For the first time ever, aggressive, well-organized national party politics is a major factor in New Albany’s municipal election.
The local Republicans are fired up and going for broke. They are running a vigorous campaign in an effort to elect a Republican mayor and two Republican aldermen. They have plenty of money, good leadership, and are driven by powerful ambition.
For 125 years, non-partisan local MS politics
Until well into the 21st century, nearly 100% of candidates for local office in New Albany ran as nominal Democrats. They were, to be sure, “Democrats” who had supported a Democratic presidential candidate only once since 1956 (Carter, narrowly, in 1976). Most despised the national Democratic party, but they still stuck with the Democratic label in local contests. The election that counted in those not-long-ago days was the Democratic primary. Few voters took a Republican ballot in primary elections, because there were no Republicans.
What we had were essentially non-partisan local elections. “Democratic” candidates in New Albany and Union County elections NEVER waved the party banner. Quite the contrary. Voters personally knew the candidates they supported and nobody ascribed any meaning to the word “Democrat” at the top of the ballot.
What does the political party affiliation of any local official have to do with any actions or decisions the person might make while serving as alderman or mayor of New Albany, Mississippi? For a number of weeks I have been trying to figure out the meaning of all this. Who is doing it and why are they doing it?
The current Hell of national partisan politics
Before going further I should make one thing unequivocally clear: I am equally contemptuous of both the national political parties, Democrats and Republicans. When voting for president, U.S. congressmen and senators and state officials in every election since 1970, about three-quarters of my votes have been for Republicans. I have voted in two dozen or more municipal and county elections in several states during those same 47 years. I haven’t a clue as to how many of either party I may have voted for in local elections.
In all elections I try to vote for the candidate who seems reasonably honest and intelligent and whose stated positions on the issues are in accord with my own. I have seen relevance to party ideology in few, if any, local elections. Now, more than ever, the national parties have rendered themselves meaningless, because they have allowed themselves to be taken over, dominated by the nut cases on their fringes.
Do partisan politics bring local benefits?
Having made that disclaimer, let’s get back to the three questions I raise in this Rant:
- Are there any issues in this year’s city election that are impacted in any way by the ideology and platforms of the Republican or Democratic parties?
- What happened to bring partisan party politics to a small town of only 8,500 people, and what are the motivations of those involved?
- Will the people of New Albany benefit in any way and, if not, who does benefit?
The relevance of local partisan politics
Now as to the first question, relevance of Republican ideology to a small town election in Mississippi.
I asked Clay Hardy, a smart young businessman and chairman of the Union County Republican Party, to tell me why it makes any difference whether New Albany officials are Democrats or Republicans.
“It’s a brand,” answered the county chairman. “The Republican Party is a brand.”
What does that mean?
“It means,” said Chairman Hardy “that the local candidates agree with the policies and beliefs of the national party.”
Fair enough. I looked up the full text of the “Republican Platform 2016.”
I do not claim to have read every single one of the 45,000 words in that document, a typical product of a typical committee, and I do not intend to do so. I doubt that any Republican in New Albany, or in all of Mississippi for that matter, can quote a single sentence or even name one of the six sections in that 66-page document. I did spend a couple of hours looking it over, and, unsurprisingly, found not one single precept, principle or platitude that had any relevance to any decision a New Albany official might make during the coming four years. Judge for yourself. Here’s the link from the GOP website: https://www.gop.com/the-2016-republican-party-platform/
How we came to this dilemma
The second question I raise is: “What happened to bring partisan party politics to a small town of only 8,500 people and what are the motivations of those involved?
During the 1950s some decent, smart, forward-thinking people, one of whom is a dear friend of mine, formed the modern Republican Party in Mississippi. The state party got a big boost in 1964 when libertarian Republican Barry Goldwater whipped incumbent Democrat Lyndon Johnson in the presidential election — 87% for Goldwater and 13% for LBJ.
Then in 1972, Mississippi elected two former Democrats, Thad Cochran and Chester Trent Lott, to the U.S. Congress as Republicans. Both later moved up to the U.S. Senate. Fully 19 years later Vicksburg civil engineer and businessman Kirk Fordice became the first Republican ever elected Mississippi governor in a free election. The previous Mississippi Republican governors had been installed with the bayonets of federal troops during “Reconstruction,” a century and a quarter earlier.
