Six-term county supervisor Cauthen officially switches from Democrat to Republican

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 4, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; District 1 Supervisor Sammy Cauthen has officially switched to the Republican Party after serving in that office as a Democrat for 24 years.

But except in terms of party philosophy &045; &uot;the Democrats had gotten too liberal,&uot; he said &045; Cauthen said believes his party switch won’t make that much difference.

&uot;I’ve been conservative all my life,&uot; said Cauthen, who qualified for reelection as a Republican. &uot;I’m the same guy I was before I switched.&uot;

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Cauthen’s is the most high-profile party switch since Adams County Sheriff Tommy Ferrell crossed over to the Republican Party, said Pat Dickens, chairperson of the Adams County Republican Committee.

Adams County and Mississippi as a whole have long been Democratic strongholds.

But it’s becoming more commonplace for Democrats to shift to the GOP, said Dr. Joseph Parker, a political science professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.

From the days of Reconstruction to the mid-1960s, about the time the Voting Rights Act was passed, Mississippi was a one-party state.

Before that time, &uot;if you wanted to play in the (political) game at all, you almost had to be a Democrat,&uot; Parker said.

The Voting Rights Act, by bringing more black voters into the Democratic Party, &uot;in a sense drove caucasian Democrats into the Republican Party,&uot; Parker said.

&uot;This sorting out of people into the parties should have been done in the first place,&uot; he said. &uot;It (a one-party system) was an artificial situation.&uot;

Still, he added, &uot;I would guess even three years ago, there were probably less than half of the supervisors’ (races) that would have had a Republican candidate.&uot;

These days, pragmatic concerns also play a factor in party switching, as Parker believes was the case with Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck’s switch to the Republican Party last year.

&uot;If she was a Democrat, she might be defeated in the primary,&uot; Parker said.

Although Cauthen said he has heard mainly positive feedback about his decision, &uot;some of them have said this might hurt me at election time,&uot; Cauthen said.

Figures on Democratic and Republican voting in District 1 were not available as of Tuesday.

Cauthen said he has been seriously thinking for about a year of switching parties.

However, he said was waiting until county qualifying time drew closer to switch parties &uot;because I was elected as a Democrat.&uot;

What do local Democrats think of the change?

&uot;So be it, if that’s what he chooses,&uot; said Beverly Merrill, who is an official with the Adams County Democratic Committee.

Dickens said Cauthen is welcome in the Republican Party, especially given his record of service with the Board of Supervisors.

It is also good news given the local committee’s dogged efforts to draw candidates to their party.

&uot;It could motivate other people who may be thinking about other (party) options,&uot; Dickens said.

A political party &uot;must get enough people holding office from the state level to the lowest level to be considered a real party,&uot; Parker said.

Unless others switch first, Parker said, &uot;there are people who toy with the notion but don’t do it.&uot;