Thursday, 7 May 2009

Melton RIP

A leading contender for the title of “America’s worst mayor,” Frank Melton of Jackson, died last night after losing his chance at a second term in office in the Democratic primary. I’ve said before—and have been proven wrong—that I thought Melton’s career as mayor was over, but his passing would seem to seal the deal once and for all.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Third-world elections

Via Marvin King and Dad comes word that a minor blow-up is happening in Mississippi over the placement of the Musgrove-Wicker Senate contest on the state’s ballot, after Gov. Haley Barbour approved a sample ballot issued by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann (both Republicans) placing that election at the bottom of the ballot, in apparent contradiction of a state law that requires federal contests to be listed at the top of the ballot. Following my general rule not to attribute to malice what may simply reflect ignorance or an honestly-held, different interpretation of the law, I won’t leap to the conclusion that Hosemann, who drafted the ballot and is relatively new to the job, is engaged in partisan shenanigans. But Hosemann and Barbour should nonetheless fix the sample ballot forthwith and save the state’s taxpayers the cost of litigation. (I have no particular dog in this fight; both Wicker and Musgrove are, in my opinion, unworthy of election to any high office beyond that of class dunce, given their track records in office.)

Over the longer term, while I am not fully convinced that “independent” electoral arrangements are in practice much more fair than partisan ones, the state legislature should at the very least modify the election code to ensure the full board of election commissioners—which also includes the state Attorney General—reviews the ballot before it is issued.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

The long arm of Barack Obama

Current MS-1 resident Marvin King and I have been taking note of the surprisingly successful campaign of Prentiss county chancery court clerk Travis Childers, running as a Democrat, against Southaven mayor Greg Davis; the surprise is that this has been a reliably Republican district since 1994, and likely would have turned to the GOP a decade earlier if not for Jamie Whitten’s heroic efforts to get federal largess directed to northern Mississippi.

Now that Childers has placed first in the first round of the contest, it appears the gloves have come off with GOP ads linking Childers to two recent winners of the not-very-coveted National Journal “most liberal senator” award, John F. Kerry and Barack Obama. Childers is now trying to distance himself from the national Democratic party and Barack Obama in particular, but it’s questionable how effective that tactic will be over the course of the campaign. Childers also has to contend with the real likelihood that he will win the special election amid low turnout, only to be turfed out in six months when the presidential contest will bring out more of those GOP-leaning voters and Davis will have a big stack of roll-call votes showing Childers having an 80%+ agreement in his voting record with Nancy Pelosi; I can almost imagine the ads now.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Free at last

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down Texas’ anti-sex-toy law, presumably also invalidating the previously-mocked similar law on the books in my former home state, Mississippi.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

C-L: seemingly random "Oxford lawyer indicted"

Ole Miss booster and multi-millionaire class-action lawyer Dickie Scruggs and a number of his associates were indicted yesterday on federal charges stemming from allegations Scruggs attempted to bribe a Lafayette County judge into steering additional attorney’s fees his way in an insurance lawsuit. Scruggs in recent years has set himself up as an unofficial and unelected fourth branch of Mississippi government, using the court system to both influence public policy and enrich his firm with contingency work for the state attorney general’s office, as the C-L story indicates:

Scruggs, the brother-in-law of U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, is best known for his handling of mass litigation on behalf of the state of Mississippi, first involving asbestos and later involving tobacco.

His success in winning Mississippi’s landmark tobacco settlement led to his portrayal in the film The Insider, starring Russell Crowe and Al Pacino.

Then-Attorney General Mike Moore, who portrayed himself in the movie, hired Scruggs to handle the litigation on the state’s behalf – a move later criticized by some because Scruggs and other lawyers received millions in legal fees.

More recently, Scruggs has handled litigation against State Farm Insurance Co. over its handling of Katrina claims.

C-L columnist Sid Salter further explains how this scandal might affect the future careers of both Lott and Moore, Lott’s presumed heir apparent:

Exactly how does one divorce Dickie Scruggs’ historical status as Mike Moore’s largest campaign contributor and Moore’s award of the state’s lucrative tobacco litigation to Scruggs from a discussion of Mike Moore’s political future? It’s the same as ignoring the fact that Scruggs is Trent Lott’s brother-in-law.

Scruggs decided to make himself a major player in Mississippi politics by making huge campaign contributions, loans to candidates, starting and funding PACs to take down candidates he didn’t like and to keep trial lawyer-friendly candidates in power in the state House.

Nothing wrong with that. The business and medical community do the same thing and take their lumps for it. But it is what it is.

