Who is Vicki Slater?
Despite the fanfare of her announcement for governor against incumbent Republican Phil Bryant, a lot of people asked, “Who is Vicki Slater?” Even in the metro area of Jackson and suburb of Madison County where she lives and practices law, a lot of people still don’t know the answer to this question.
Slater recently announced her candidacy at the State Capitol building surrounded by Democratic State Chairman Ricky Cole and a number of supporters. The next day with a big headline on the front page of The Clarion-Ledger you would have thought Democrats had a prominent candidate like Attorney General Jim Hood or Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley ready to make a major challenge to Bryant.
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.
Harper makes sound statement; comments by Palazzo are weak
Following the vote that re-elected John Boehner as Speaker of the House, U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo issued a statement saying that many people asked him to vote against Boehner. Palazzo then proceeded to say that before the vote he met with Boehner one-on-one for more than an hour. With the full plate that Boehner has as Speaker, please forgive me if I can’t quite believe that Boehner took the time to meet “one-on-one” with Palazzo for “more than an hour.”
From that point on, Palazzo’s statement only got more pathetic. You would have thought that Palazzo threatened the Speaker and Boehner promptly quivered and caved in to Palazzo’s demands. Palazzo claimed that he extracted a pledge from Boehner that the Speaker would “stand up to the liberal agenda of President Obama.” Wow, consider that. Without Palazzo’s demands Boehner would have probably become the leading supporter of Obama in the U.S. House.
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 Arms Race is On
No, I’m not talking about an arms race between two or more nations for military or weaponry superiority. What I’m talking about is the arms race for 2015 campaign contributions when statewide and legislative elections will be held. Last year the 2015 elections were two years away but most people said they had never seen the number of fundraising events or fundraising letters, etc. that were held in 2013. In the past 30 days or so there’s been a steady barrage by elected officials seeking campaign contributions.
One obvious reason is that the next deadline to report campaign contributions is January 30, 2015 for contributions and campaign expenditures made through December 31 of this year. One way for candidates seeking re-election to discourage opposition is to report a large war chest on hand at the end of year. Some politicians might also have their eye on higher office that will require much larger campaign funding. A lot of legislators not only have campaign events in their district but also will hold events in Jackson — the easier way to tap into contributions from Jackson lobbyists and major companies that have a presence in the state capital.
Why don’t they like Lt. Governor Tate Reeves?
During the 2011 campaign when Reeves moved up to lieutenant governor from his job as state treasurer, a longtime Republican leader asked me, “Is Tate Reeves as smart as he thinks he is?” A more recent questioner also asked why some Republicans don’t like Reeves. My reply was that Reeves is both smart and tough. His response was, “And he’s a conservative.” My luncheon companion then noted that right-wing radio talk show hosts Paul Gallo and J.T. (Williamson) are clearly obvious in their dislike of Reeves. Super Talk radio even frequently runs a network promo that says, “It’s a sad day when Mississippi’s lieutenant governor plays politics with children’s and people’s lives.”
Trent is still Trent
It started off Monday morning when the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald published comments from former Sen. Trent Lott that were first published in The Hill, a newspaper in D.C. covering Capitol Hill. The headline for the article said, “Lott: Miss. GOP could use shake-up.” Lott danced between tossing nice comments toward the tea party, while at the same time admitting he would be a target of the tea party if he was still a member of the Senate. (Lott supported Sen. Thad Cochran’s re-election.) During the interview Lott told The Hill that the bitter primary battle between Chris McDaniel and Cochran “may cause the need for some change in the party leadership” in the Mississippi GOP.
Last week I received a report that some leaders in Jackson County have found a potentially strong candidate to oppose state Sen. Michael Watson’s bid for a third term in 2015. For many Republicans in Jackson County that would be a welcome addition to next year’s state elections. There’s been no shortage of GOP leaders in that Gulf Coast county who have been trying to find a candidate to face Watson. It’s also no secret that Watson has had far greater ambitions than being a state senator.
However, a strong Republican primary opponent for Watson could find themselves running for an open seat with Watson not in the race. There’s no question that Watson, despite the hits he has taken for his role in fellow state Sen. Chris McDaniel’s U.S. Senate campaign, may run for statewide office rather than re-election. The presumed contest would be to challenge Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ re-election bid. Either way, Watson’s political career could very well be derailed. Reeves would trounce Watson in a statewide race.
It was billed last Wednesday afternoon as a Chris McDaniel press conference. McDaniel was not there, although I expect most people initially expected he would attend and make remarks. Instead, the press conference participants were a McDaniel sidekick, state Sen. Michael Watson of Pascagoula, and the McDaniel campaign’s lead lawyer, Mitch Tyner of Jackson.