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franklin county times

Republicans eye ways to expand base

By Staff
Sept. 26, 2001
Republican National Committee chairman Gov. Jim Gilmore of Virginia refused to comment on the most partisan political question in Mississippi politics today  congressional redistricting beyond the platitudes that he hope the Legislature would avoid "extreme gerrymandering."
But the leader of the nation's GOP organizational, political and fundraising effort did address a theme made familiar during Mississippian Haley Barbour's tenure as RNC chairman expanding the base of the party to include traditional Democratic Party voters.
The 51-year-old Gilmore, a decorated former U.S. Army intelligence officer who is an attorney and businessman from Richmond, was in Jackson over the weekend to tour the Mississippi GOP's impressive new headquarters facility on Yazoo Street in Jackson near the south side of the State Capitol Building and to participate in some party fundraising activities.
Barbour's Big Tent' open
Clearly, Barbour's "Big Tent" philosophy for the expansion of the GOP base in America is still ingrained in the party's efforts. "We are not seeking bloc voting in Mississippi or anywhere else," said Gilmore. "We hope to and expect to attract substantive minority support here based on the quality of our ideas. We are seeking the votes of all communities."
While citing the election last summer of Tchula Mayor Yvonne Brown an African-American female in a town with a 96 percent black population in rural Mississippi as symbolic of local party gains, Gilmore admitted that there is much work to be done in many Deep South states for a truly viable two-party system to be entrenched.
Mississippi has long been the province of the Republican party in presidential elections. This state has two of the nation's senior Republican U.S. senators. Two of the state's five congressmen are Republicans. Kirk Fordice held the Governor's Mansion for an unprecedented two terms from 1992-2000. State Auditor Phil Bryant has been a successful statewide Republican candidate.
GOP weak at the Capitol
But the Mississippi Legislature, the vast majority of county boards of supervisors and an even larger number of municipal elected officials are Democrats. In terms of congressional redistricting, nothing underscores the lack of substantial Republican clout in the Mississippi Legislature more than the seeming inability of the GOP to be more than a spectator to the process.
It's also the reason that many Democratic lawmakers involved in the redistricting process are gazing at Republican Third District Congressman Chip Pickering in much the same way that a hungry fox inspects a line of setting hens in the chicken coop as they struggle to create a "safe" district for fellow Democrat Ronnie Shows.
As long as Trent Lott and Thad Cochran continue to control the federal pursestrings, the Mississippi GOP will remain strong. Make no mistake that incumbent Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove will face a strong, credible Republican challenge if he seeks re-election in 2003.
But if the Mississippi GOP is to reach true parity, the gains must come at the district and local levels in the Legislature, the courthouses and the city halls across this state where the political rubber meets the road.
Gilmore believes it can be done. The charismatic governor got his own start in Republican politics when he was elected as district attorney of Henrico County, VA.
Sid Salter is Perspective Editor/Columnist at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson and a syndicated Mississippi political columnist. Call him at (601) 961-7084, write P.O. Box 40, Jackson, MS 39206, or e-mail ssalter@jackson.gannett.com.