Government of Mississippi
As with all other U.S. states and the federal government, Mississippi's government is based on the separation of legislative, executive and judicial power.
Executive authority in the state rests with the governor of Mississippi, currently Phil Bryant (R). The Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi, currently Tate Reeves (R), is elected on a separate ballot. Both the governor and lieutenant governor are elected to four-year terms of office. Unlike the federal government, but like many other U.S. States, most of the heads of major executive departments are elected by the citizens of Mississippi rather than appointed by the governor.
Mississippi is one of only five states that elects its state officials in odd numbered years (The others are Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Virginia). Mississippi holds elections for these offices every four years in the years preceding Presidential election years. Thus, the last year when Mississippi elected a Governor was 2011, and the next gubernatorial election will occur in 2015.
Legislative authority resides in the Mississippi Legislature, which is the state legislature. The Legislature is bicameral, consisting of the Senate and House of Representatives. The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate, while the House of Representatives selects their own Speaker. The state constitution permits the legislature to establish by law the number of senators and representatives, up to a maximum of 52 senators and 122 representatives. Current state law sets the number of senators at 52 and representatives at 122. The term of office for senators and representatives is four years.
Supreme judicial authority rests with the state Supreme Court, which has statewide authority. In addition, there is a statewide Court of Appeals, as well as Circuit Courts, Chancery Courts and Justice Courts, which have more limited geographical jurisdiction. The nine judges of the Supreme Court are elected from three districts (three judges per district) by the state's citizens in non-partisan elections to eight-year staggered terms. The ten judges of the Court of Appeals are elected from five districts (two judges per district) for eight-year staggered terms. Judges for the smaller courts are elected to four-year terms by the state's citizens who live within that court's jurisdiction.
Mississippi has two U.S. Senate seats. One is currently held by Thad Cochran (Republican) and the other is held by Roger Wicker (Republican) who was appointed on December 31, 2007 by Mississippi governor Haley Barbour due to Trent Lott resigning on December 18, 2007 and who was elected to finish Lott's term on November 4, 2008 (see United States Senate special election in Mississippi, 2008).
As of the 2001 apportionment, the state has four congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives, currently Gregg Harper (Republican), Bennie Thompson (Democrat), Steven Palazzo (Republican), and Alan Nunnelee (Republican).
During the Reconstruction era, blacks being voting after being given the franchise. They elected numerous representatives to local and state offices, despite being subject to intimidation and violence at the polls, increasingly so during the 1870s, when the Red Shirts tried to suppress the black vote.
in 1890 Mississippi passed a new constitution with provision to disfranchise most blacks and many poor whites through use of the poll tax and literacy tests, with the latter administered by white registrars. The number of black voters fell drastically, as they could not register. This was the reason the Democratic Party dominated state and federal elections in Mississippi into the 1960s.
For 116 years (from 1876 to 1992), Mississippi was essentially a one-party state, electing Democratic governors, federal representatives and most state officials. In 1890, the elite white-dominated Mississippi legislature created a new constitution, the first in the South of what were called disfranchising constitutions. They contained provisions, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, that in practice effectively disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites. When Mississippi's constitution passed a Supreme Court challenge in Williams v. Mississippi (1898), other Southern states quickly included such provisions in their own new constitutions. By 1900, these measures effectively disfranchised nearly all black voters in the state. When the grandfather clause was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Guinn v. United States (1915), Mississippi and other states which had used it quickly passed other statutes to restrict black registration and voting. Disfranchisement of blacks and poor whites continued for more than six decades.
Mississippi white residents, as in the rest of the South, long supported the Democratic Party. The policies of Reconstruction, which included federally appointed Republican governors, led to white Southern resentment toward the Republican Party. Following the Compromise of 1877, federal troops enforcing the provisions of Reconstruction were pulled out of the South. The Democratic Party regained political control of the state in the 1870s, partly by using methods designed to suppress black voter turnout. Blacks had favored Republican candidates and the party of Lincoln.
After years of supporting disfranchisement of blacks in the South, northern Democrats began increasingly to support unions and civil rights for blacks. Many conservative white Democrats began to get restless. The first sign of this discontent was in the 1948 presidential election, when the Dixiecrat slate of Strom Thurmond and Mississippi Governor Fielding Wright won a majority of the state's popular vote, largely by virtue of Dixiecrat supporters taking over the state Democratic machinery.
In 1960, a slate of unpledged Democratic electors won a plurality of the state's vote. It was the first time the official Democratic candidate had not carried the state since the Reconstruction era. These eight electors cast their electoral votes for conservative Democratic Senator Harry F. Byrd.