The next sob story will be that Dickie’s indictment is about Bush administration persecution of trial lawyers and a rehash of Paul Minor’s problems.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Trentless in Tillatoba

The Strom Thurmond fan club in the Senate is losing its most prominent member; according to media reports, Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott is resigning from office to pursue other interests. Presumably he won’t be replacing Ed Orgeron as head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels, so I have no clue what those interests might be.

Lott, always considerate of others, apparently decided not to wait out the next five weeks just to shaft Mississippi taxpayers with the cost of a special election to replace him—if he waited until January 1, an interim appointee could serve until November 2008, but otherwise the election must be held within the next 90 days (or possibly the next 100 days, the code isn’t entirely clear), according to the state election code. Hopefully Gov. Haley Barbour will be able to schedule the election to correspond with the presidential/congressional primary already scheduled for March 11th and save some money, but if Lott resigns effective today that may not be possible.

Monday, 19 November 2007

It's like the 1960s all over again in Mississippi

First it was Noxubee County, now it’s Wilkinson County’s turn to keep the civil rights division of the Justice Department in business:

Three Wilkinson County officials will take the Fifth Amendment if asked to testify in a bizarre election challenge that involves claims of voting irregularities, intimidation and racial overtones in the Democratic primary, an attorney said.

Sheriff Reginald Jackson, Circuit Clerk Mon Cree Allen and Supervisor Richard Hollins went to court to challenge their re-election losses in the Aug. 7 primary.

What makes the case unusual is that the three incumbents wanted a court to decide the matter, but it now appears they don’t want to participate in the hearings that began last week. ...

The incumbents were reportedly losing the Democratic primary when the polls closed. But they were declared winners after paper ballots were counted by a small group of people, including the sheriff’s sister, Easter Prater, the chair of the county’s Democratic Executive Committee.

That’s when accusations began to surface that someone stuffed the ballot boxes.

“We have made allegations of massive fraud regarding the paper ballots,” Piazza told The Associated Press on Saturday. “And now these folks have announced in open court that they are taking the Fifth Amendment.” ...

In a disturbing twist to the story, [Kirk] Smith, the only white candidate in the debacle, has been the victim of a series of tragedies since the primary, Piazza said. Smith’s wife, Donna, was arrested in a courtroom when she disputed the results. She was cleared of disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace charges and is suing the deputy, Piazza said. Also, vandals damaged Smith’s construction equipment and his home burned just days later.

“It was definitely an arson,” Smith told the AP.

Wilkinson County is in the extreme southwest corner of the state and has population of about 10,000 — about 70 percent black and 30 percent white.

This is not the first time whites in Mississippi have claimed racial intimidation during an election. A federal judge ruled in June that the Noxubee County Democratic Party in eastern Mississippi violated whites’ voting rights. That was the first time the 1965 Voting Rights Act was used on behalf of whites.

Maybe there’s something in the water in Mississippi’s black belts that causes everyone in power there, white or black, to play dirty tricks with elections.

þ: Rick Hasen.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Blaming the messenger

Let’s play spot the problem with this article about election problems in Mississippi:

Candidates in some of Hinds County’s split precincts were worried today that mistakes made by poll workers could impact election results.

In several split precincts, poll workers sometimes called up the incorrect ballot on voting machines for some voters, election officials and candidates said.

Hinds County Elections Commissioner Connie Cochran said she would not be surprised if election results are challenged because of the problem.

The problem was confined to split precincts, which cover more than one legislative district. The precincts that reported problems were 37, 81 and 93.

“It’s the same problem they had back in August,” Precinct 81 voter Bill Dilday said. “I don’t understand why the election commission cannot get it right.”

Here’s the question: why did the state legislature decide to split the precincts when setting House districts in Hinds County in the first place?

Thursday, 19 July 2007


An item potentially of interest to SN readers: I blogged earlier today about the recent federal court ruling ordering Mississippi to limit its primaries to registered party identifiers at OTB.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Teaching moments

Free Exchange notes New York Times reporter Erik Eckholm playing fast and loose with infant mortality statistics to extrapolate ominous trends from what appear to be random year-to-year fluctuations in infant death rates (and a downward-sloping overall trend, to boot).

One might also wonder what effect—if any—Hurricane Katrina had on the 2005 mortality rate. That is, if one weren’t Eckholm, who doesn’t even mention the possibility of a relationship with the largest natural disaster in Mississippi history.

Thursday, 16 November 2006

Don't blame me, I voted for Rick Whitlow

The short mayoral career of Jackson (Miss.) sheriff mayor Frank Melton looks to be close to its end. I can’t say I was a huge fan of his predecessor either, but Melton’s level of wackiness in office has been largely criminal and borderline comical—particularly since I no longer live in the city, so I can laugh derisively from a safe distance.