During the Civil War, Confederate troops captured in battle sometimes had the option of escaping horrid prison camps, by agreeing to switch sides and serve in the Union Army. They were called “Galvanized Yankees.” And a good many Union Troops, captured in battle, also avoided the horrors of Andersonville by becoming “Galvanized Confederates.”
Kirk Fordice, with his forceful, “Marlboro Man” presence, set about strengthening the Republican Party base in Mississippi. He had been a badass U.S. Army paratrooper during in the Vietnam War, was a retired Army colonel and a graduate of the U. S. Army Command and General Staff College. (I gotta tell you he is my all-time favorite Mississippi governor, not a particularly “nice guy,” but for sure a “make it happen” kind of guy.)
Using charm, patronage, intimidation, and often carrying a .357 magnum revolver as a personal sidearm, Fordice started creating “Galvanized Republicans.” Locally elected judges, members of the state legislature, a county sheriff or supervisor here and there — Fordice started inducing public officials elected as Democrats to change their colors and pledge themselves as Republicans. Though he left office in 2000 and died just four years later, Kirk Fordice’s program of making “Galvanized Republicans” continues to this day.
Both the state representative and state senator who more or less represent Union County were first elected as Democrats but then “jined up” with the GOP. About a month ago, seven officials in Itawamba County, all elected to office in 2015 as Democrats, went through a sort of baptism presided over by a lesser Republican governor, and became Republicans. Our friends in Itawamba County have observed no change in the level of competence (or incompetence) of the sheriff, two or three supervisors, a couple of constables and a coroner who were “galvanized.”
It should also be noted that “galvanizing” themselves does not exactly put any of these “changling” politicians on a meteoric pathway to power in their new party.
The well organized, well financed, well executed effort to create party partisanship in New Albany city elections is simply an extension of the work Kirk Fordice commenced a quarter century ago.
Within the last 30 days, local Republican activists have been whispering in the ears of at least two Democrat Union County officials, trying to get them to convert.
One weekday morning in mid-May, a couple dozen of the GOP faithful held a kind of rally at the Tanglefoot Trailhead to boost the chances of their three municipal election candidates. Refreshments were served, pictures were taken and local Republican candidates in city races spoke briefly. Also present, and sort of the “keynote” speaker, was Joe Nosef, a lawyer who is the current Republican state chairman. Nosef attacked Democrats generally and urged those present to work hard to elect their Republican candidates. The New Albany city elections are important enough to the state Republican party that Chairman Nosef came all the way from Jackson to speak to two dozen people, including the local candidates. Nosef and his state GOP party colleagues clearly believe that the party would benefit if a Republican mayor and a couple of Republican aldermen can be elected.
And that, Virginia, (along with the Democratic Party continuing to nominate damned fools for president) is how the Republican Party became dominant in Mississippi.
Is Mississippi state government any better now than it was before the Democrats were baptized into Republicans? I ain’t goin’ there in this rant.
But I will say this: A well organized group of local Republicans, some of whom are friends of mine, and a few of whom were actually Republicans from the start, are determined to create political party control of New Albany city government. They are patriotic people, good and charming people, and I believe they sincerely think they are doing the right thing.
Just let’s remember what disagreeable destination the old proverb says is at the end of a road paved only with man’s good intentions.
The real beneficiaries of partisan local politics
Now to my third question: Who benefits from creating party partisanship in New Albany city elections?
Are there benefits to the people of New Albany? I challenge anyone to prove a single meaningful benefit to the people of New Albany resulting from having party politics invoked in local elections.
Candidates with strong party support may benefit. It gives them financing and a cadre of dedicated workers, but also leaves them beholden to the party people who got them elected.
The Republican Party may benefit and the local Republicans who have created and executed this clever plan may benefit. They will be in a position to exercise substantial influence over city government. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing. They are smart people and they might do a really good job of directing business at City Hall.
And I rest my case
New Albany voters need have no doubt as to who benefits and who does not.
One of the top leaders of this Republican effort said to me during the Memorial Day weekend, “I think the city would be just as well served if we had no party affiliation in local elections.”
There you have it.