A surprising week in Mississippi politics revolves around entrenched division, apathy

Published 7:51 am Thursday, June 16, 2022

From the U.S. Capitol to rural polling places in Mississippi in midterm congressional primaries, it has been a week of surprises and political drama that revolved around both intense political division and at the same time political apathy.

As jarring and difficult to watch as the video of the riots was, will these hearings dramatically change the hard divisions in our country? Or to Democrats and Republicans alike, do these hearings simply serve to validate prior distrust and dislike that has been fomenting in this country since the Florida recount over 20 years ago?

First, the focus on the U.S. House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the U.S. Capitol brought into dramatic focus the ongoing basic partisan and philosophical division in the country as the nation watch stark new footage of the insurgence into the seat of American government by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

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Recent NBC polling shows that about 45 percent of the U.S. public believes Trump has some level of direct responsibility for the riots – with 17 percent of those assigning sole responsibility and 28 percent saying Trump is “mainly” responsible. Those figures are down about seven percent from NBC polling on the same question in 2021.

At the same time, polling also shows about 35 percent say Trump is “not really” responsible for the riots, numbers up about six percent from the same polling question in 2021. Why does that matter?

First, the House Select Committee is not perceived as a bipartisan examination of the Jan. 6 riots in the same manner as the Watergate hearings or the 9-11 Commission hearing. It’s that way because Republicans in Congress opposed efforts – which they saw as directly political – to investigate the attempt to stop the certification of the election that ended the Trump presidency.

Mississippi Second District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Bolton, was the face of the House Select Committee when the prime-time hearing aired, Regardless of one’s opinion on Thompson’s politics, it is inarguable that Thompson was more than up to the task of leading the proceedings. Thompson was prepared, passionate, and righteously indignant about what he called “an attempted coup” by Trump and his followers.

While the hearings were in progress, Thompson was slammed with a Tweet from the House Republican Conference that read: “REMINDER: Bennie Thompson objected to the 2004 Presidential Election.” Technically it was true but lacked any meaningful context.

After Democratic nominee John Kerry had publicly conceded the election outcome to President George W. Bush and publicly objected to any electoral vote challenge, Thompson was one of 31 House Democrats who voted to object to the counting of Ohio’s electoral votes due to what they called voting irregularities in that one state, not the entire election (although the race was close enough that flipping Ohio would have changed the outcome of the election).

The effort failed as anything other than a civil rights protest vote by the 31 House Democrats. That motion to object in Ohio was successfully opposed by 88 House Democrats and 178 House Republicans.

Back in Mississippi – with midterm elections voter turnout abysmally low – the Fourth District Republican primary saw a remarkable tableau unfold. Incumbent GOP U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo was rejected by almost 68 percent of the district’s Republican voters and faces a runoff against Sheriff Mike Ezell. Remarkably, the other GOP challengers to Palazzo joined forces the next day to formally endorse Ezell in the runoff.

Palazzo then did something even more remarkable – as an incumbent, he issued a debate challenge to Ezell. That’s not something one sees often in Mississippi politics,

And in the Third District, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Michael Guest was forced into a runoff with self-proclaimed America First candidate Michael Cassidy – a Maryland native who relocated to Meridian recently.

Cassidy, like TV celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and others perceived to have relocated residency for political advantage, was quickly branded with a term not heard much in Mississippi since Reconstruction – carpetbagger.

Mississippi critics of Cassidy – from the political right and left – pointed to expensive social program proposals Cassidy initially proffered on his website including paying couples to marry and not divorce and the bizarre (for a Republican) adoption of the Bernie Sanders “Medicare for All” proposal. Cost estimates for those programs over a decade are projected at $48 trillion over the next decade.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com