CHARLIE MITCHELL: Democrats face party’s dysfunction

By Charlie Mitchell

OXFORD – The Mississippi Democratic Party has likely never enjoyed two prospective nominees for governor with more experience or class. In contrast, the party structure in the state continues to be in disarray.
In Mississippi struggle among Democrats is largely divided into racially identifiable camps.
Most white Democrats are progressives (as opposed to liberals). They believe the highest duty of government is to be of service to the people. They range from the very wealthy to a smattering of blue collar, pro-labor workers. They see themselves as for the little guy while Republicans are only interested in big business.
For years, they’ve been in a not-so-public smack-down with a consortium of black Democrats, many of whom are stuck in a 1970s mentality. They are power politicians and government hangers-on.
This is overbroad, of course. There are pragmatists in the ranks of black Democrats. One of them is Johnny DuPree, the successful mayor of a growing and vibrant Hattiesburg who is now running for governor. DuPree, 58, has lived his life centered on the family values Republicans are always talking about.
Work, church and family were his only priorities until he added another, public service, in 1987 when he was appointed to the Hattiesburg Public School Board. Rewarded by that experience, DuPree ran for and was elected to the Forrest County Board of Supervisors 20 years ago and has been elected the Hub City’s mayor three times.
When he talks, as he did at the Overby Center for Southern Politics and Journalism last week, it’s clear that Dupree, though not as polished or gifted as some speakers, is the kind of leader who seeks the cause of a problem and develops a consensus approach to seeking a solution.
And the same is true of Bill Luckett, who faces DuPree on Aug. 2 primary ballots. Unlike DuPree, Luckett, a white attorney from Clarksdale, has never sought elective office. His quest is to translate the sense of community that has developed around his Delta home to all of Mississippi.
The “miracle of Clarksdale” is widely known, but perhaps not widely enough. For years, Luckett spent his weekends on his hobby, restoring homes. That progressed to commercial buildings. Others, including Luckett’s client and friend actor Morgan Freeman, joined the effort. They opened Ground Zero, which has become a global showcase for live blues music, and Madidi, a fine dining restaurant. Today those businesses have been joined by at least a dozen more. And something unimaginable has occurred: It’s hard to find a parking place in Downtown Clarksdale.
The get government off our backs crowd will depict DuPree or Luckett as an Obama clone.
So any Democratic nominee in this state would have a big hill to climb. But with party disunity and with state Republicans riding high on the tenure of Haley Barbour and a more effective organization, it’s likely a hill too far.
In a way, that’s a shame. DuPree and Luckett are good guys.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or e-mail cmitchell43@yahoo.com.