Hewes got after Reeves. Reeves got after Hewes. It wasn’t a pleasant, blow-dried exchange. Hewes touted his wealth of legislative experience and maturity. Reeves ran unapologetically as a legislative outsider and touted his skills and status as a “fiscal conservative.”
Reeves recounted a particularly contentious exchange he’d had with outgoing House Speaker Billy McCoy in a legislative hearing and his legal challenges (along with Gov. Haley Barbour) of former attorney general Mike Moore and the partnership for a Healthy Mississippi as evidence that a legislative outsider was best equipped to lead the Senate. Hewes recounted his years serving in the Senate in the minority and the majority and said that a lieutenant governor would be “ineffective” without a relationship with legislative colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
Hewes accused Reeves of not telling “the whole story” about his record as treasurer. Reeves accused Hewes of being “too busy attacking me and my record” while neglecting to lay out his own vision.
Punch. Counterpunch. Lunge. Parry.
The exchange brought to mind the late Ronald Reagan’s vaunted “11th Commandment” in Republican politics, a nugget from his 1966 California gubernatorial primary: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
While Reagan is credited with the phrase, it was actually coined by the California GOP chairman Gaylord Parkinson in an effort to avoid seeing a repeat of the 1964 presidential campaign in which moderate Republican criticism of conservative GOP nominee Barry Goldwater knocked his campaign out of the water. Parkinson was trying to avoid having the same thing happen two years later in California to the GOP gubernatorial slate. The strategy worked and Reagan defeated Democrat Pat Brown – and the rest is history.
For Mississippi Republicans, the “11th Commandment” by and large held sway – with a few exceptions – until the bruising 2007 Republican primary for lieutenant governor between Phil Bryant and Charlie Ross. In that campaign, both sides went at it hammer and tong in the 10 counties that essentially control victory or defeat in a Republican primary – Rankin, DeSoto,Jackson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Madison, Jones, Harrison, Pearl River and Lee.
For the GOP, the fact that their primaries have become bare-knuckle affairs is the healthiest of signs for the party. Voters of my generation will recall the days when the monolithic Democratic Party held sway and the primaries were political killing fields.
Personal attacks weren’t merely accepted, they were encouraged.
Watching two Republican candidates pound on each other in a primary says that Republicans today in Mississippi – as did Democrats in the state in my youth – see their primaries for statewide office as essentially the whole political enchilada. That’s the stance of a mature party.
In my lifetime, Mississippi politics seems to have turned 180 degrees from a time when Republicans had real trouble fielding candidates at the state or local levels, raising funds, generating popular support and standing toe-to-toe with their Democratic adversaries to one in which the Dems now play that role completely.
Over the next month, look for the Hewes-Reeves race to intensify, as did Bryant-Ross down the stretch. And forget about the 11th Commandment.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 662-325-2506 or email@example.com.