Monday, March 23, 2009

Revolt in the MS Democratic Party

This past Saturday, as revelers from all over the country were enjoying the festivities of the Mal's St Paddy's Day Parade, members of the Mississippi Democratic Party's Executive Committee were staging a coup less than a mile away. At issue, the hiring of Sam Hall as the new Executive Director and the seating of Ike Brown on the committee.

Last month, Hall was hired by a racially split vote, as all of the white members voted for Hall, while the Black vote was split between the current interim director Rosalind Rawls and Chris Smith, field coordinator for the historic Travis Childers congressional campaign. Both Rawls and Smith are Black.

Hall, a former publisher of the conservative Scott County Times, had his first stint with the party as communications director. I was a candidate for the United States Senate for the first time when Hall was the communications director, and he was not a friend of my campaign. Fortunately, he was gone before the November election in 2006, and his replacement, Terry Casserino, proved to be invaluable in his advice during both of my senatorial efforts. Hall has seved as director of the Mississippi House Democrats' PAC and was involved with Jim Kitchens' successful election to the Mississippi Supreme Court, with a stint as an editor at an Alabama newspaper in-between.

Brown has been a strong ally for Democrats for years. Known as the absentee ballot guru, Brown , the former chair of the Noxubee County Democratic Executive Committee, was removed from that position by a federal judge as a settlement of a federal voting rights lawsuit. Brown was accused of discriminating against white candidates and disenfranchising voters in Noxubee County with his actions. Noxubee County is majority Black. Brown was not re-elected to the state executive committee last year due to his legal troubles.

Democratic Party Chair Jamie Franks, a former colleague of mine in the Legislature, was out of town for this meeting, so vice chair Barbara Blackmon, also a former colleague, conducted the meeting. Franks claims he was unaware that a meeting was called and questioned the legality of its actions. Blackmon contends the meeting was duly called, thus its actions are official.

Now it seems that the racial tensions of generations past are re-emerging in the Mississippi Democratic Party, reminiscent of the days of the Regulars/Dixiecrats and the Loyalists/Mississippi Freedom Democrats. That division eventually played out on a national stage, at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. This current rift could also have national implications, as the DNC has been funding the state party for the past four years and it is questionable whether the DNC will continue that arrangement.

So far the revolt has not become an all-out war, but if it is not resolved soon, it could and thus have devastating consequences for the upcoming Congressional and statewide elections in 2010 and 2011. Stay tuned...