State vote: Big decisions may not translate into big turnout in Mississippi's general election

Vote Tuesday
Vote Tuesday

New supervisors will be elected. The Public Service Commission will be remade. The balance of power in the Legislature could change. The last Democrat in statewide office faces a stiff challenge. A constitutional amendment initiative could change the way public schools are funded.

And still, officials aren't confident voters will turn out in significant numbers.

"We have 1.8 million voters and at least half of them don't vote," said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann in September. "It makes a mockery of the veterans of all Mississippians who fought for that right to vote. And you're not going to get in your truck and go vote?"

Clearly, Initiative 42 is the marquee question before voters. Supporters of I-42 say it will force the Legislature to

adequately fund K-12 schools. Detractors say it will take power away from the Legislature and hand it to a chancery judge in Hinds County.

The ballot dealing with that question is something of a challenge.

Then there is the Legislature, where Democrats see an opportunity to take back at least one chamber. Both the House and Senate and its leadership are controlled by Republicans.

"I'm optimistic," Democratic Chairman Rickey Cole said in a familiar refrain. "I think that come January, we'll have more Democratic legislators than we do now. We've got some very good, competitive races out there that are going to turn some seats.

"I can't predict whether we'll change the majority but I believe we'll have gains in both chambers."

Not if the GOP leadership has anything to do with it, though. The top three Republicans -- Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn -- have been campaigning across the state, trying both to pick up legislative seats and to defeat Initiative 42. Gunn has no opposition for his District 56 seat, and Bryant and Reeves appear handily ahead.

For the chairman of the Republican Party that's a bit of a problem, although he admits it's a good one. "I guess the success we've had with candidates and the Democrats' maybe lack of success in some of the statewide races has been both a blessing and a curse for us," Joe Nosef said during a campaign swing in South Mississippi in late October. "It's good we don't have opponents, or strong opponents, but it's making a lot of our folks think that maybe they don't need to vote."

Nosef said he thinks a super-majority of 72 seats in House is in reach. That would make Democrats powerless to stop Republican measures on taxes and spending. Last session, Democrats blocked key GOP tax cuts.

"Something like that would be great," Nosef said.

Still, he said, the school-funding initiative could boost turnout. A lot more people are talking about it than any of the races.

"Inititiative 42, I think it is bad policy, but it's good politics," Nosef said, "in that it's easy to say, 'Fully fund schools,' but to talk about changing the Constitution and turning power over to the court system is a longer thing to do.

"We're trying to challenge it on those policy grounds and it's tough. All (I-42 supporters) have to say is, 'are you for school or are you against schools?'"

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