Us vs. them: It’s the person – not the party – who can make positive change here in Mississippi

By CLARK HICKS,

What happened to all the Mississippi Democrats who held state and federal elected office? Nothing really. They just changed their name to Republican.

Jim Hood’s defeat marks the end of a long and checkered history of Mississippi Democrats elected to a major state office.

Republicans now control all statewide offices, both houses of the state legislature, both US Senate seats and three of the four US House seats.

Congressman Bennie Thompson is the only Democrat in the bunch.

Despite having a 38% black population and a 55% female population, white Republican males dominate the state’s most powerful political offices.

During the Jim Crow era, the Dixiecrats - conservative white males - controlled Mississippi politics.

They governed with an iron fist, railing against an oppressive federal government and liberal interlopers who threatened our Christian heritage and southern values.

With a few exceptions, blacks, females, and Republicans were not elected to the top statewide offices.

Then, something happened.

Ronald Reagan was elected President.

He received overwhelming support from the Dixiecrats and in that moment, Mississippi political leaders began a slow molting process.

Attitudes did not change.

People did not en masse have an awakening to our lack of political diversity.

Blacks did not start winning statewide or federal elections, and females did not begin breaking the glass ceiling.

No. Everything stayed the same except the Donkey became an Elephant.

In this era, Republicans rule with an iron fist, railing against an oppressive federal government and liberal interlopers who threaten our Christian heritage and southern values.

Same song, just a different title.

Meanwhile, our state struggles with poverty, failing schools, and unemployment.

We have the same problems today as when our politicians of yesteryear had a “D” instead of an “R” by their name on the ballot.

I argue that Mississippi will rise only when our politicians reflect the diversity of our state.

This does not necessarily mean a return to the Democratic Party.

Black voters need to turn out in large numbers to vote - for somebody.

That’s not happening.

More women should run for high office.

Voters need to shed tribal clothing based on race or tradition and support the best candidate.

Most of us have been tricked into an “us v. them” mentality, being conned by shameless politicians who want power and prestige.

Worse yet, voter apathy is fueling incompetent candidates who thrive on complacency.

Party politics is not working.

It does not matter what political party governs if the results are the same.

Somehow, someway, many more Mississippians need to get engaged in the process, demand reforms, hold politicians accountable, and work harder to improve our economy, our schools, and our infrastructure.

Shakespeare wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

It’s the person, not the party who can make positive change.

Male, female, black and white - together we can rid ourselves of labels and forge a new beginning.

Clark Hicks is a lawyer who lives in Hattiesburg. Email him a note at: clark@hicksattorneys.com