By Charlie Mitchell
OXFORD – Poor Johnny, we hardly knew ye. Eleven years ago, a Democrat from neighboring Tennessee was running for president. Mississippi had a Democrat, Ronnie Musgrove, in the Governor’s Mansion.
Would Musgrove embrace Al Gore, try to move Mississippi into the “blue” column as Bill Clinton’s vice president sought to ascend?
There was a disconnect between national Democrats and Mississippi Democrats back then and it has widened since.
This year the Mississippi Democrat who has been seeking traction has been Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree.
His campaign to follow Haley Barbour as governor has been lackluster and hamstrung.
And who showed up from the national party ranks for a handshake? Debbie Wasserman Schultz. If Al Gore’s name was like a fingernail on a chalkboard to most Mississippians in 1990 – and it was – then Rep. Schultz’s name is like 10 fingernails on 10 chalkboards. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who hails from Florida, stands proudly for activism on reproductive freedom, gay rights, gun control and a bevy of other topics.
Looking at his record, Dupree fits well into the fold of a traditional Mississippi Democrat. In other words, he is a pragmatist, a fiscal and on most fronts a social conservative.
A pattern of his tenure as Hattiesburg mayor has been to put people with competing views or opposing ideas in a room, telling them to come out when they have a solution. That’s consensus governance. It doesn’t always work, but the options are power politics or doing nothing.
Dupree has not had money to canvass the state or inform people of his record. Overall, according to reports filed Oct. 10, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant has spent nearly $4.2 million to Dupree’s $611,000.
If, as considered likely, Bryant wins on Nov. 8, the national media will point to race as the difference-maker. This is Mississippi and the fact that Dupree is African-American is superficial and obvious, which is as deep as the national press cares to dig. They’ll bypass the fact that Dupree has won three elections in a white majority city.
But there is more to tell.
In approximately one generation, Mississippi has gone from a state that would elect a William Winter, a John Stennis, a G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery and, more recently, a Gene Taylor or Travis Childers, to become a state that is solidly “red.”
In a way, the shift is not surprising because polls consistently show that a majority of citizens – black and white – are conservative.
But viewed another way, the shift is inconsistent. Republicans, nationally and in the state, are the party of big business and corporations that work to keep wages low, limit the rights of homeowners and tenants and reduce the aid of all types on which Mississippi individuals and the state economy depend.
The point here is not to endorse Dupree or criticize Bryant. Mississippi is a state of God-fearing people who respect life and each other and appreciate the right to keep a .12-gauge in the rack.
It’s just that an electorate benefits when there’s a competitive campaign, a spirited exchange of views and ideas. It’s when we all throw in with one side or the other – become too predictable – that democracy cannot work as it should. We ought to keep both parties on their toes. If we don’t, they’ll take us for granted.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.