Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:00 AM
Typically this past year in Mississippi's election cycle would be focused on municipal elections across the state, and the primaries and general elections for mayor and aldermen/councilmen were certainly heated. But the Mississippi legislature faced an unusual number of special elections this year with 7 new House members and 2 new Senate members chosen. This followed special elections for a senate and house seat in November of 2012.
Special elections have produced 15 percent new members of the state legislature since the 2011 regular election cycle. While the special elections were nonpartisan, ultimately no seats changed partisan hands; Democrats replaced Democrats and Republicans replaced Republicans.
Two candidates replaced their deceased fathers in the legislature. One new member became the youngest member of the House of Representatives; until a subsequent special election produced an even younger member.
In January, Brent Powell (R-Brandon) won in House 59 over three opponents that went into a run-off to fill the seat of Representative Kevin McGee who resigned following ethics violations involving state contracts with his family business. Powell's father, Billy Powell, is a former Mississippi Republican Party Chairman. Angela Turner (D-Columbus) defeated one challenger to win the Senate 16 seat vacated by her father Senator Bennie Turner who passed away in November 2012 after serving the Senate for two decades.
In February, Sollie Norwood (D-Jackson) overcame eight opponents and a run-off against former City Councilman Marshand Crisler to fill the seat of Senator Alice Harden (Senate 28) who passed away in December. Norwood, a former Jackson Public Schools Board Member, squeaked into the run-off ahead of Harden's niece Tamarra Grace Butler but consolidated support to defeat Crisler.
March featured two House special elections that were decided in April run-offs. Karl Gibbs (D-West Point) won the seat of his late father Representative David Gibbs (House 36) over five opponents; and Lataisha Jackson (D-Como) won House 11 to fill the seat vacated by the death of Representative Joe Gardner. Jackson, who was supported by Congressman Bennie Thompson in her campaign, at age 29 became the youngest member of the Mississippi House of Representatives, a distinction she would hold only until December. She defeated three other candidates including another 29-year-old in the run-off.
In May, Patricia Willis (R-Diamondhead) won the House 95 seat vacated by the suicide of Representative Jessica Upshaw. Willis and her family self-funded the campaign and she defeated three opponents without a run-off.
Following the municipal elections, three more seats opened up necessitating special elections. Representative Kelvin Buck (House 5) won the mayor's race in Holly Spring; Representative George Flaggs (House 55) won to become the new mayor of Vicksburg; and Representative Billy Broomfield (House 110) became the mayor of his hometown of Moss Point. Each resigned their seats creating vacancies.
John Gary Faulkner (D-Holly Springs) defeated six opponents including a run-off against the former Holly Springs mayor defeated by Buck. Faulkner was Buck's mayoral campaign manager.
Oscar Denton (D-Vicksburg), who worked for AT&T for 39 years, faced four challengers in his win to fill the seat vacated by Flaggs. Denton won with 55 percent avoiding a run-off.
Jeramey Anderson (D-Moss Point), a 21-year-old Tulane University student, led the field of five candidates and then defeated former Moss Point mayor Aneice Liddell in a run-off to take Broomfield's seat. The campaign pitted a political new comer against the Democratic establishment. Anderson outraised Liddell but Liddell outspent Anderson and she also had the help of the Jackson County Supervisor Melton Harris (who has served as Jackson County Democratic Chairman and also Vice-Chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party) and former Mississippi CFO under Governor Ronnie Musgrove, Gary Anderson. Democrat pollster and strategist Brad Chism consulted for Liddell. Anderson received support from the Mississippi Association of Educators as well as former New England Patriots Super Bowl champion Terrell Buckley. Anderson is to be sworn-in on his 22nd birthday, the youngest member elected since Representative Dirk Dedeaux (D, House 93) won in 1995 at age 23.
Half of the legislators in Mississippi have served less than two terms in their respective houses. More than 60 percent of Senators have served less than two terms in the Senate while only 20 percent have more than fifteen years of service. In the House, 49 percent of Representatives have served less than two terms, and 30 percent have served more than fifteen years. Three senators and 11 members of the House - or 8 percent of the legislature - have 29 or more years in their current chamber.
Next year will be a major political year in Mississippi with a U.S. Senate campaign, possibly a competitive campaign for a one or more congressional seats, as well as a number of judicial elections. But we could very well see more special elections in the legislature, changing the makeup even more before the 2015 regular legislative elections.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at email@example.com or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.