Dems must stop bleeding or they lose

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 8, 2003

What are we to make of all the switching and dropping from legislators prior to the March 1 qualifying deadline and this year’s coming legislative session?

For one, it is clear the Democratic Party leadership in Mississippi has fallen out of touch with some of their bread-and-butter elected officials.

Not that Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, now a Republican, was ever one of the Democrats’ most beloved, but she was still the party’s second-highest statewide elected official. Her bolting has opened the gates, and while it is not a flood of changes, the trickle is starting to amass a pool.

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But the telling tale comes in the rural, middle class areas where Democrats are shedding their allegiances or just plain not running anymore. Sen. Neely Carlton, D-Cleveland, has opted not to run. The 32-year-old lawmaker is expecting her first child and said that was the motivating factor in her decision not to run.

However, when talking heads were talking about the Tuck switch on the Monday following Thanksgiving, Carlton’s name was being tossed around as a possible switcher. Carlton herself is fairly conservative, and her voting record reflects such. But as at least one GOP county chairman said, &uot;Carlton is likely not to switch because of the area she lives in. She would be hard pressed to win re-election as a Republican.&uot;

Nonetheless, Democrats should take notice that someone with her family legacy in Mississippi politics could have plausibly moved on across the aisle. But Democrats will not take notice. Odds are, another Democrat will replace Carlton. So why will they worry?

The case could possibly be different down in Southwest Mississippi, where Rep. Clem Nettles, D-Jayess, has made official his decision to step aside.

Nettles’ decision comes as no surprise, nor is it something that people have not expected since the Legislature passed their new district lines. &uot;When you look at the map, it looks like my party kind of hung me out to dry,&uot; Nettles said just days after the new lines were announced last year.

Nettles had all but made up his mind at that time. He was unhappy with Democrats over their treatment of him in legislative redistricting. He grew more unhappy with them over tort reform.

He has repeatedly said more needs to be done. But so long as the trial lawyer lobby in Mississippi continues to control the Democratic leadership, conservative Democrats will only find allies in Republicans.

Nettles’ situation is a little different as well. When the House leadership diced up his district, they combined it with Rep. Andrew Ketchings, R-Natchez.

At the time legislative redistricting was passed, both Nettles and Ketchings said they would not run against one another. Though the district slithers through several counties and voting precincts, Ketchings could mount a formidable campaign and take the district.

Unlike Carlton’s seat in the Senate, Democrats could lose a seat in the House. But so many seats are in play in the House, and Democrats enjoy such a comfortable majority, that Democratic leaders are not likely to worry much about losing Nettles’ seat. But they should be.

It is quite clear many Democratic lawmakers are not happy with their state party.

It is also clear a majority of Mississippians tend to lean toward and vote for more conservative candidates.

If Democrats want to keep that comfortable majority in the House &045; and any majority in the Senate &045; they better wake up and make some changes.

Sam R. Hall is editor and publisher of The Times-Post. He can be reached at (662) 456-3771 or by e-mail to