PERRY/Taylor never ceases to amaze
Wednesday, March 5, 2014 12:00 AM
When former Congressman Gene Taylor spoke to the Biloxi Sun Herald in October about the possibility of running for his old seat - Mississippi's Fourth Congressional District - I thought he was just thinking out loud. He said running as an independent would be ideal, but he wouldn't be able to accomplish what his district needed. He said in the foreseeable future it would be impossible to win that district as a Democrat. And the potential of switching parties to run in the GOP primary? He said, "I was never a very good Democrat. So I could be just as bad a Republican."
A "bad" Republican is not a good primary slogan.
Gene Taylor never ceases to amaze me.
Don't get me wrong, he is an affable guy and folks on the Mississippi Gulf Coast love him.
When Democrats were lining up to defend then President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinski scandal, Taylor said he thought Clinton should resign. When Democratic Governor Ronnie Musgrove wanted to change the state flag to remove the Confederate era emblem, Taylor said he thought it was fine just as it was. When President Barack Obama won his first term election in 2008, Taylor said he voted for Republican John McCain.
While in Washington, DC, for a while he lived in his office and used the House of Representative's gym for his showers. For a time his residence was a house boat on the Potomac.
Three months after Hurricane Katrina - as a symbolic protest not as living quarters - he pitched a tent on the Capitol lawn to remind legislators the some people on the Coast would be living in tents during Christmas and FEMA needed to "get off their duffs and help these people." Taylor was among the thousands who lost his home to that storm. During the hours and days following the hurricane, Congressman Taylor - a former search and rescue skipper in the Coast Guard Reserve - was out on ships with the Coast Guard looking for survivors.
He once went undercover to Vieques, Puerto Rico for a four-day fact finding trip. The Associated Press reported, "Taylor grew a beard, stayed in a ratty hotel and rented an old broken down car to investigate the controversy over U.S. Navy bombing exercises."
Taylor lost his first run for Congress in 1988 against Republican Larkin Smith, Sheriff of Harrison County. But when Smith died in a plane crash ten months later, Taylor won the special election over Trent Lott aide Tommy Anderson and Attorney General Mike Moore. As a freshman he won reelection in 1990 with 81 percent of the vote and in five of his subsequent elections he posted 75 percent or higher. Only Republican Dennis Dollar in 1996 held Taylor under 60 percent and even then he mustered a safe 58 percent of the vote. Taylor was a "Blue Dog" - a caucus of budget hawk Democrats in the House - who seemed unbeatable in one of the most Republican districts in the country.
Then came State Representative Steven Palazzo in 2010. Palazzo defeated a Tea Party candidate in the primary and then made Taylor own his vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. In past years, Taylor had made protest votes for other Democrats rather than his party's chosen leader, but he twice voted for Pelosi and one of the occasions featured him smiling as his fellow Democrats applauded the maverick independent embracing the party line. There was video. That video was seen over and over by Coast voters.
In the days before the 2010 election, several Republicans operatives volunteered to help Palazzo and I was among them. As part of the punch list of final campaign activities, I called the Taylor's campaign to swap out phone numbers for the concession call. We were confident, but I asked for a number to reach Taylor if Palazzo needed to concede. My counterpart gave a tirade about her campaign experience and as she was about to get off the phone, I asked whether she wanted a number to call Palazzo in case Taylor lost. She guessed it would be the polite thing to take the number. I gave it to her; I don't think she wrote it down.
That night a stunned Taylor walked out and announced he would have more time to fish. The concession call never came.
So Taylor is now a Republican and is challenging Palazzo in the Republican Primary along with Tom Carter of Carriere, Tavish Kelly of Picayune and Ron Vincent of Hattiesburg. The winner will face the victor of the Democratic Primary between Biloxi's Matt Moore and Trish Causey of Ocean Springs, as well as independents Cindy Burleson of Hattiesburg and Ed Reich of Gautier.
But the race to watch is again between Palazzo and Taylor. May the best Republican win.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.