House Bill 1048 didn’t get much fanfare as it moved through the Legislature. Perhaps its impact will.
The bill authored by Rep. Jody Steverson of Ripley and signed into law by Gov. Tate Reeves on March 24 moves the qualifying deadline for most state, district and county elections up to Feb. 1.
“Early filing deadlines benefit incumbents. So do brief filing seasons.” So argued Bigger Pie Forum in its article entitled “Incumbent Protection Proposal Making Its Way Through MS Legislature.”
“Since no candidate is allowed to file before Jan. 1, the new Feb. 1 deadline will only allow one month for candidates to file. It is likely that many who would consider running for office would not make that decision so early in the year.”
Most state, district and county primary elections are held in August with general elections in November. Once upon a time the qualifying deadline for these races was June 1 for party candidates and a later date for independent candidates. The first incumbent protection proposal changed that in the late 1980s when all such candidates were required to qualify by March 1.
“It was well known at the time that legislators wanted to know by March 1 if they would have an opponent in their election,” wrote BPF. “If so, they would have to be more careful about the votes they cast in the last month of the legislative session, when votes occur on the final versions of bills. If they did not have an opponent, they could vote however they wanted.”
That change back in the late 1980s was part of an effort led by the late Rep. Tim Ford and the late Sen. Bill Harpole to overhaul and reorganize election laws and create the Mississippi Election Code.
The change this year resulted from a request by election commissioners to have the same qualifying deadline as other candidates.
“Legislators were told that election commissioners asked for a change from the June 1 (sic) deadline to be more in line with the earlier deadline currently in place for legislators, statewide officials, and county officials, such as sheriffs, county supervisors, circuit clerks, and more,” wrote BPF. “But in the course of making that change, the House made the additional move to change the deadline for all candidate filings to Feb. 1.”
With legislative leaders trying to shorten sessions, some of those tough votes BPF mentioned may have to be cast earlier, so a Feb. 1 qualifying date could help protect any at-risk legislators.
The brief qualifying window may also be an issue in 2023 elections if required redistricting based on new Census data is not resolved until late 2022. Already the process will be delayed. The Census Bureau announced that redistricting data will be delayed at least six months.
As BPF concluded, “There is no need to have such an early deadline, nor is there a legitimate reason to limit the filing season to one month.”
Indeed, patriotic legislators (and governors) should enact laws to encourage people to run for office. Incumbent protection acts smell more of tyranny than liberty.
As Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.”
Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.