Does local politics count for much?
Maybe it is time to retire the expression, “All politics is local.”
The former House Speaker Tip O’Neil coined this phrase way back in the 1930s when he was just a political newcomer.
More than 80 years later it seems that the opposite is true. Take the District 37 Senate race between incumbent Bob Dearing and his challenger Melanie Sojourner.
At times, Dearing must have felt like he was running against the entire state GOP rather than a candidate with little or no political experience.
As Dearing’s campaign received help from local celebrities like NFL great Joe Fortunato and former Natchez mayor Tony Byrne, Sojourner’s supporters inundated mailboxes with attack ads associating Dearing with President Obama, state attorney general Jim Hood and former governor Ronnie Musgrove.
Whatever local message that Dearing tried to promote was smothered by a well-oiled machine intent on unseating the 32-year incumbent at all costs.
In the end, Sojourner, the political rookie, edged out Bob Dearing, the seasoned veteran, by 451 votes.
Sojourner shined in Franklin, Amite and Pike counties. In those three counties, she outperformed Dearing by 1,300 votes, yet was soundly defeated in Adams County, where only 39 percent of county voters cast ballots in her direction.
Sojourner says she is proud of the campaign that she ran, but she made no mention of the the campaign that was run on her behalf by state Republicans.
How much credit does Sojourner give the state GOP? Where do her allegiances lie?
It might not take too long for voters to find out.
Governor-elect Phil Bryant recently said that the personhood amendment, which was defeated by 58 percent of Mississippians as a ballot initiative, could resurface again in the upcoming legislative session. Bryant, who supported the measure that would define a person in the state constitution as beginning at fertilization, was a strong supporter of the ballot initiative and went so far as to say the defeat of the initiative by voters meant that “Satan wins.” He has since tempered his remarks.
Such a legislative vote could put many Republican lawmakers in the difficult position of casting votes in support of a party position on personhood that is in opposition to the initiative vote of their constituents.
District 37 voters defeated the personhood initiative by a greater margin than it was defeated in the entire state. In the more urban areas of Adams County and Pike County voters defeated the initiative by a margin of 61 percent to 38 percent. Statewide the split was 58 percent to 42 percent. In Amite and Franklin counties the number of voters voting for and against the initiative was nearly even in Sojourner’s precincts.
In the past, politicians, especially Republicans, have thought it was a safe bet to oppose abortion in Mississippi. But the defeat of Initiative 26 this election shows that voters do not blindly follow the anti-abortion message without a careful consideration of the facts.
In the end, District 37 voters defeated the initiative with 60 percent of the votes cast against the measure.
If such a bill comes forward this legislative session, Sojourner will be faced with a decision.
With whom will she vote — Governor-elect Bryant and the state GOP that helped her get into office or her constituents who have already cast their ballots against the measure?
Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.