/The once powerful rural white Democrat a dying breed in Legislature

The once powerful rural white Democrat a dying breed in Legislature

McCoy’s term as speaker ended in 2011, and it could be said that McCoy’s departure was the final hurrah of the rural white Democrats who had for many years ruled over the legislative roost. Since November 2011, Republicans have increased their number in Mississippi’s legislature chambers. The rise in Republicans in the Legislature coincides with a massive shift in northeast Mississippi legislators, who are the power base for Ford and McCoy. They have switched from the Democratic Party over to the Republican Party. A long list of northeast Mississippi legislators have switched parties in the past two terms. Other northeast Mississippi Democrats were also replaced by Republican. Hours before the March 1 qualifying deadline, the office of Republican Speaker Philip Gunn issued a press release informing that Rep. Nick Bain, one of few rural white Democrats left, had qualified to run for re-election. Three other rural white Democrats hailing from northeast Mississippi were also elected – Senators. Russell Jolly, J.P. Wilemon from Belmont, and Rep. Preston Sullivan are not running for re-election. David Baria, Bay St. Louis’ House Democratic leader is also not running for re-election. According to the conventional wisdom, these four districts are toss-ups and a Democrat could win any or all of them. The future will be interesting. Most likely, the Republicans’ takeover in Mississippi was hampered by the electoral success of northeast Mississippi Democrats. This is due to their inability to change parties. One could argue that rural white Democrats didn’t govern differently from Republicans during most of Ford’s four terms in office. Although they governed conservatively in Mississippi, partisan politics was not yet a dominant force. The Legislature was focused on building coalitions that could be reorganized and changed from one issue to the next. Partisan politics was a powerful force by the time McCoy became speaker. McCoy’s coalition was dominated by Democrats, especially during his last term. The largest block in this coalition was not made up of rural white Democrats but African Americans. McCoy appointed a record number of black legislators to chair many of the most influential committees of the Mississippi Legislature. Since reconstruction, African Americans have not had this much influence in the state government. McCoy’s second term saw opponents produce and distribute a flyer that featured photos of all the black committee chairs he had entrusted. The flyer didn’t say anything racist. It only had photos and explained that these were members of the important committee positions held by Speaker Billy McCoy. The flyer didn’t include photos of McCoy’s white committee chairs. It was obvious that Mississippians still had a negative opinion of those appointed committee chairs. McCoy was openly supportive of those appointed as high-quality individuals who deserved to be able to chair committees. McCoy was also able to see that his power came not from rural white Democrats but from African Americans. McCoy was perhaps the best-known rural white Democrat. He did not arrive in the Legislature from rural Prentiss County as a leading voice on race relations. McCoy privately lamented that people thought that such a flyer would work and that it worked with certain people.