/Rep Bennie Thompson’s black voter powerbase crucial for Senate Democrats

Rep Bennie Thompson’s black voter powerbase crucial for Senate Democrats

Thompson said that he was speaking to his mother and she said, “You know we don’t vote in Bolton.” Thompson was seated in a small conference room in the congressional office of Bolton, western Hinds County. It was shocking to me that I had been up in Sunflower County helping to register black voters to vote, and even though they did, it was not the same privilege. Thompson’s father was an auto mechanic who died in 1964, which was the year of passage the federal Voting rights Act. His mother was a school teacher and her first vote was cast for her son in 1969 when he was elected to the Bolton board of aldermen. Thompson won the election, as he has in many others since then. However, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the local election commission had to allow Thompson and two other African Americans to be seated in Bolton’s city government. Thompson could argue that he has advanced from his first election to be the most powerful African American politician of Mississippi for 25 years. Since 1993, he has represented the majority-black 2nd Congressional District. He proudly points out that this is the same district Hamer ran many years ago, though he lost. An assortment of items can be found on the walls of Thompson’s Bolton congressional offices, including black empowerment paintings and a large mounted deer head. There are also photos of Thompson with his hunting buddies. It’s easy to forget that this modest office also houses the House Homeland Security Committee’s ranking Democrat. On this day, Thompson is often seen in shorts and a golf shirt to receive top-secret updates about national security from the office. If Thompson’s hopes are realized this November, there will be an African-American holding an electoral higher office than Thompson’s. To make that happen, Mike Espy (viewed by many as a Thompson competitor) must win the November special Senate election to replace Thad Cochran, the veteran U.S. senator who retired in March due to poor health. Thompson has endorsed Espy as well as state Rep. David Baria, the Mississippi House Democratic Leader, who is also running in November’s U.S. Senate race against Roger Wicker (a Tupelo Republican). Thompson stated, “Our challenge is to do our best and elect two good senators.” Although both candidates are unlikely to win, Thompson’s assistance could help, particularly for Espy who is not faced with the daunting task of challenging an incumbent. Espy will run against Chris McDaniel, Ellisville state senator, who is a Tea Party favorite and was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant will replace Cochran through the election. Gautier Democrat Tobee Bartee also is in the race. Mike Espy was the first African American to be elected to Congress from Mississippi after Reconstruction. He won the 2nd District seat in 1986 to great national acclaim. He resigned in 1993 to become Secretary of Agriculture under the Bill Clinton Administration. Thompson, a Hinds County Supervisor at the time, was seen as a political force in the Jackson region. However, Mike Espy was seen as the favourite to succeed his brother Henry, Clarksdale mayor. Thompson won the special election, and has not looked back. He defeated Henry Espy’s son Chuck, who is now Clarksdale mayor, in a Democratic primary in 2010. Thompson answered a question about his relationship to Mike Espy. He said that he supports him. Thompson’s endorsements are not always easy to find. He is often oblivious to the politics of state elections. In 2008, former Democratic Governor. Thompson published a sample ballot in 2008 for Ronnie Musgrove, who was running for another Senate special election to fill the seat left vacant by Trent Lott’s early retirement. With the exception of the special election in the Senate, the sample ballot marked all Democratic candidates. Thompson stated that he had voted for Musgrove at the time, but didn’t endorse him. Thompson cited two reasons for not recommending Musgrove: his hesitation to embrace Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, and his call for a special session to pass legislation that would limit the ability of businesses and doctors to file lawsuits. Some political observers at that time considered the absence of a Thompson endorsement fatal for the Musgrove campaign. For a Democratic candidate to win in Mississippi, a high turnout of African American voters is essential. Some believe that Espy or Baria would have a better chance if there was a high black turnout, similar to the two Obama election turnouts. This is likely to happen if Thompson is active in campaigning this summer and autumn. Thompson believes that the November elections are crucial. He said, “I have served as a member of the House and Senate Democratic majority,” as well as as the