GOP keeps control amid special legislative races

Published 4:00 pm Sunday, September 6, 2020

JACKSON (AP) — The Mississippi Legislature is already seeing some turnover just a few months into this four-year term, but it’s not enough to tilt control away from Republicans.

The term started in January, and two freshmen Republicans in the House stepped down just a few weeks later because of a dispute over whether they could collect their state government pensions while also serving at the Capitol.

One Republican representative and one Republican senator resigned mid-year because of health concerns. And one Democratic representative and one Republican senator stepped down after taking other jobs. Serving in the Mississippi Legislature is a part-time job.

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Some turnover is common each term because of illnesses, deaths or career moves in the 122-member House and 52-member Senate.

Republican Rep. Robin Robinson of Laurel won a special election in June to fill the District 88 seat in Jasper and Jones counties, and she will finish a term started by Republican Ramona Blackledge of Laurel. Robinson took her oath of office Aug. 10 when the Legislature was briefly in session.

Blackledge is a retired Jones County tax assessor and collector. Republican Billy Andrews of Purvis is a retired Lamar County Court judge. Both were elected to the House in 2019 thinking that they could collect their pension and legislative pay, because of a legal opinion issued by then-Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat.

Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn said in January that he disagreed with Hood’s interpretation of state law. Gunn also said that if legislators want to change the decades-old law that created a financial barrier for state retirees in House or Senate service, they should file a bill. One was soon filed and then killed during a hastily called House committee meeting.

Andrews resigned March 31 from the District 87 seat in Forrest and Lamar counties. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves set a special election to fill that seat on Nov. 3, coinciding with the presidential election. The candidates are David Wayne Morgan and Joseph “Bubba” Tubb.

After the other legislators stepped down, Reeves set those four special elections for Sept. 22. If runoffs are needed, they will be Oct. 13.

Candidates in Mississippi special elections run without party labels, but they often tell voters their political affiliation. Winners will serve the rest of a four-year term that ends in January 2024.


Senate District 15

Republican Sen. Gary Jackson of French Camp resigned June 30 because of health concerns. Jackson had served since 2004.

The district is in Choctaw, Montgomery, Oktibbeha and Webster counties.

The candidates are Bricklee Miller, Levon Murphy Jr., Bart Williams and Joyce Meek Yates.


Senate District 39

Republican Sen. Sally Doty of Brookhaven resigned in mid-July after the governor nominated her to be director of the state Public Utilities Staff, a group that analyzes proposals and provides advice to the three elected members of the Public Service Commission. Doty had served in the Senate since 2012.

The district is in Copiah, Lawrence, Lincoln and Walthall counties.

The candidates are Jason Barrett, Beth Brown, Cindy S. Bryan, Mike Campbell, Josh Davis, Ben Johnson, Michael Smith, Prentiss Smith and Bill Sones.


House District 37

Republican Rep. Gary Chism of Columbus resigned June 30 after serving since 2000. Chism had a stroke in 2017 and said he had not enjoyed legislative service as much since then.

The district is in Clay, Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties.

The candidates are David Michael Chism, Vicky Rose and Lynn Wright.


House District 66

Democratic Rep. Jarvis Dortch of Raymond resigned July 1 to become director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi. Dortch had served in the House since 2016.

The district is in Hinds County.

The candidates are Gregory L. Divinity, Robert C. ‘Bob’ Lee Jr., Fabian Nelson, Kathryn Orey Perry, De’Keither A. Stamps and Calvin B. Williams.