/Want to run for office in Mississippi Get your checkbook out

Want to run for office in Mississippi Get your checkbook out

Sometimes, Mississippi Republicans present a bill that is so questionable that even the far-right fringes within their party are willing to support the most liberal Democrats in the state. Last week, a Senate bill would have allowed the two largest parties in Mississippi to determine their own filing fees for candidates for legislative and statewide office. These modest fees have been included in state law for decades by lawmakers, effectively taking politics out of the process. On Feb. 9, 30 Republican senators voted to make Mississippi the fourth state to permit the major political parties in the country to set these fees. If the bill is passed and the Mississippi parties follow their counterparts in the other three states, incumbents will be better protected from primary challengers. The bank accounts of both major parties will be much more flush and many Mississippians would not be able to afford to run for office. Why would lawmakers pass a bill that could make Mississippians unable to run for office? Last week, that was the first question Sen. Joey Fillingane asked. Fillingane was the Republican who supported it on the Senate floor. Fillingane stated that “when there’s no cost to run for office and getting your name on the electoral roll, it creates the potential for lots of mischief,” Fillingane told the Senate floor, one of the most public forums in the state. “… Many people are just looking to have fun with the system and not really care about running for office. It would create problems for those who are serious in running for office.” Fillingane, apparently feeling that he hadn’t acknowledged enough flaws in the bill, continued to defend the bill unassisted. “There was a time not too long ago when a truck driver put their name on the ballot but didn’t run. He was driving his 18-wheeler truck. He won a major party primary in Mississippi for a key office. You could argue that it was due to having very low filing fees for that particular race.” Fillingane was referring to Robert Gray who was elected governor in 2015. Gray’s surprising victory in the primary was summarized by Fillingane. Gray didn’t know much about politics, had never run any public campaigns, and his mother wasn’t aware he was running. Gray, despite all this, had something that most Mississippians share: A deep disdain for Jackson’s elected officials over many years and a desire for improvement in their state. To get his name on the electoral ballot, the truck driver had to pay $300 to the state Democratic Party. He won the primary a few weeks later and had ample opportunity to express his views for Mississippi for several weeks. That’s American democracy, for better or worse. The Mississippi legislature increased the filing fees for legislative and statewide races in 2016. Mississippi Democrats and Republicans who wish to run for office today have to pay between $250-1000. State senators and state representative must pay $250 to their parties (in addition to the $15 filing fee prior the 2016 change). Only three states in the United States have granted power to state parties to determine filing fees. They are Alabama, Arkansas, and Delaware. These are the fees that these states charge for filing: They are significantly higher than Mississippi’s $250 per-state filing fee. Running for state offices in Mississippi, and other states, costs more than the sums above. Fillingane evaded questions last week from senators about ulterior motives for the Mississippi bill. However, Democrats and ultra-conservative Republicans were in agreement by the end. The bill appeared sketchy and was a poor piece of legislation. “To me, anyone who wants to run to office should be able to do so,” stated Sen. Angela Hill (a conservative Republican firebrand who is frequently criticized by establishment Republicans). Fillingane said, “It shouldn’t be prohibitive for them, and I don’t care what their motive is for running.” Fillingane also invoked Vladimir Putin and Communist Russia to criticize governments that attempt to control every level of a political process. Fillingane was booed and jeered by both Democrats and Senate Republicans for making this comparison. “Do you think people back home should worry that we’re passing a bill to raise the fee to preserve incumbency?” Rod Hickman (a Macon freshman Democrat) asked. He was elected in the midterm election in November 2021. “From my small research, I have found that the filing fees )… in states that have adopted this model are very high. I believe this bill is a bad one.” Fillingane responded: “People can vote for the other party if they feel upset.” If the bill passes the House in the coming weeks, it will raise money for both major parties. During floor debate, Senator David Blount (a Jackson Democrat) stated that he had spoken with Frank Bordeaux, the Republican Party Chairman. Tate Reeves hand-picked chairman of the party said that he supported the bill to raise money for the party. The high fees will not only discourage Mississippians from running for office but also prevent them from sharing their ideas on how to better serve the state. This bill is just one of many reasons Mississippians feel their elected officials don’t care enough about the real problems.