Republicans in Mississippi are at odds as the 2022 legislative session winds down. Here’s why.
Over the past week or so, tempers around the Mississippi Capitol have flared in both chambers, raising the ire of lawmakers and citizens alike.
Casual observers of Mississippi politics, specifically as it relates to the Legislature, would assume that since Republicans hold a supermajority, much of the big issue debates would be a mere formality as everyone is on the same team. However, that could not be further from the truth as unlike in Democratic Party ranks, Republicans routinely engage in friendly fire that ultimately undermines the “big things” that Republican voters expect.
Such is the case as it relates to eliminating the income tax, increasing teacher pay, providing free market competition, and ensuring personal liberties while restricting an overreaching government.
Here are the top 5 reasons lawmakers are feeling the heat and Republicans in Mississippi are at odds as the 2022 legislative session winds down:
1. Not all Republicans are as conservative minded as the (R) behind their name would have you believe.
Mississippi is often referred to as the most conservative state in the nation. When you examine voter trends related to national political candidates, that is surely true. Voters in the Magnolia State have not supported a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter. But it is only in the last decade that Republicans have fully controlled the state’s Legislature and it was not until 2019 that Republicans held all of the state elected offices and controlled the two regional commissions.
Much of this would not have been possible without party switchers who left the Democratic Party (some out of necessity if they were to keep their seats) to grab onto the coattails of the red wave Mississippi has experienced.
As such, not all Republicans are equal when it comes to how firmly set they are in their views on traditional Republican values. This truth, while adhering to the “big tent” philosophy the party has embraced, also allows a rift to divide members when public policy debates rage with Republicans taking opposite sides. Hence, the “RINO” moniker is deployed to check those who may be showing signs of not being conservative enough or who may not align fully with a certain perspective, whether fair or not.
An example of this could be seen over the weekend with a political cartoon (shown below) making its way around social media, calling Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann “Delbert the Democrat” as he stands in a “RINO Kissing Booth” with members of the Senate Republican Caucus lined up to pay homage.
This scene, given the references to the Mississippi State Medical Association, the Department of Health, Pfizer and Merck, is surely a response to the reluctance to pass a stronger anti-COVID mandate bill and the willingness of some in that chamber to consider what is viewed as a form of Medicaid expansion with the postpartum language the House killed.
Yeah I’m not a RINO but the cartoon is cute. Who am I holding hands with? pic.twitter.com/mRCOCnBhBD
— Senator Joel R. Carter, Jr. (@JoelCarterMS) March 13, 2022
2. Leaders have resorted to aggressive, direct personal references against members in their own party to defend their policy positions.
It is one thing to have a disagreement over how a certain policy will impact voters or what financial projections are more accurate. It is quite another thing for members of the same party to essentially call each other liars or attempt to stir up animosity against another Republican just to try and take the conservative high ground.
What we have seen from Mississippi Republicans as of late would make Ronald Reagan very disappointed, as it was he who made the 11th Commandment – “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican” – a guiding tenet of the party.
While much of what has been said has been behind closed doors and among those in the know, here is an example of how such antics have contributed to raising the tenor in the Mississippi Capitol… and if this is what has spilled over into the public square, imagine what is being said behind those closed doors.
In a recent appearance on the SuperTalk Gallo Radio Show, Speaker Philip Gunn warned Mississippians to listen carefully to the language being used to defend the Senate’s tax relief bill, saying it gives a false impression and “pulls the wool over the eyes” of Mississippians in order to make people think they will get tax relief when they would not.
“Mississippians don’t need a Biden stimulus check from the Senate. They need real, substantive, life-changing tax relief,” Gunn said. “People need to understand why [the Senate’s] plan does not accomplish the relief that we need.”
Gunn went on to say that if you do the math, the Senate plan is flawed, and it is trying “to deceive.”
“I’ve also been frustrated by the flat-out misrepresentations by some of the Senators,” Gunn told Gallo, calling out recent statements by Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann (R), Senator Joey Fillingane (R), Senator Chad McMahan (R), and Senator Hob Bryan (D) made on Gallo’s radio show and rebutting their quotes, saying they are falsely representing the House’s proposal.
Again, this is just one example of how far off the rails things are under the Dome. There are other equally as contentious examples from both chambers that can be found with ease.
3. National politics is a disaster, and local voters are demanding Mississippi leaders protect their interests.
Inflation is at a 40-year record high. The average price of gas is higher than at any point in Mississippi history. The cost of food and other retail goods has steadily risen over the past year. And many see the world as on the precipice of World War III as Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine rages following what has been a show of weakness by the U.S. in the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and the woke culture being perpetuated in the American military.
All of this and more has the average conservative minded Republican voter in Mississippi (which is the largest voter bloc in the state) demanding state leaders push back against anything and everything that even appears to be from the left side of the aisle, from Medicaid expansion to COVID mandates to creating more bureaucracy through new state departments and more.
This insistence on action by voters means those Republican elected leaders, especially local lawmakers, who may not be as gung-ho on making such political statements or using their positions to counter such policies are going to be steamrolled by the ones who better know and understand their constituents out of sheer self-protection.
A good example of this was seen Sunday when State Senator Chris McDaniel posted a video (shown below) claiming that Lt. Governor Hosemann and his staff were threatening retribution against sitting state Senators for supporting his efforts to strengthen the anti-COVID mandate bill being debated in the chamber.
Fifteen state Senators joined McDaniel in challenging Hosemann during the debate, and from what the Jones County state Senator told viewers on his Facebook page, it could impact those Senators’ legislative boundaries as redistricting nears.
Truth is, however, some of those Senators on this particular vote, and other votes that have happened this session, including on Critical Race Theory, would not have traditionally been as determined to join in that effort with McDaniel had it not been for the state of national politics as it is today.
4. Mississippi voters did not sign up for this state intraparty power struggle.
For the first time in modern history, voters handed Republicans a fully “unified” state government and a supermajority House and Senate – except that it is in fact very much not unified. Voters and donors who help elect these officials are growing increasingly disappointed and disturbed by the unwillingness for their party leaders (most notably, Governor Tate Reeves, Lt. Governor Hosemann and Speaker Gunn) to sit in a room and hash out a workable, shared strategy instead of taking jabs at each other publicly while playing into the hands of the opposition party and the mainstream media who are orchestrating to help fan the flames.
More conservative voters than usual are taking their frustration out on the top three Republican leaders in the state – Reeves, Hosemann, and Gunn – blaming them for the disjointed manner in which big issue public policy matters are being handled, or worse, not being handled. Voters expected cohesion and teamwork but what they got has been something quite different.
When you talk with Republican voters, all of this adds up to increased pressure on the elected Republican officials in the Legislature to do more of what was expected, especially as their re-election campaigns draw near.
5. Campaigning for re-election starts in earnest when this session ends.
As they are nearly three-fourths of the way through this legislative term, much of what lawmakers are doing now is setting the stage for their re-election campaigns in 2023. But given that qualifying for those seats begins before they will return in 2023, their re-election campaigns truly begin in earnest as soon as this 2022 session ends if they are to ward off any credible challengers that may emerge throughout the summer and into the fall.
Depending on what district a lawmaker is in, and how conservative of a voting base there is, the next few weeks could make or break their political futures.
The same can be said for the statewide elected officials. However, they are a bit more insulated and can rely on crossover votes if needed to help them win the day. But even with that, there is increased pressure to not have a credible challenger run to their right, particularly as it relates to income tax relief, COVID mandates, and other social and fiscal policy issues voters expect Republicans to be firmly rooted in for their benefit.