I’d say that I owe Donna Ladd and the folks over at the Jackson Free Press an apology and some credit for their foresight, but given the lengthy email tirade exchange we had last year over one word in a conference paper I wrote I’m not all that inclined to give either, despite the fact that a few really good students I taught at Millsaps did and presumably still do good work for the JFP.

þ: Hit and Run and Dad.

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

More Trent, Less Fulfilling

Favorite Signifying Nothing whipping boy Trent Lott has gotten a second opportunity to demonstrate the validity of the Peter Principle thanks to the 25 clueless senators who elected him Senate minority whip for the 110th Congress, selecting him over Lamar! Alexander. Senate leadership positions on either side of the aisle aren’t exactly hotbeds of political power (thanks largely to the fundamental institutional feature of the Senate—the filibuster—that distinguishes it from the House), so the substantive effect of Lott being in the formal leadership will be approximately zero, but in terms of symbolism I can’t say I can conceive of a choice from the 49-member caucus that is worse than Lott. I mean, that would be like the Democrats appointing a former segregationist as president pro tempore of the Senate or something.

The small bit of silver lining: the Porkbusters weenies are restless. Heh.

Monday, 24 July 2006

Ole Miss MA, PhD programs targeted by IHL

The Mississippi state college board put 37 degree programs at state universities on probation last Wednesday, including all three master’s programs in political science in the state and the sole PhD program:

“We’re giving them three years to get back on track,” said Bill Smith, the state’s acting commissioner of academic and student affairs. “We’re not out to just shut them down.”

The state College Board on Wednesday placed 37 programs on probation, and eliminated two, that were not graduating enough students.

Every university in the state except Mississippi University for Women had programs on the list.

Smith said the board adopted standards several years ago mandating a certain number of graduates over six years: 30 for bachelor’s, 18 for master’s and nine for doctoral programs. ...

Smith said elimination is not automatic for programs that do not up their number of graduates.

Some, he said, such as Delta State’s political science program, are key to undergraduate programs and cannot be eliminated.

Others, he said, are vital to Mississippi, no matter how few graduates they produce.

The graduate counts they present might even be a little on the generous side (my count is 5 or 6 PhDs, although I may be missing an IR person or two), but I’ll trust IHL‘s accounting over my vague recollections in this instance.

Saturday, 18 March 2006

QotD, rural Mississippi edition

Radley Balko, commenting on his field trip to Prentiss County, Mississippi:

There are lots of reasons to be upset by the Cory Maye case that have nothing to do with race. And I’ve tried to avoid injecting race into my own analysis of the case. But it’s impossible to visit the area and come away with any feeling other than that race pervades nearly every facet of life down there.

Thursday, 8 December 2005

Thank you, Ross Barnett

Tomorrow, in honor of the last day of class for my intro students, and to wrap up the section on civil rights, it’s movie day: specifically, volume 5 of Eyes on the Prize, entitled “Mississippi: Is this America?”

William Faulkner famously wrote that ”[t]he past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.” And certainly there have always been those who refused to let the past die, the titular single-term governor of Mississippi, whose name—probably forever—stains the reservoir from which Jackson (70% black) gets its drinking water, chief among them. The poisonous atmosphere fed by Barnett and his ilk led to the riots at the University of Mississippi over the admission of James Meredith to its law school and the murders of the “Philadelphia Three” civil rights workers. He certainly wasn’t the first or the last to contribute to this atmosphere—senators Bilbo, Stennis, Eastland, and (arguably) Lott did their fair share as well—but he has the singular distinction of being front-and-center during the worst of it all.

The political scientist’s question has to be “what was the point of it all?” In retrospect, the end of segregation seems inevitable, and perhaps those caught up in the moment might not have been able to see it, but 1960 wasn’t 1860—secession, not to put to fine a point on it, lacked viability, and several decades of at least limited desegregation outside the South, and in institutions like the armed forces, had enabled African-Americans to prove beyond a doubt that they were the equals of whites. Maybe these messages didn’t filter down to whites in the South, but they clearly did to blacks, who finally had substantial political support outside the region for desegregation for the first time since Reconstruction. Did southern elites just hope that it would all blow over? Were they that out of touch with reality?

The more personal question—to be asked by someone who, for better or worse, considers himself an adoptive Mississippian and is a native Southerner (despite the accent, or lack thereof)—relates to how much we (the South) lost because of that intransigence. Yes, the short-sighted calculus of “how can we elites hold on to power for a few more years?” explains a lot of their behavior—but at what cost? Our parents’ and grandparents’ willingness to put up with the grandstanding behavior of a bunch of pathetic political hacks who were afraid that blacks would turf them out of their privileged positions of power cost us—black and white—years of continued economic stagnation and undereducation, and forever tarred us, our state, and our region.

