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franklin county times

Mean-spirited politics at Neshoba County Fair

By By Terry Cassreino / assistant managing editor
August 1, 2004
PHILADELPHIA Charles Pittman stood on the edge of the Founders Square pavilion, held a hand-printed poster in one hand and taunted state Attorney General Jim Hood for backing the Democratic presidential ticket.
Hood, Mississippi's top-ranking Democrat, was on a stage 50 feet away talking to more than 200 people at the Neshoba County Fair. With such a large audience, Pittman wanted to make a political point.
Pittman, a Raymond resident, served as a Democrat in the Mississippi Senate from 1980-1984. Today, he considers himself a Republican, a big supporter of Bush and a staunch opponent of Kerry.
Next to him stood others who held signs that also blasted Hood including one with Hood's face pasted above a cutout cartoon body with the slogan: "Kerry's hand puppet."
While some say the signs were an example of people poking fun at politicians, they actually highlight a growing, disturbing trend in Mississippi: the widening partisanship of state government and politics.
Political hotbed
The 115-year-old Neshoba County Fair, staged yearly on the county fairgrounds in the gently rolling, red clay hills outside of Philadelphia, has always been a hotbed of politics and a lure for politicians.
Statewide officials from former Gov. Ross Barnett to current Gov. Haley Barbour have stopped here every year to eat lunch, meet with people and campaign for office with old-fashioned, political stump speeches.
The fair has even attracted national attention when Republican Ronald Reagan kicked off his presidential campaign in 1980 and Democrat Michael Dukakis stumped for president in 1988.
But here at the fair, just like at the state Capitol in Jackson, times are changing.
For years, Mississippi's elected officials overlooked party labels and worked with each other to better the state. That's no longer a given as the divide between Democrats and Republicans grows larger each day.
That was especially evident during the 2004 Legislature when lawmakers voted largely along party lines on such major issues as a proposed cigarette tax, civil justice reform and voter ID.
Growing divide
Now, the split which mirrors the partisanship that often cripples Congress has begun to spill over into the public. It also threatens to halt serious public discussion of high-profile issues and problems.
Never was that more apparent than Thursday at the Neshoba County Fair when Hood talked about his work since taking office in January and shared his thoughts about plans to cut thousands of people from Medicare.
Prodded, perhaps, by what has become an increasingly bitter presidential race, a group of Bush supporters and Kerry bashers gathered at the fair pavilion and taunted Hood.
They said Kerry doesn't represent the beliefs and values of most Mississippians. They held signs that said "Hood loves K Edwards" and "Mississippi: Don't Get Hood' Winked Nov. 2nd."
And, of course, there was Pittman's sign that placed a mugshot of Hood next to those of Democratic officials some Mississippi Republicans love to hate: Bennie Thompson, Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy.
Pittman's sign read: "Thanks Jim, Your Our Man In Mississippi." Asked why the sign misspelled the contraction "you're" as "your," Pittman pointed to the pictures and gave a simple answer.
Terry R. Cassreino is assistant managing editor of The Meridian Star. Contact him at 693-1551, ext. 3232, or e-mail tcassreino@themeridianstar.com.

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