There was a time in American politics, and more specifically Mississippi politics, in which a Mississippi politician wouldn’t be caught dead walking the halls of the U.S. Justice Department, let alone the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.
In the early 1960s, former Gov. Ross Barnett stared down U.S. federal marshals and played his game of cornpone chicken with the late, slain President John F. Kennedy and his assassinated brother Bobby, the U.S. Attorney General.
Governors Paul B. Johnson and his successor John Bell Williams followed in Barnett’s footsteps in playing political dodge ball with federal officials, especially when it came to upholding voting rights and enforcing anti-discrimination and disenfranchisement practices that long dominated Mississippi’s electoral process during the segregation era of Jim Crow.
It wasn’t until the 1970s, when the stranglehold of segregation on the state’s political scene began to loosen. The late Gov. Bill Waller courageously dismantled the Orwellian Sovereignty Commission which spied on Mississippi citizens with impunity.
Following the populist, so-called redneck uprising of the late Gov. Cliff Finch, former Gov. William Winter ushered in an era of progressivism in Mississippi politics that allowed for advances in education and civil rights.
More recently, Gov. Phil Bryant’s administration began with high hopes and expectations but has disintegrated into an intransigent regime that has promulgated severe cuts in mental health and education.
Yet there is a rising Republican politician on the scene who is both well-spoken, well-educated but “street smart” with a good deal of common sense when it comes to the talking points of moving this state forward instead of backward.
While he certainly has his critics, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann not only effectively achieved the goal of implementing voter identification in Mississippi but he did so in consultation with the Justice Department and made a conscious effort to protect the civil rights of the traditionally disenfranchised in the Magnolia State.
Both a scholar and a gentleman, Hosemann not only walked the marbled halls of the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., he also sat down with Civil Rights Division lawyers and was upfront about the fact his office wanted to draft a Voter I.D. law that would not invite suit and stand up constitutionally.
“That aggregate intellect was critical,” Hosemann said during a recent stop in DeSoto County to encourage people to “get out the vote” in the upcoming June 6 general election.
While he might not be the darling of Mississippi conservatives and somewhat of a dark horse when it comes to a future gubernatorial or U.S. Senate bid, Hosemann is respected by both Republicans and Democrats alike for his straightforward, no-nonsense approach to governance and strict adherence to upholding the rule of law.
“We have stepped over a historical curb in Mississippi, turned a page and we’re not going back,” Hosemann said with his trademark, matter-of-fact earnestness.
Well said, Mr. Secretary. We applaud that type of sentiment. There is hope for Mississippi as we turn yet another page in our long and storied history as a state and a people.
This is Mississippi’s Bicentennial year. Let’s keep looking forward.