And, tomorrow, I have to continue doing that. I hope that my students will realize that what happened then isn’t what’s happening now, that Mississippi has truly turned the corner. But many of them will walk out just knowing a piece of the story—that some of us decided, long before I was born, that maintaining their place in the hierarchy was more important than anything else, and anyone who stood in the way of that would have hell to pay. So, Ross, thanks for the memories.

Thursday, 20 October 2005

Porkbusters go down in flames

As they say, heh.

Or to put it another way, one man’s pork is another man’s necessary infrastructure project. After all, the good people of New Orleans could get along just dandy with a repaired 4-lane I-10 Lake Pontchartrain bridge for years to come (especially when you consider that the depopulation of the city is going to make a widened span unnecessary for the forseeable future, Mayor Nagin’s revitalization fantasies aside)... Katrina alone shouldn’t bump them to the head of the line for a fancy new 6-lane span. And, surely, a real “porkbuster” would favor letting the FHWA bureaucracy, not Congress, decide where the money would best be spent. Let’s see how many votes that Coburn amendment would get; my bet is pretty close to zero.

Incidentally, my lack of sympathy also goes for using emergency rebuilding funds to pay for decades-old wishlist items and “new urbanism” tripe on the Gulf Coast instead of sticking to the essentials.

Thursday, 28 July 2005

The 50% solution

Former Mississippi governor Bill Waller is playing at being a reformer, but he’s only got the solution half-right:

Former Gov. Bill Waller Sr. says Mississippi should reduce the number of state legislators and limit lawmakers to two terms.

Waller spoke today at the Neshoba County Fair. He was one four former governors to speak in Founder’s Square along with incumbent Gov. Haley Barbour.

Waller, a Democrat who was governor from 1972–76, urged lawmakers to streamline state government.

“It has been obvious for years that we have too many members of the Mississippi Legislature and the numbers should be reduced in both the House and the Senate,” he said in prepared remarks. “Only 11 states have larger legislatures and most of those are much more heavily populated.”

Waller also said Mississippi would benefit by limiting terms for lawmakers.

“A two term limit on a smaller number of legislators would give the best and most modern state government of all 50,” he said.

I’m all in favor of halving the size of the legislature, but pretty much everyone who’s studied the issue of term limits seriously finds that the effects of term limits are pretty much the opposite of those promised by proponents: instead of producing “citizen legislators” who aren’t beholden to parties or organized interests, it produces a legislature full of political novices who have to rely on unelected party leaders and lobbyists, since they lack the political expertise and experience necessary to exercise good independent judgment.

A far better method for producing an accountable legislature is to ensure vigorous competition for seats, which suggests that Mississippi would be better served by overhauling the gerrymandered monstrosities we call legislative districts than selecting a fresh batch of mediocre politicians every eight years from constituencies that are the result of racial and partisan redistricting.

Thursday, 21 July 2005

Rent-seeking, Starkville style

Mississippi’s catfish farmers have their panties in a bunch after a Mississippi State University study found that Vietnamese basa catfish taste better than the state’s native product:

A study that suggests the Vietnamese basa catfish are as safe and taste better than domestic farm-raised catfish is now being called “preliminary” by Mississippi State University officials who say the issue warrants a more comprehensive analysis.

The study, which was made public Monday, has caused a stir among catfish farmers across the Southeast, especially in Mississippi — home to more than 100,000 acres of catfish farms. It has also drawn sharp criticism from Mississippi-based Catfish Farmers of America, a group that pushed for tariffs on the Vietnamese basa.

Another day in the life of Moscow on the Mississippi…

Bethany flip-flops on Catholic ban, blames “misunderstanding”

According to today’s Clarion-Ledger, the local chapter of Bethany Christian Services has reversed its policy barring Catholics from adoptions.

Rather than anti-Catholic animus, the agency rather bizarrely pins the blame on its misunderstanding of Catholic Charities’ adoption policy:

McKey said the agency’s past policy of excluding Catholic parents was “unintentional on our part” as Bethany had assumed Catholic Charities gave preference to Catholic couples seeking to adopt.

I must have missed the passage in the Bible where it says it’s OK to discriminate, but only as long as you think other people are doing it too…

Tuesday, 19 July 2005

Choose life, just not if you're Catholic

Tom Traina notes some old-style anti-Catholic bigotry going on in my backyard: a “Christian” adoption agency is denying prospective Catholic adoptive parents carte blanche on the basis of a policy that is, on its face, not inconsistent with Catholic beliefs.