minority. I am convinced that Donald John Trump is the White House’s best choice to save this nation from itself. We need a Democratic House as well as a Democratic Senate. A lot of the policies that made us great as an nation in the past will be gone. I don’t want my country to fall apart.” Thompson answered that he would support Espy or Baria if asked his opinion. But I believe that a candidate should run his or her campaigns. “I respect that.” Thompson did radio ads for Baria, which featured the Bennie Thompson campaign jingle. This was to help him win a difficult-fought Democratic primary in June. Espy spoke highly of Thompson and said that “Congressman Bennie Thompson was a friend and a leader within the Congress.” His support for the campaign is greatly appreciated. Marty Wiseman (ex-director at the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government) said that there have been “ongoing reports” that the Espy/Thompson relationship was not strong. According to Wiseman, if Thompson is, as reported, 100 percent behind Espy it could make a difference in the special election. Wiseman stated that Thompson is located in a safe congressional district. It could be a big difference if Bennie Thompson puts in all the effort. He’s got a strong network.” Thompson will be on November’s ballot, though he is likely to face only token opposition from Troy Ray and Harris Irving of the Reform Party. Thompson will still be on the campaign trail, where he can promote not only his candidacy, but also Espy’s and Baria’s. Public perceptions of Thompson and Espy are very different. Charlie Mitchell, a political columnist, wrote that Thompson “tosses grenades before walking away.” Espy invites everyone to the table to exchange ideas. Thompson spins truth into grievances by taking grains of truth. Espy takes the truth and seeks verification and a solution. Thompson has been accused in the past of race baiting. He referred to Clarence Thomas, a conservative Supreme Court Justice, as “Uncle Tom”, a term that used to refer blacks who support the white agenda at the expense of the African American community. Some people believe that Thompson refuses to meet with white constituents. This myth is easily dispelled if you wait in his waiting room. The state Republicans believe Thompson is so toxic and so hated by large segments of Mississippi’s black community, that they try to use his association to harm white Democrats in the State. This was demonstrated by a Republican party official associating Thompson with Attorney General Jim Hood. Hood is Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democrat, and is considered the party’s best chance to win the office as governor. “Bennie Thompson is Jim Hood and they are the Mississippi Democratic Party. Lucien Smith, the chair of the state Republican Party, stated that they are popular with their base but not in tune with Mississippians on politics and policy. Jim Herring, a former chair of the state Republican Party, stated that he was not a fan Bennie Thompson. We worked hard to find candidates for him when I was chair. He is a socialist. It is not personal. Thompson dismissed the criticism. Thompson said that people write what they want, and most of them have never had a conversation. He said, “I have been married for 50 years to the same woman. I have lived in Bolton for 70 years. My whole life, I have been a member of the same church. I am nothing other than someone who made a decision early in his life to make a difference in the state. When I was twenty years old, I ran for public office. “I attended school here. “I raised my family here, and you know that I am a Mississippi product.” He said that he was influenced by the influence of people like Stokely Carmichael and Martin Luther King Jr. who were all majors in civil rights movements. He said that this exposure convinced him that his life’s work was in Mississippi. He believes in the lessons he learned from Tougaloo, which was founded by people like King and Hamer who were not welcome at the state-funded schools during the era. Thompson stated that he believes that his mission is to promote legislation to aid the poor and the underprivileged. He also supports the farmers in his area. He said, “I’m not trying to exclude anyone from the table. But I want enough seats at the table so it represents who we are as citizens.” It is now unclear if other Democrats from Mississippi will join Thompson at the Washington, D.C. table as a result this November’s election. Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story, as well as several others on our website, incorrectly identified Tobey Bartee, the U.S. Senate candidate, as a Gautier councilman. According to his campaign website he was most recently an Intelligence Analyst for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Every story where Bartee’s identity is incorrectly identified has been corrected. We are sorry for the mistakes.