NASCAR stock car racing has its annual “Silly Season” following that final race of the season at Homestead, Florida and the grand opening of the next season in February with the Daytona 500. NASCAR rumors fly left and right about drivers changing teams, changing sponsors, changing crew chiefs and even the paint schemes being changed. Mississippi has a similar political “silly season.” Everyone has accepted the fact that our next statewide elections, while three years away, will be a real political shootout. There’s been an assumption that only one of Mississippi’s eight statewide elected officials will seek re-election. That would be Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith. Gov. Phil Bryant is term limited, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves will run for governor, Attorney General Jim Hood will either run against Reeves or retire from public life, State Treasurer Lynn Fitch will be a candidate for attorney general and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is expected to run for lieutenant governor. It was widely assumed that Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, who was 72 when re-elected last year, would not seek another term and that State Auditor Stacey Pickering will not seek re-election. The leading silly political rumor is that the “Never Delbert” or “Anybody But Delbert” crowd is promoting Hyde-Smith to run against Hosemann for LG. You can bet the house that Hyde-Smith will not oppose Hosemann and will instead seek at third term. Despite his statewide popularity there are a number of prominent Republicans who do not care for Hosemann. There could be several reasons. In Jim Hood’s first race for attorney general when his mentor Mike Moore did not seek re-election, Hosemann withdrew as a candidate at the very last minute. It left Republicans with a much weaker candidate to oppose Hood when Hood possibly could have been defeated. Some Republicans were also upset when Hosemann made noises about opposing Sen. Thad Cochran even if Cochran decided to run again as he eventually did. Then, Hosemann did not endear himself to Tate Reeves and Reeves’ supporters. Hosemann reportedly gave some consideration to opposing Reeves last year for re-election or possibly challenging Reeves for governor in 2019. Reeves is known not to take
One of the best “Letters to the Editor” about the very controversial issue of changing the state flag appeared in Tuesday’s Clarion-Ledger and was written by Bill Harvey of Jackson. The letter was headlined, “Clarion-Ledger seems obsessed with changing the state flag.” I certainly agree with the writer on that point. While I know anyone in favor of changing the state flag or opposing the change will not be swayed by anything Harvey or I write, I would suggest you read Harvey’s letter. I very much agree with his comments. There is another point I would like to make. Because of the Clarion-Ledger’s constant advocacy in favor of a new state flag and the newspaper’s endless drum-beating on this issue, I feel it has only increased the racial divide in our state.
Another liberal jumps on board with Hosemann’s election reforms
In my most recent commentary of March 9, I questioned if Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s election reform legislation should be supported by conservatives if it were endorsed by the very liberal American Civil Liberties Union and left-wing MSU professor Dr. Marty Wiseman. Alice Skelton quickly responded with the following on her Facebook page: “Maybe good policies are neither Republican or Democrat. Hosemann is proving to be a good public servant to ALL MISSISSIPPIANS. Signed a proud liberal Democrat.” It should be noted Ms. Skelton is a former executive director of the Mississippi Democrat Party. I met her in Washington, D.C. many years ago through a mutual friend of both of us. She is a very nice lady but also very liberal in her political views, as she noted in her
Dr. Marty Wiseman is a longtime political professor at Mississippi State and the former director of the John Stennis Institute of Government at MSU. Wiseman has also been a personal friend for many years. Wiseman is also an ultra-liberal Democrat. Last week Wiseman Tweeted the following: “Secretary Hosemann deserves a great deal of credit for engaging in a process leading to these meaningful election reforms. The legislature deserves credit for listening and acting. Now you can register on line and you can go to the courthouse and vote early. These are good things.” The legislation proposed and supported by Secretary of State Hosemann was also endorsed by the left-wing American Civil Liberties Union. As one conservative said to me, when the ACLU and Marty Wiseman praise something it probably is time for Hosemann and Republican legislators to rethink their position.
More than eight months ago I wrote that the campaign finance reports candidates must file with Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, especially the reports on candidate expenses, are all but worthless. Because no real documentation is required candidates can use their campaign contributions to pay personal expenses instead of legitimate campaign expenses. All that blew up in the headlines this week with an excellent story by political editor Geoff Pender of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. The story was first posted online early Thursday evening and headlined that the FBI is probing State Auditor Stacey Pickering’s campaign funds. The story raised a lot of serious questions and could certainly become an explosive issue that could seriously hurt Pickering’s re-election campaign. The issue regarding Pickering’s campaign expenditures was first raised a few weeks ago on the Gulf Coast by his Republican primary opponent. Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler raised the issue of the state auditor’s campaign disbursements being used for personal expenses. The original story in a Gulf Coast newspaper did not receive widespread coverage. That certainly won’t be the case with Pender’s story. Pickering can talk all he wants about “negative campaign tactics” and last minute dirty politics, but a capable reporter like Pender does not play a political game against any candidate or for the benefit of any candidate. Anyone who has bothered to review Pickering’s campaign finance reports for several years knows there are some very obvious questionable items regarding his campaign expenses. Forget about all the BS about last minute dirty campaign tactics. Just read Pender’s story about the FBI probe of Pickering in the newspaper or go to the Clarion-Ledger online and read the story. Too often reporting about campaign finances only deals with the big question of how much money a candidate has raised or how much cash they have on hand for the rest of their campaign. That is not the case with Pender’s story. Remember, Chicago mobster Al Capone eventually went to prison for tax evasion, not the many murders he was alleged to have been involved with. If Mississippi candidates are taking money for personal expenses out of their campaign accounts they should be reporting it on their federal and state taxes as income. (Editor’s note: The column above was written prior to Pickering’s written response to the article by Geoff Pender. In a word, Pickering’s statement can only be described as weak and still left unanswered questions. His statement would almost indicate that the Clarion-Ledger article about the FBI probe of his campaign finances was written by his opponent, Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler, rather than by Pender.)