To their credit, Choose Life Mississippi is investigating the allegations, which may encourage Bethany to rectify its policy. On the downside, the national Bethany organization is apparently A-OK with local chapters deciding which denominations are “Christian enough.”

Friday, 15 July 2005

Mississippi: now with less Klan!

Jerry Mitchell asks in this morning’s Clarion-Ledger whether the Klan is in terminal decline. One would hope so, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Monday, 11 July 2005

Another Berman nobody likes

John Fund has an Opinion Journal piece explaining the unusual marriage of conservatives and minority interest groups who are upset with the Supreme Court’s 5–4 ruling last month in Kelo v. New London:

In 1954 the Supreme Court declared in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. But that same year it also ruled in Berman v. Parker that government’s power of eminent domain could be used to seize property in order to tear down “blighted” areas.

It soon became clear that too often urban renewal really meant “Negro removal,” as cities increasingly razed stable neighborhoods to benefit powerful interests. That helps explain why 50 years later so many minority groups are furious at the Supreme Court’s decision last month to build on the Berman precedent and give government a green light to take private property that isn’t “blighted” if it can be justified in the name of economic development.

As always, the State of Mississippi (no stranger to “Negro removal”—ask Emmitt Till or Medgar Evers) is front-and-center as an example of eminent domain abuse:

Martin Luther King III, a former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, says that “eminent domain should only be used for true public projects, not to take from one private owner to give to another wealthier private owner.” In 2001 he joined with the free-market Institute for Justice (which represented the Kelo plaintiffs) to stop the state of Mississippi from uprooting homeowners to make room for a Nissan truck factory. After he compared the state’s actions to “a giant stepping on a grasshopper,” public opposition to the taking mounted. The state finally announced that Nissan had come up with a way to redesign its facility so that the homeowners wouldn’t have to leave.

Fund’s example might have been slightly strengthened if he knew that the families being uprooted by Nissan were black, in a county rapidly being transformed into lily-white suburbia due to outmigration from Jackson.

Meanwhile, it’s good to see the Clarion-Ledger recognizing what side its bread is buttered on. Quick quiz: one of these things is not like the other; identify it.

But, without eminent domain, there could be no public works: no streets, highways, parks, public lands, city, county, state or federal land and water projects or, more locally and recently, for example, here in Mississippi, no Nissan automotive plant.

Because we all know that car companies can’t afford to buy their own land…

þ: Glenn Reynolds.

Sunday, 26 June 2005

Maybe OJ can help

Clarion-Ledger reporter Jerry Mitchell suggests that prosecutors may find forensic evidence that is sufficient to indict the real other killers involved in the slayings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. Color me somewhat skeptical, but if the evidence fits, you must convict.

Another oddity: the C-L piece mentions Sam Bowers as a possible suspect in the sidebar, and Scipio points out that Bowers and Killen may soon be bunkmates at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in lovely Rankin County, Bowers having been convicted for killing Vernon Dahmer a few years back. You’d think they’d mention Bowers was already behind bars for another racially-motivated killing, instead of referring to him as “Sam Bowers of Laurel.”

Inspect this

I love the smell of a 100% fee increase in the morning:

A change in state law that requires scrutiny of window tint as part of vehicle safety inspections has some businesses that perform the annual inspections reconsidering whether to offer them.

Starting July 1, the darkness of a vehicle’s window tint must be checked as part of vehicle inspection, and the inspection fee rises from $5 to $10. Legislators approved the change to protect law officers.

Just another year in the life of our state’s massively effective vehicle safety inspection program, which (in its entirety) ensures public safety by making sure our cars’ horns, lights, and blinkers work.

Thursday, 23 June 2005

Kelo inconvenience

I don’t have any particular expertise to offer on the Court’s completely and thoroughly icky decision in Kelo v. New London handed down today—for that, see folks like Orin Kerr and the Crescat gang for the legal nuances—but I will note that I’ve finally learned my lesson: never teach a constitutional law course during a semester while the Court is handing down decisions.

I am somewhat reminded of the Nissan plant case here in Mississippi (discussed here); the prevailing feeling at the time was that the Mississippi Supreme Court probably would have found that taking to be unconstitutional. Mind you, the Mississippi Constitution is rather more explicit in stating that “public use” is a justicible question than the Fifth Amendment of the federal constitution.

Also, my armchair psychoanalysis of Justice Kennedy’s recent “leftward” shift is that he really doesn’t want to be nominated for chief justice when (if?) Rehnquist retires. Not that there was much risk of that happening, mind you, but it’s as good an explanation as any.