BOBBY HARRISON:Musgrove's baggage aside, he had his accomplishments

JACKSON – Democrat Ronnie Musgrove has lost his last two statewide elections while garnering more votes each time than he did in the previous effort.

He might be the only Mississippi politician in history to lose an election while getting more than half a million votes.

In that last effort, the Democrat and former governor lost the special Senate election to replace Trent Lott to Republican Roger Wicker of Tupelo, a former member of the U.S. House.

Musgrove did not answer a question Wednesday about whether he planned to run for office again. The question came a day after his stinging loss, and he was probably wise not to answer at that time.

Still, it would be hard to imagine Musgrove waging another campaign after losing his previous two efforts – his 2003 gubernatorial re-election campaign to Haley Barbour before the Wicker setback. Musgrove faces a lot of obstacles when he runs.

First of all, it is difficult for a Democrat to win statewide in Mississippi. Plus, David Ronald Musgrove carries a lot of baggage into any campaign – some of his own making, some not.

It is accurate to say that a certain segment of the electorate still blames Musgrove for getting a divorce while serving in the Governor's Mansion. Never mind that the same electorate went to the polls last week in record numbers to vote for a candidate – John McCain – who let's just say had serious martial issues of his own when he was a younger man.

Politics and hypocrisy often go hand-in-hand.

And Musgrove has other personal issues. He at times could be accused of not playing well with others – a trait that often has left him on a political island to himself.

But the heaviest baggage Musgrove carries is the perception Barbour created during the 2003 gubernatorial campaign. Barbour spent about three times more money than was spent in any previous campaign to characterize Musgrove's tenure as governor as a complete failure. Wicker continued that narrative about Musgrove during the recently completed senatorial election.

Now that the election is over – and perhaps Musgrove's political future – perhaps it is fair to examine that record without the aid of partisan lens and without the intense glare of a heated campaign.

True, Musgove did preside over difficult economic times in Mississippi. But truth be known the economy was bad nationwide.

A lot of low-wage factory jobs left Mississippi during Musgrove's term. But they left every state. It just so happened Mississippi had more of those jobs than practically any state in the nation so it lost more.

On the flip side, Musgrove, along with some key legislative help, push through an economic development package that he used to recruit Nissan to central Mississippi. And though Barbour and a lot of Northeast Mississippi officials deserve the lion's share of the credit, that economic development package helped set in motion the mechanics needed to recruit Toyota to Blue Springs.

Where Musgrove excelled is in the area of education. No lesser expert than former Gov. William Winter has said the Adequate Education Program is the most significant piece of education legislation in the state's history.

A lot of politicians played major roles in the passage of the legislation, but Adequate Education would not have passed without the leadership of Musgrove as lieutenant governor.

The historic and record setting multi-year teacher pay raise that every politician in the state has campaigned on, including Barbour, also would not have passed without Musgrove's persistence as governor.

True, the Legislature and Musgrove used a large sum of one-time money to fund the budget. But that is a practice that continues to this day, though it was eased thanks in part to the boost in revenue caused by the rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.

In short, despite a national recession, Musgrove charged ahead with his plans to increase funding for kindergarten through 12th grade and to expand health care for the children of the working poor.

Health care and education put a tremendous strain on the budget. He neglected other areas – namely higher education. Perhaps that was his biggest mistake.

History will recognize Musgrove's accomplishments as governor. Perhaps if he had focused more on those accomplishments and less on his opponent in the past two elections he could have garnered more votes.

I say that not to say Wicker should not have been elected or that Musgrove got a bum deal. Politics is a tough sport and Musgrove uses his elbows just as good as he gets.

The voters have spoken, and for that Wicker should be humbled and thankful. He should continue to write his history as one of Mississippi's key political leaders. And Musgrove should be grateful for the opportunity he was given.

It was an opportunity few get.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal's Capitol Bureau correspondent in Jackson. Contact him at (601)-353-3119 or

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