Valid campaign expense reports issues raised in Republican Sen. Will Longwitz’s re-election campaign
While Pender’s story of the alleged FBI probe of Pickering’s campaign is making the big headlines, campaign finance reports of state Sen. Will Longwitz are also a legitimate campaign issue. As I noted last December, Mississippi campaign finance reporting laws are so weak that one could report a $2,000 campaign check to American Express. No
In sports, the “silly season” is used most often in reference to NASCAR’S offseason when rumors about drivers switching teams, crew chiefs switching drivers, etc. are in full swing. There’s little doubt that Mississippi politics is having its own version of a silly season with only a few days to go before the Feb. 27 qualifying deadline for statewide, district, legislative, and local candidates. Even in many legislative districts the list of qualified candidates is thin and there will certainly be more candidates jumping into contests before the end of the day next Friday. Here are some of the big “ifs” and discussions that are prime topics for the political silly season…
The qualifying deadline for statewide, district, legislative, and local candidates is February 27. At this writing, four of the eight statewide incumbents have qualified for re-election. They are State Treasurer Lynn Fitch, State Auditor Stacey Pickering, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, and Commissioner of Agriculture Cindy Hyde-Smith. That leaves Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Attorney General Jim Hood, and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann as the four who have not filed their qualifying papers for re-election. There’s no question that at some point before the deadline Bryant and Reeves will qualify to seek re-election, which leads to some speculation regarding the 2015 plans for Hood and Hosemann.
Although Pickering has qualified to seek another term as auditor, you might also put a question mark by his name. It is no secret that Pickering has told numerous people that he would like a higher paying job in either the private sector or even state government. The state job most often mentioned is that of commissioner of the Department of Revenue, which pays about $50,000 more per year than he makes as auditor. The term of Ed Morgan, the current commissioner of the department, expires in June of 2016. Current rumors speculate that Pickering could withdraw his qualifying papers, take a job in the private sector for a year, and then be appointed by Gov. Bryant to take Morgan’s place next year. That would allow Bryant and tea party favorite (and Chris McDaniel sidekick), state Sen. Michael Watson to run for auditor. The other scenario is that Pickering wins re-election, resigns later to take the Department of Revenue job, and Bryant could appoint Watson to serve out the remainder of Pickering’s term. The engineer for this train would be kingmaker and Bryant insider, Prince Josh Gregory.
Was Delbert Hosemann’s and others’ flight to DeSoto County on state’s King Air for a political event just a coincidence? I think not.
Last Monday evening the DeSoto County Republican Women held their annual Christmas dinner. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann was the guest speaker for the event. Shortly before 2 p.m. on Monday, the state-owned (i.e., taxpayers) Super King Air 300 left Jackson and flew to Olive Branch in DeSoto County. After the GOP women’s dinner the state plane (“Air Mississippi”) left Olive Branch about 9 p.m. and returned to Jackson. Others on the flight included State Treasurer Lynn Fitch, two Hosemann staffers, Cory Wilson, who is running for the legislature next year and works for Fitch, and even more interesting, State Sen. Michael Watson of Pascagoula. State Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, who had driven to North Mississippi with two staffers earlier in the day for insurance department business, flew back to Jackson on the plane for the return trip only.
The Mississippi Economic Council (MEC), the state’s chamber of commerce, held its annual Hobnob on October 29. As usual, a large crowd estimated at about 1,800 people attended. The format was about the same as in previous years. The eight statewide elected officials and House Speaker Philip Gunn each spoke for about 10 minutes except for Gov. Phil Bryant, properly so, was given 15 minutes. Because of the U.S. Senate contest, longtime incumbent Republican Thad Cochran and his Democrat opponent, former congressman Travis Childers, were also allocated time. MEC officials gave each speaker a lavish introduction that would probably equal those given for a George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. In their brief allocated time each elected official gave an equally glowing report of the wonderful things they have done during their term in office. A few other impressions:
After Gov. Phil Bryant made a strong run for the Chuck Schumer Award initially won by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Hosemann may be making another push to retain the award. For three straight weeks Hosemann has been on the sidelines for big games: Mississippi State-Auburn, Ole Miss-Tennessee, and last Saturday night in Baton Rouge for Ole Miss-LSU. There may be more to the story than competition for the Chuck Schumer Award and more self-serving photo ops.
When current U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York was a member of the House of Representatives for 18 years it was well known that you were at risk if you ever got between Schumer and a television camera. Even his Democratic colleagues from New York joked that nobody could outdo Schumer in getting in front of a camera. In Mississippi the winner of the Chuck Schumer Award for photo-ops is easily Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
Before Mississippi State’s recent win over the Auburn Tigers, Hosemann, decked out in maroon, was on the field during MSU’s pre-game warm-ups. His Twitter account (@DelbertHoseman) showed Hosemann shaking hands with Bulldog head coach Dan Mullen and said, “Last minute words of encouragement before State beats Auburn.”