POWER OF THREE: The Mississippi Republican Party controls the Governor’s Mansion and both houses of the Legislature.
By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog
For Republicans in Mississippi, 2012 was the year they finally took control of all levers of power.
With a big election in November 2015, Mississippi’s GOP trifecta faces two questions: Has it made good on its campaign promises, and will that be enough to hand the Republicans another four years?
According to Ballotpedia, the Magnolia State is just part of a growing trend of state governments run by one party. In a study examining state politics from 1992 until now, Ballotpedia found a growing trend in trifectas — one party controlling both branches of the Legislature and the governor’s mansion — and this indicates a partisan direction in the nation’s politics.
In the period 1992 to 1996, 58 percent of state governments were divided, and the Democrats held the majority (64 percent) of the trifectas. From 1997 to 2001, the number of triumvirates grew slightly (42.9 percent) and swung to the Republicans (63.8 percent of trifectas). This pattern continued unabated until 2007, when the pendulum swung back to Democrats (63 percent of trifectas).
From 2011 to 2013, the trend toward Democratic control of state governments reversed (the GOP owns 66.7 percent of trifectas), and the number of trifectas increased to 69.4 percent.
In Mississippi, the GOP’s ascent from non-entity to top dog follows a template that has played out regionally.
For most of the post-Reconstruction era, the Democrats were firmly in charge in Mississippi. But that changed in the 1968 presidential election, when white Southerners started to abandon a Democratic Party that was lurching leftward. The state went for former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a former Democrat running on a third-party ticket. Mississippi went for a GOP candidate, Richard Nixon, in 1972, but it took some time for the wave to trickle down to the state House and the governor’s mansion. As late as the early 2000s, Democrats held the Legislature and governor’s seat.
Frank Corder, editor of the political blog Y’all Politics and a former Pascagoula city councilman, told Mississippi Watchdog via email the Republicans have accomplished a lot since becoming a trifecta in the Magnolia State. One of the biggest hurdles they faced, he said, was the spending habits of the former Democratic majority. The state’s rainy day fund had shrunk, while the amount of bonds used to pay off maintenance and repairs on state-owned buildings was rising.
“Republicans have made a tremendous impact on ensuring our state budget is fiscally sound while not adding unnecessary bond debt for pet projects,” Corder said. “Not spending one-time monies on recurring expenses while replenishing the rainy day fund is a win for the taxpayers. It’s a far cry from the old ‘spend now, pray later’ Democrat philosophy employed under their leadership in the state House the previous 140 years.”
One big win, according to Corder, was redistricting. He said the state’s districts were redrawn with a relatively minimal amount of fuss and with an easy approval process from the Department of Justice.
There’s also school choice. Mississippi now has charter schools thanks to the Legislature and was a few votes from passing a bill that would’ve allowed special-needs children to receive vouchers to attend a private school with a special-needs program.
While the Mississippi Adequate Education Program presents a serious challenge with a ballot initiative and a lawsuit by former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, the GOP has increased K-12 education spending in each of the past three budgets.
The Legislature passed a voter identification law approved by the Department of Justice and successfully implemented in the past election.
While the progress hasn’t always been to everyone’s liking, the direction is positive.
“I would have to say the direction is right even if there is some disappointment in the amount of progress we have made at this point,” Keith Plunkett, a Republican political and policy consultant and a communication strategist in Mississippi, said in an email to Mississippi Watchdog. “Conservatives just have to stay engaged and keep pushing in the right direction and we’ll get there.”