Republicans would like to pick off last South Mississippi Democrats in Legislature


Republicans would like to pick off as many Democratic incumbents as necessary to get them to an unstoppable majority in the state House.

But no Democrat, at least in South Mississippi, is a bigger target than David Baria, whose district includes Bay St. Louis, his hometown of Waveland, Pearlighton, part of the Kiln and most of rural Hancock County

First, House Speaker Phil Gunn put all Democratic districts on notice that sending a Democratic representative would mean the district would be on the outside looking in when it comes to legislative decisions.

Then, ads dropped in maiboxes across Baria's district criticizing his plan to offer a bill that would bring 80 percent of the BP settlement money controlled by the Legislature back to the cost. (Baria wants to send 20 percent of the money back to Jackson is the gist of those ads)

"If a bill like mine doesn't pass," Baria said. "that money will go directly into the general fund and the Legislature will appropriate that money. You know as well as I do the Legislature can't be trusted to send that money back to the Gulf Coast."

Finally, last week, the state's top three Republicans -- Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Gunn and party Chairman Joe Nosef -- campaigned in Bay St. Louis for Baria's opponent, Mickey Lagasse. Bryant also donated $13,136 in September to the Lagasse campaign, which went from $12,600 in contributions and $5,473 cash on hand at the end of July to $41,985 in donations and $17,353 on hand on Oct. 9.

But cash isn't likely to be the issue. Baria had $43,352 on hand on Oct. 9.

For his daughters

Lagasse, a vice president with Compton Engineering, ran for state Senate in 2011 but lost to Sen. Philip Moran. Lagasse said he's running for his three school-age daughters.

"My concern is our economy is right on the edge," he said. "If we don't do some things to be positive, they're going to have leave to find work.

"I don't want to leave Hancock County, so I don't want them to leave Hancock County."

He said a plan to boost the economy would have to solve the flood insurance riddle, provide for economic development and help the public school system.

The biggest problem, he said, is a lack of housing.

"We can provide jobs all we want," he said. "If they don't have a place to live and raise their children, a place where they want to live and raise their children, the money we're spending to create these jobs just goes out of state."

Stand up for Hancock

Baria agrees the lack of jobs and the high cost of insurance are on the minds of voters in Hancock County, but they also "want someone who'll go to Jackson and stick up for them."

"If they didn't want the last one of those three, I don't think I ever would have been elected," Baria said. "This is a district that predominantly considers itself Republican leaning.

"But Legislative races are still local enough so when you know the person, and you know they are committed to standing up for the district, then voters will cross party lines and vote for that person."

He said the Legislature has been successful "nibbling around the edges" of insurance reform. He said it passed the Clarity Act, the mitigation program and the catastrophe savings account.

"So all of those are important to people on the Coast but we have not be able to lower rates," Baria said. "We just don't have control over that. That's the Insurance Department, not the Legislature."

Yet, some of the things the Legislature has done may help lower rates, he said.

"We have had companies come back to the market," Baria said. "Some of the things done over the last eight years, such as improving building codes, mitigation credits and those kinds of things have served to cause insurance companies to want to look at us again."

Ladner vs. Ladner

Also in Hancock County, Republican Timmy Ladner is being challenged by Democrat Bill Joe Ladner for the District 93 House seat, which snakes from Picayune to Wiggins through mostly rural parts of Hancock, Pearl River and Stone counties.

Just to the east -- in a Senate district that includes Pass Christian, Long Beach and part of Gulfport -- state Sen. Deborah Dawkins, another Democratic and outspoken critic of the Republican administration in Jackson, is being challenged by newcomer Walter Crapps.

"Some people pointed out to me that she didn't have an opponent," said Crapps, who is a psychologist at the South Mississippi Center and had Chairman Nosef at his meet and greet in Long Beach in late October. "I decided to get into it."

Although Initiative 42 is the hot button topic of the campaign, Crapps said he isn't going to take a stand on the school funding proposal. Dawkins has been actively campaigning to get Initiative 42 passed. Baria is a supporter and Lagasse is opposed even though Lagasse said he signed the petition to get it on the ballot.

"I do know we develop jobs, we need to build an infrastructure to make retail and hotels want to come," he said. "In Long Beach and Pass Christian there is one hotel between them."

Crapps would be in favor of developing another retail corridor off the beach where businesses could afford to pay the insurance premiums.

Dawkins has supported women's rights and environmental causes throughout her career in the Senate, where she has served since 1999.

The only other race in Harrison County is for House District 121 where Republican incumbent Carolyn Crawford faces Democrat Brian Pearse in a district that stretches from Pass Christian to northwest Gulfport.

Across Harrison County, six other Republicans and one Democrat are unopposed for their House seats and four Senators are unopposed.

In Jackson County, Democrat Kay Sims is challenging Republican Charles Busby for the House District 111 seat Busby won by 35 votes over Brandon Jones in 2011. Democrat Jimmy L. "Bo" Alawine and Republican Joseph M. "Mike" Seymour are running for the seat Republican Tony Smith gave up to run unsuccessfully for the Public Service Commission. And incumbent Republicans Sen. Michael Watson and Rep. Manly Barton are being challenged by Libertarians Boyd T. Kendall and Joshua Hardy respectively. Four House members -- three Republicans and a Democrat -- are unopposed as is Republican Sen. Brice Wiggins.

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