Hinds GOP chair helps coast Democratic senator on ballot recount

Published 6:48 am Thursday, August 23, 2007

JACKSON (AP) — A prominent Republican has been on the coast helping Democratic state Sen. Scottie Cuevas prepare for a possible challenge of a primary in which Cuevas’ opponent was declared the winner by 36 votes.

The actions by Hinds County GOP chairman Pete Perry demonstrate the importance to Gov. Haley Barbour of holding onto an ally in the 52-member state Senate, where Republicans hold a slim majority and often rely on Cuevas and other conservative Democrats to push the Republican governor’s agenda.

Perry’s son, Jim, is Barbour’s policy director.

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David Baria of Bay St. Louis was certified the winner of the Aug. 7 Democratic primary in Senate District 46, made up of parts of Harrison and Hancock counties. Cuevas, a construction company owner and liquefied petroleum sales engineer from Pass Christian, was first elected in 1995.

Baria is a politically savvy former president of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association. He has often been a vocal opponent of issues pushed by Barbour, including limits on awards in civil lawsuits.

“I will be a close ally of the governor if he wants to change his position on some of these issues _ issues such as holding the insurance industry accountable, reducing our grocery tax and ensuring that we fully fund our schools every year and not just election years,” Baria said Wednesday.

Certified results show Baria had 3,635 votes to Cuevas’ 3,599.

State law says a candidate has 20 days after a primary to challenge the results. The challenge would be filed with the political party.

The Democratic primary winner will face Constitution Party candidate James K. “Ken” Overstreet in the Nov. 6 general election.

Cuevas did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday.

Baria said he thinks it’s unusual for Cuevas to have chosen Perry to help re-examine ballot boxes. Pete Perry was in charge of the Hinds County Republican primary on Aug. 7, and there were complaints about the GOP not having people to work in some precincts early that day.

“It seems very ironic that he’s down here criticizing the election that our local election officials ran,” Baria said of Pete Perry.

Baria served as president of the trial lawyers group in 2002, but he said he hasn’t practiced law the past two years. After Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, Baria formed Rhino Construction Co., which handles demolition and recycling.

During the 2006 legislative session, Cuevas twice voted against overriding Barbour’s vetoes of bills that would’ve increased Mississippi’s cigarette tax and cut the state grocery tax in half.

Both override efforts failed, and Barbour’s position prevailed. Both times, Cuevas was in a minority of Democrats who supported the governor.

Cuevas said during a debate on Feb. 21, 2006, that people in his district were still suffering six months after Hurricane Katrina. His voice rising with emotion, Cuevas said if the state has enough money to cut grocery taxes in half, “why ain’t we sending money to my district helping out?”

During the 2005 legislative session _ months before Katrina struck _ the Capitol press corps surveyed all 52 senators to ask how they would vote on a cigarette-grocery tax swap bill, if they were given the chance. Cuevas said then that he would vote “no.” Tax-swap bills were not brought up for Senate votes in 2005.