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First Black Republican State...

First Black Republican State Representative Since Reconstruction Elected in Mississippi

By: Frank Corder - August 10, 2023

State Representative-elect Rodney Hall believes the color of his skin was not a factor for Republican voters. He knows it is his values and principles, the same shared by most conservatives, that helped him win the day.

Despite often being referred to as a suburb of Democrat-controlled Memphis, DeSoto County has become one of the most reliably conservative areas in Mississippi. It is there where voters in state House District 20 chose Rodney Hall as their next State Representative. When he is sworn in come January 2024, Hall will be the first black Republican to serve in the Mississippi House of Representatives since Reconstruction in the late 1800s.

Yet, while the win is without a doubt historic, Hall believes the color of his skin was not a factor for Republican voters in an area where roughly 60% of the population is white. Hall knows it is his values and principles, the same shared by most conservatives, that helped him win the day.

“When I started my race, I started with a few simple truths. There’s more that unites Mississippians than divides us. I don’t care what race, color, creed, nationality that you come from. And when you boil it down to the basics, most Mississippians desire freedom, they want the ability to grow and raise their family in a safe environment where there’s opportunity to achieve the American Dream,” Hall told Magnolia Tribune the day after his win. “That’s what the Republican Party stands for.”

He doesn’t think working Mississippians believe government is going to fix all of their problems, but “it can certainly get in the way and create a lot of problems.”

Hall said while it was obvious he was a black Republican candidate running for the state legislature – “the elephant in the room” for those outside the GOP – that fact was never mentioned on the campaign trail when talking with conservative voters or in meetings with Republican leaders seeking support.

“It was never in the calculus. Everybody got behind me and were supportive based on the values that we shared, the vision that we talked about, and the direction we wanted the state to go in, and work ethic and relationships,” Hall said. “I was very proud of that.”

Hall said he heard some in the minority community question why they should support his candidacy “when Republicans wouldn’t.” But Hall said that simply was not the case.

“They [Republicans] came out in droves. And I think it shows that if we continue to look for people of character, that have the desire to serve, we can accomplish a lot of great things,” Hall said.

The top Republicans leaders in the Mississippi House of Representatives welcomed the news of Hall’s win.

“It’s historic. It’s a wonderful development, I think. As I talk to many African Americans and they consider their political values and principles, so many of them line up with the Republican Party,” outgoing Speaker Philip Gunn said on Thursday. “And this is a young man who operates on those principles and values he truly believes in, and he chose to run for public office and offer to serve. I think that’s refreshing.”

Gunn’s Speaker Pro Tem, Rep. Jason White, also spoke with Magnolia Tribune about Hall’s win. White is the presumptive successor to Gunn, likely to be the House Republicans’ choice come the start of the 2024 session.

“We were extremely excited about his candidacy, then the campaign he ran, the positivity, the work he put in to connect with the voters, and that bore out on election night,” White said, adding that Hall understands conservative values and will be a good addition to their GOP caucus.

Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Frank Bordeaux was excited for Hall’s success, telling Magnolia Tribune late Wednesday that Mississippians of all backgrounds are finding a new home in the party “because our values are Mississippi’s values.”

“As the Democratic Party shifts farther to the left and adopts increasingly radical positions that do not align with the beliefs of Mississippians, the Mississippi Republican Party will continue to grow,” Bordeaux said. “That’s why we’re seeing such electoral success at every level of state and local government – because we truly represent the principles held by the people of our state.”

Bordeaux said he and the Republican Party are committed to continue to make inroads with voters they have historically not done a great job of reaching.

“Tuesday’s election shows we are doing just that,” Bordeaux said.

In fact, Hall wasn’t the only black Republican candidate to win in the Primary on Tuesday. Thomas Tuggle, formerly of the Mississippi Highway Patrol, will be the next Sheriff in DeSoto County and Wanda Robinson won the Webster County Circuit Clerk seat. Also of note, Donald Ray Thomas, the incumbent, again won the Republican nomination for Constable in Tishomingo County.

Mississippi’s Changing Political Landscape

Over the past 20 years, Mississippi has seen a major shift in its politics. Democrats, once the dominant political party in the Magnolia State for over a century, are now struggling to field and fund viable candidates at every level of government while Republicans continue to welcome party switchers and newcomers to the conservative movement at a rapid pace.

Since 2003, hundreds of elected officials – at times, slates of city and county officials – have exited the Democratic Party and joined with Republicans. In 2011, for the first time since Reconstruction, the Mississippi House of Representatives flipped to Republican control and elected a Republican Speaker. Now, there are supermajorities in both legislative chambers. Six years later, more municipal candidates were elected as Republicans than at any point in state history and that movement continued into the 2021 cycle. Then in 2019, Mississippians elected all Republicans to the eight statewide offices and elected majorities on the two state commissions again for the first time in generations.