In 1964, the white voters in the state swung over dramatically to support Barry Goldwater, who took an unheard-of 87 percent of the state's popular vote (this was while most African Americans were still disfranchised and effectively could not vote) in the midst of Lyndon Johnson's 44-state national landslide. Goldwater carried several counties with well over 90 percent of the vote, and his five best counties in the nation were all in Mississippi.
Since then, there has been a major realignment, with white conservative voters supporting Republicans for the state's federal positions, even though Democrats nominally continued to have a majority of registered voters. Since 1964, Mississippi has supported a Democrat for president only once, in 1976, when a son of the South ran. That year, Jimmy Carter narrowly carried the state by two percentage points (15,000 votes).
During the fall of 1963, civil rights activists registered 80,000 black voters in Mississippi for the straw Freedom Vote, to demonstrate the people's ambition and eagerness to vote. In 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was formed, creating a list of candidates to challenge the official, all-white slate of the state's Democratic Party. The MFDP also mounted protests at the national convention, where they demanded to be seated as official delegates.
Not until the late 1960s, following passage of the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 under President Lyndon Johnson, would most African-American men and women have the chance to vote again in Mississippi and other Southern states.
On September 26, 2008, presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain debated at the University of Mississippi in the first presidential debate ever hosted in Mississippi. It was also the first official debate for the election. The debate focused on foreign policy and national security issues.
Mississippi has 82 counties. Citizens of Mississippi counties elect the members of their county Board of Supervisors from single-member districts, as well as other county officials.
During disfranchisement and majority-white dominance of the Democratic party and state politics, nearly all races were effectively decided in the Democratic primary, from which blacks were excluded by the "white primary" and other voter registration tricks. Although civil rights groups mounted legal challenges, Mississippi's constitution was upheld for some time. From 1877 to 1959, the Republicans only fielded a gubernatorial candidate twice. It was not until after passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 that federal enforcement led to African Americans' being able to register and vote in numbers related to their population in the state. In the first half of the 20th century, many left the oppressive conditions here in the Great Migration to the North and Midwest.
However, most Democrats, especially in rural areas, are very conservative by national standards. In 1991, Kirk Fordice became the first Republican to win the governorship since 1876. Republicans have since done very well at the state level. They have held the governorship for all but one term, though it would take another decade before they won control of one of the state legislative chambers.
However, in 2011, the Republicans took control of the state house, in the process winning complete control of state government for the first time since 1876. But, this represents a reversal of what Republican and Democratic meant in the 19th century. Since the late 1960s and passage of civil rights legislation by national Democrats and Republicans, most white conservatives in the South have shifted to supporting Republican candidates. African Americans support Democrats by wide margins, as this party nationally supported their drive for protection and exercise of civil rights. Most whites tend to support Republicans.
On some social issues, Mississippi is one of the more conservative states in the US, with religion often playing a large role in citizens' political views. Liquor laws are particularly strict and variable from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Liquor sales are frequently banned on Sunday. Many cities and counties allow no alcoholic beverage sales ("dry"), while others allow beer but not liquor, or liquor but not beer. Some allow beer sales, but only if it is not refrigerated. In 2001, Mississippi banned adoption by same-sex couples and banned recognition of adoptions by same-sex couples which were done and recognized in other states or countries. In 2004, 86% of voter turnout amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage and ban state recognition of same-sex marriages which were done and recognized in other states and countries.
At the same time, Mississippi has been one of the more innovative states in the country, having been the first state to implement a sales tax and the first state to pass a Married Women's Property Act.
Also, between the Reconstruction era, when blacks constituted a majority and elected many representatives to local and state office, and since the 1960s, Mississippi has elected more African-American officials (including local offices) than any other state in the United States. Mississippi is one of only a few states to have decriminalized the possession of marijuana, so that possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana is punishable only by a fine of $100 – $250 for the first offense with no jail time.
- "Presidential General Election Graph Comparison - Mississippi". www.uselectionatlas.org. Retrieved 2007-12-01.
- Council of Federated Organizations, accessed 13 Mar 2008
- 2008 Presidential Debate | The University of Mississippi
- McCain, Obama agree on fall debates
- Proposed New Ordinances, Oxford, Mississippi; note section 5-23 paragraph (b), which states in part, "It shall be unlawful in the City of Oxford, Mississippi, for any owner, proprietor, manager or employee of any establishment which has a permit or privilege license authorizing the sale of light wine or beer at retail to... Sell, give or dispense or permit to be consumed any light wine or beer which has been refrigerated."
- NORML State Guide to Marijuana Laws: Mississippi, accessed 20 Mar 2008
- The Constitution of the State of Mississippi
- Mississippi, American Law Sources On-line
- Mississippi Code of 1972
- Historic Codes of Mississippi, State Law Library of Mississippi