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Has Union Become a Two-Party County?

     A record number of candidates in 2015’s Union County elections have filed to run as Republicans.
     Seventeen of the 54 candidates (over 30 percent ) seeking Union County offices this year are flying the GOP flag. However, it is hard to find a single candidate, Democrat or Republican, who is flying either party’s banner very high or with any pride. Seven of this year’s 17 Republican candidates addressed the Union County Republican Executive Committee Thursday night, March 19, but only one declared himself a devoted Republican. Most made it a point to say there were “some things” (but none specified) they did not like about the National Republican Party.
       The national Democratic party fares no better. Most Democratic candidates for local offices in Mississippi are quick to deny any admiration for President Barak Obama and to disavow any loyalty to the perceived principles of the national Democratic party.  Many candidly admit they run as Democrats only because Mississippians still tend to vote for Democrats in local elections, a practice apparently driven more by habit than belief.
Mississippi’s Trending
        Republican Barry Goldwater carried Mississippi by 87% to 13% over incumbent Democratic President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, thus becoming the first Republican to carry the state since Reconstruction. Only once in the twelve presidential elections since then have Mississippians supported a Democrat:  they gave Southerner Jimmy Carter a narrow 1.9 margin of victory over Gerald Ford in 1976. After James O. Eastland retired from the U.S. Senate in 1978 and John C. Stennis left the Senate in 1988, almost all statewide elections in Mississippi have been won by Republicans. No Democrat has seriously challenged a Republican Senate candidate since then. One Democrat, Ray Mabus. defeated Republican Jack Reed to become governor in 1987 but was beaten in 1991 by Kirk Fordice. Since Mabus, only one Democrat, Ronnie Musgrove in 1999, has become Mississippi governor, and he was not elected by popular vote. The Mississippi House of Representatives, then still dominated by Democrats, elected Musgrove governor over Republican Mike Parker after a general election with a snarled outcome. Republican Haley Barbour whipped Musgrove by more than 60,000 votes in 2003
        However, the trend to elect Republicans to statewide office has still not broken Democratic loyalties in local elections in Union and many other Mississippi counties. The only elected Republican in Union County office today is Chancery Clerk Annette Hickey. Margaret Rogers, who represents most of Union County in the state legislature, was elected to that office as a Democrat in 2011, but switched to the Republican Party during her current term. Rogers did not draw a challenger from either party this year. Hickey will have the Republican nomination for Chancery Clerk by default, but will face a Democratic,  Andrea Laher Herring, in the general election.
Republicans Seek Eight Other Local Offices
        Besides the chancery clerk’s office Republicans have filed for eight other Union County offices and more than one Republican candidate has filed for five of those county jobs.
Roger Browning is running for Union County Superintendent of Education, opposing either a Democratic Party incumbent or another Democrat seeking the schools job

Roger Browning is running for Union County Superintendent of Education, opposing either a Democratic Party incumbent or another Democrat seeking the schools job

Roger Browning, the only Republican running for Superintendent of Education, spoke to the Republican Executive Committee Thursday night. Browning will face either Democrat Loretta Hartfield or incumbent Democrat Ken Basil in the general election.

Greg Elder is the only Republican filed for Union County sheriff. He will face incumbent Jimmy Edwards or Tommy Wilhite, a former sheriff.

Greg Elder is the only Republican filed for Union County sheriff. He will face incumbent Jimmy Edwards or Tommy Wilhite, a former sheriff.

Greg A. Elder spoke to the committee Thursday night and will have the Republican nomination for sheriff by default. Elder will face either incumbent Democrat Jimmy Edwards or Democrat Tommy Wilhite, a former sheriff, in the fall election.

        Republican attorney Thomas A. Shands will be his party’s nominee for East Post Justice Court Judge. He spoke to the Republican Committee Thursday night. Shands will face one of three Democrats contesting that job plus an independent candidate.

Attorney Tom Shands will be the Republican candidate for Justice Court Judge, East Post

Attorney Tom Shands will be the Republican candidate for Justice Court Judge, East Post

        Two different men want the Republican nomination for Constable, West Post. They are Andy Howard and Robert Sheppard. Sheppard addressed the Republican Committee. Howard did not. The Republican nominee will face one of three Democrats running for the post.
        Two Republicans seek that party’s nomination for District One Supervisor. Engineer Marshall McLaughlin spoke to the executive committee. The other Republican, Coy Fitts, did not speak. McLaughlin or Fitts will face either Democrat incumbent District One Supervisor Dwight “Peanut” Pickens, or one of seven others seeking to take the Democratic nomination away from Pickens. An independent candidate is also seeking the Beat One seat on the county board.
        Both Bo Dillard and Barry E. Harrison want the Republican nomination for District Two Supervisor.  Neither Dillard or Harrison spoke to the county Republican committee, but one of them will face either incumbent Democrat Jimmy Yarbrough, or one of three other Democrats and an independent wanting Yarbrough’s job.
        Longtime Democratic District Three Supervisor and Board President Danny Jordan is retiring at the end of this term. A total of five Republicans want the nomination for that post. Of the five only Michael R. Moody addressed the Republican Executive Committee. The winner of the Republican primary will face one of nine Democrats vying for Jordan’s job and one independent office seeker.
        Fourth District Supervisor Randy Owen will retain his seat on the board without an opponent from either party or an independent.
        In District Five Democrat Bennie Rakestraw is retiring after serving several terms on the county board. There are two candidates, Caleb Chandler and Joe Reed, seeking the Republican party’s nomination. Neither spoke before the committee Thursday evening. Chandler or Reed will face one of eight candidates running as Democrats for Supervisor Rakestraw’s board position.
A More Interesting Game
        County Republican Chairman Clay Hardy presided at the executive committee’s meeting at the Union County Library.
        It appears that many years of labor by, among others, Phil Morris and Betsey Hamilton may have made Union a two-party county. If politics is America’s favorite spectator sport, the sheer number of both Republicans and Democrats wanting county jobs should make this years election one of the more interesting local games in many years.

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