On Tuesday, while official counts are not yet finalized, statewide Democratic Primary turnout was roughly 60% of what it was four years ago, down over 100,000 voters, while Republican turnout was close to 95% of where it was in 2019.

Depending on who you ask, the credit for the shifting political landscape in Mississippi lies somewhere between the enactment of tort reform in the early 2000s which effectively cut off huge payouts to trial lawyers – then the Democratic Party’s primary donor base – and the nationalization of politics from city halls to the state Capitol that has imposed a clear dividing line between the two parties.

Gone are the days of the “blue dog” Democrats that were able to straddle the fence as moderate conservatives without switching parties; the “yellow dog” Democrats won the intraparty struggle both on the state and national level, essentially forcing the social and fiscal conservatives in their ranks to look elsewhere for a political home.

Mississippi Republicans, with their “big tent” philosophy as preached fervently by former Governor Haley Barbour, swung the door wide open and welcomed the likeminded with open arms. As Barbour frequently said in the early days of the conservative movement in Mississippi, “My old boss Ronald Reagan used to say, ‘Somebody who agrees with me 80 percent of the time is a friend and ally, not a 20 percent traitor.’”

However, while various polls over the last 20 years have shown that the vast majority of Mississippians – no matter their race – share largely similar values and beliefs, Republicans have struggled to win the hearts and minds of many in the minority population. The Mississippi Republican Party has seen a few black candidates run for office over the years, with spotty wins on the local level. Yet, none have had success on the state level – until now.

That realization led the Mississippi Republican Party under the leadership of current Chairman Bordeaux to launch its Minority Outreach Committee in October 2022. Now State Representative-elect Hall was named the committee’s chairman at the launch.

“This isn’t about a rebranding; this isn’t about a changing of values,” Hall said in front of the Republican Party Headquarters in Jackson at the time. “Really, it’s about opening the door and saying, ‘Hey, your values are our values,’ and we’re going to meet you wherever you are and say, ‘Hey, let’s have the conversation and see where we align on the issues.'”

Three months later, Hall took up the mantle himself, putting his name on the line to bridge that divide and show everyone across Mississippi and beyond that Republican voters in the Magnolia State will indeed support conservative candidates based on their principles and shared values – no matter the color of that candidate’s skin.

Hall’s candidacy even drew endorsements from former Governors Barbour and Phil Bryant, as well as Congressman Trent Kelly and others.

About Rodney Hall

As State Representative-elect, Hall says he is focused on serving his constituents in House District 20.

“My first priority is going to be DeSoto County, making sure it becomes the leader in the state,” Hall said. “To accomplish that, we have to get taxes under control, setting good policy using other states as a guide.”

Hall also wants to streamline and cut bureaucratic red tape while ensuring public safety locally and across the state.

The incoming State Representative is a husband, a father, an attorney, and an Army Infantry Officer with nearly two decades of service.

He first enlisted as a military intelligence code linguist in the Mississippi Army National Guard at 17 years old, later becoming a U.S. Army Paratrooper and receiving his commission as an Infantry Officer in the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team “Dixie Thunder” in 2008, where he was assigned as an Infantry Platoon Leader in the Mississippi Rifles Regiment.

He currently serves as the Battalion Executive Officer in the Mississippi Rifles Regiment.

Hall deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan as a Company Executive Officer. He later turned down a position in the Trump Administration to deploy with his men to Syria.

The Ole Miss Law School graduate also previously served as the Legislative Director for 1st District Mississippi Congressman Trent Kelly (R-MS) where he was the principal advisor on matters before U.S. House committees on House Armed Services, Veteran Affairs, Appropriations and more. 

Hall says all of his experiences and training should enable him to effectively serve House District 20 while being part of a new chapter in Mississippi history. He is looking forward to being involved in building on the successes Republicans are seeing in voter outreach as well as the conservative policymaking that is moving the state in the right direction.

“We have challenges, absolutely. But when you talk about the values we have, the things we want to do to improve the state, our future, the opportunities are boundless,” Hall said. “A lot of people still talk about Mississippi being last in everything, it’s backwards and things of that nature. But when you look at it on the ground, when folks look at facts and not just opinion, we’ve been headed in the right direction for some time here, so we should applaud that and set the conditions where we can continue that success and multiply that success.”

About the Author(s)
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Frank Corder

Frank Corder is a native of Pascagoula. For nearly two decades, he has reported and offered analysis on government, public policy, business and matters of faith. Frank’s interviews, articles, and columns have been shared throughout Mississippi as well as in national publications. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, providing insight and commentary on the inner workings of the Magnolia State. Frank has served his community in both elected and appointed public office, hosted his own local radio and television programs, and managed private businesses all while being an engaged husband and father. Email Frank: