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franklin county times

Dowdy hopes to rejuvenate party

By By Terry R. Cassreino / assistant managing editor
August 30, 2004
When former Gov. William Winter called in May, Wayne Dowdy answered and agreed to consider taking over the leadership of the Mississippi Democratic Party.
Today, Dowdy, the former McComb mayor and 4th District U.S. congressman, serves as chairman of the state Democratic Party. His goal: rejuvenate a party that once dominated state politics.
Dowdy last ran for office in 1991, when he lost the Democratic nomination for governor to incumbent Ray Mabus. Dowdy also ran for the U.S. Senate in 1988, losing to Republican Trent Lott.
Dowdy discussed his plans for the party in detail, including his hopes for the next round of statewide elections in 2007, during an interview with The Meridian Star editorial board.
The Meridian Star: Why did you agree to serve as chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party?
Wayne Dowdy: Let me say this: I absolutely have no interest and will not become a candidate for any elected office. But I do have a continuing interest in public matters. And I was approached by a group of Democrats who want to see the party again assert itself and become competitive in Mississippi. And I agreed to serve as chairman of the party.
The Star: Why did the party need a change?
Dowdy: I'm making no comments negatively about what was being done previously. It was obvious we were not raising money. We were not organized. We needed new leadership.
The Star: Do you find it ironic that the state Democratic Party finds itself in a position similar to the state Republican Party 20 years ago?
Dowdy: There's no question we are down. But we will not remain down. Matters of politics have a way of going in cycles. We will return to our competitive position and we will make Mississippi a two-party state.
That Star: What will that take?
Dowdy: Haley Barbour making a few more mistakes on Medicaid and public education. I think Haley Barbour's position on Medicaid cuts is indefensible 65,000 elderly and disabled people will lose their benefits. We are trying to draw attention to their dilemma so the governor will call a special session or delay cuts.
Now that the Republican Party is in control and running things in Jackson, people can see the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans.
The Star: What were Barbour's "education mistakes?"
Dowdy: We do not and have not adequately funded public education effectively. We had a reduction in public education funding. This governor has exerted strong leadership there can be no question that the budget passed by the Senate and the House was the result of his efforts.
The Star: Have you or the party started looking for possible candidates for statewide office in the 2007 elections?
Dowdy: We have not even completed first year of the Haley Barbour administration. We are still more than three years away from the next statewide election day. There will be candidates fielded by the Democratic Party … for governor and lieutenant governor.
In the governor's race, the newly elected attorney general (Jim Hood) would be an excellent candidate. Former Govs. Ray Mabus and Ronnie Musgrove would be excellent candidates. I personally think, under the right circumstances, an excellent candidate for governor would be John Grisham.
The Star: Why would Grisham make an excellent candidate?
Dowdy: He is a very strong candidate. (Grisham) is a former member of the Legislature who served two terms in the Legislature before his career path led him away from the Legislature. He has a deep abiding interest in the future of this state. He would be a very attractive candidate for governor.
The Star: But Grisham lives in Virginia and not in Mississippi.
Dowdy: I suspect the Republicans would raise the same suggestions to him that were raised unsuccessfully to Haley Barbour when he returned to Mississippi to run.
The Star: Have you been in contact with other potential candidates?
Dowdy: No. I had a passing conversation with two of them and told them they should consider Jim Hood and Ronnie Shows (the former 3rd District U.S. congressman).
The Star: Tell us about your plans to generate statewide interest in the Democratic Party.
Dowdy: We have a priority issue the Medicaid cuts. We see Oct. 1 as a red-letter day for 65,000 people in our state. I personally feel for these elderly and disabled people. We have been more active over last few weeks because of their dilemma. We want to call attention to their dilemma and want to continue to press the governor to call a special session or delay those cuts.
The Star: You also are running radio ads in the state targeting Republicans who supported the cuts.
Dowdy: In four legislative markets. We are running in Meridian.
The Star: Why are your ads targeting state Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, for supporting the cuts?
Dowdy: The three senators, Travis Little, Alan Nunnellee and Tommy Robertson, and one representative, Greg Snowden, (all of whom were targeted in the ads) were particularly supportive and active in Gov. Barbour's Medicaid proposals.
Our hope is for whatever reason Haley Barbour will call a special session to revisit this issue or administratively delay these cuts. We hope by calling attention to four of his closest legislative allies and their role, that might be one reason the governor might call a special session or delay the cuts.
The Star: How has the state Democratic Party found itself in the position it currently is in?
Dowdy: We are temporarily in this position.
Mississippians are, by and large, a conservative people. But there's nothing conservative about the Bush administration, which oversees the loss of huge budget surpluses and replacing those in George Bush's first term with record deficits. There's nothing conservative with the Bush administration's loss of 1 million, 800 thousands jobs since he has been in office.
I think the Republicans have done a masterful job in defining themselves than the Democrats. We've got to become active in defining Republicans as the party which has lost 1,800,000 jobs, which has lost the budget surplus and replaced it with record deficits.
We have not done that. Most of the people I see affected by the Medicaid reductions are people who come in here with letters from Medicaid and confess to me that they voted for Haley Barbour. Why? Because the Republicans have defined themselves.

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