isn’t a game-changer for the Republicans. Bounds, as Franks noted, has voted with the GOP about 92 percent of the time. With Bounds’ switch, the Dems still hold a 72-50 majority in the House by official party affiliation.
But from a philosophical voting standpoint, the margin is closer to a 66-56 Democratic majority loyal to Speaker Billy McCoy. What Bounds’ switch does is continue the slow march toward parity for Republicans in the House – something thought impossible back when the late Kirk Fordice became the first Republican elected governor since Reconstruction back in 1991.
From a broad view, the latest switch shows that the partisan genie in the Legislature is unlikely to be put back into the bottle and that new coalitions are now the key to success.
Contact syndicated columnist Sid Salter, Perspective editor for the Clarion-Ledger, at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com.