Could minority candidates make history?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

It has not gone without notice that minorities do not do well when it comes to statewide elections.

While the number of minorities holding local and district seats has steadily increased over the past several years, getting votes from across the broader spectrum has been a more difficult task.

However, that could all change this year. Three viable black candidates, all Democrats, are seeking two statewide offices, and the likelihood of one &045; possibly two &045; winning their seats is better than at any time in the past.

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In the state treasurer’s race, Gary Anderson and Cindy Ayers-Elliot are facing off against one another.

With his appointment in 2000, Anderson became the first black state fiscal officer in Mississippi’s history. He’s hoping for a repeat of sorts, and he is depending on his background to get him there.

In interviews with various media outlets, Anderson has said he expects people to look more at qualifications than race in an election dealing with financial matters.

Of course, while Anderson has the financial experience in his background, one has to think that Ayers-Elliot is the more qualified of the two.

A Jackson businesswoman, she is founder of First American Bank in Jackson and a former aide to retiring State Treasurer Marshall Bennett. As such, she is expected to garner his support and his supporters as she takes on Democratic opponents Anderson and state Sen. Rob Smith of Richland.

Of course, coming into the general election, the winner will face a strong Republican candidate &045; most likely Rep. Andrew Ketchings of Natchez or Jackson businessman Tate Reeves. Both have statewide support from GOP faithful, and any GOP candidate should benefit from what is expected to be high voter turnout for Haley Barbour’s gubernatorial bid.

Another race expected to lure out the voters is Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck’s bid for re-election as a Republican. Many GOPers believe they owe her a hearty voting block after she helped push through tort reform during a marathon special session.

But for Tuck to win, she will have to defeat a tough Democrat in either former state Supreme Court Justice Jim Roberts or state Sen. Barbara Blackmon of Jackson, who is the other &8220;best bet&8221; for minorities to win a statewide office.

(As an aside, Democrat Troy Brown, who is black, is also running for the same post. However, the perennial candidate is viewed as a long shot yet again.)

Blackmon may very well be the Democrats’ answer to being spurred by Tuck, who nearly four years ago was their prized candidate.

Blackmon has already come out strong against supporting any further tort reform, which is a no-brainer considering she is a trial lawyer herself. Therefore, she will most definitely reap the benefits of trial lawyer donations, as she has already done. Furthermore, Roberts may be perceived as too moderate for Democrats who want a rank-and-file leader over the Senate.

Another thing that works in Blackmon’s favor is that the real power in Mississippi politics lies in the Legislature, not with the governor, and Democrats know that quite well.

With Republicans expected to pick up several Senate seats, that could spell trouble for Democrats.

Democrats are all but assured the Speaker of the House seat when the Legislature reconvenes. And while they would certainly like to hold the governor’s mansion, they need the lieutenant governor’s seat even worse. Republicans know this as well.

So, if Blackmon wins, she has done more than just made history, she might have preserved the Democratic Party for four more years.

Sam R. Hall

is publisher of The Times-Post. He can be reached by e-mail to