In this March 10, 2015, file photograph, Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, speaks at the well in House chamber at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. 

In the 2016 presidential election, Republican Donald Trump won 74 percent of the vote in House District 122.

That strong showing by Trump would indicate that the Hancock County district on the Gulf Coast is one of the state’s most reliably Republican House districts. Yet, it is occupied by David Baria of Bay St. Louis, the House’s Democratic leader.

That strong showing by Trump has not prevented Baria from taking strong Democratic stances. He has been an advocate for expanding Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to cover primarily the working poor. Baria also voted against a controversial 2016 proposal that received national attention because it expands the rights of governmental employees and private businesses to not provide services for same sex couples.

“I have represented a district considered by some to be a very Republican district for 11 years,” Baria said. “I have always attempted to analyze each bill on its merits and vote for or against based on what I think is best for Mississippians.

“I explain my votes to my constituents and even if they disagree I think they appreciate my communication with them.”

In addition, Trump’s strong showing in the district – 16 percent better than he performed statewide — has not prevented Baria from criticizing the Republican president as he vies to win the Democratic primary and face incumbent U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, a Tupelo Republican, in the November general election.

“I have been critical of President Trump and will continue to be as long as he demeans the presidency, alienates our allies and enables racists,” Baria said.

Baria faces Howard Sherman, an entrepreneur and husband of Sela Ward, a Meridian native and Emmy award winning actress, in the June 26 runoff. Sherman won the first primary by a narrow margin of less than 900 votes, but did not garner the majority vote needed to avoid a runoff.

Baria, Sherman runoff pits veteran lawmaker against Hollywood’s big bucks

While Sherman plays up the fact he is a political novice, running for his first elected office, that is not the case with Baria. He is in his third term in the Mississippi Legislature – one in the Senate before opting to run and win the open House seat in 2011.

In the Legislature, from almost the onset, he has been a consistent vote on most issues for the Democratic minority.

He consistently votes for full funding of the state’s perennially unfunded school funding formula. He opposed the largest tax cut in the state’s history, passed in 2016 to reduce taxes on corporations and on personal income, because like many Democrats, he said it would be too big a hit to state revenues. Baria, like most Democrats, though, did vote for other tax cuts the Republican majority has proposed in recent years.

During the 2018 session, Baria did not vote on legislation to ban abortions in the state after 15 weeks.

Baria said he did not vote on the bill because he was out of the chamber working on his U.S. Senate campaign. He said his deskmate, Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, voted for him on some issues while he was out of the chamber, an accepted practice in the House, but that Holland did not know Baria’s position on the controversial bill so he did not vote him.

“My position on the issue of abortion is that it should remain legal and safe for women who need to make that choice,” Baria said. “I do not object to a reasonable restriction on late term abortions, but there should be exceptions for the health of the mother, viability of the fetus and in cases of rape and incest.”

Baria has consistently received low grades from the Business and Industry Political Education Committee, which is a group of business alliances promoting their agenda, and from school choice groups. He has received strong scores from the Mississippi Human Services Coalition, an alliance of social service providers and activists.

A trial attorney, Baria has opposed most bills aimed at limiting the ability to file civil lawsuits, including opposing multiple efforts to curtail the authority of the attorney general to file civil lawsuits.

Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, discusses Democrats concerns about the current legislative session.

Baria, who first ran for political office after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, has advocated for changes to the insurance industry to provide more safeguards for the policyholders. He also has called for gender pay equity and for an increase in the minimum wage that he said he will push for if elected to the U.S. Senate.

While there has been no vote in recent years on the state flag and proposed changes to eliminate the Confederate battle emblem from its design, Baria came out for changing the flag in the summer of 2017 in letters to the editor to Mississippi newspapers.

While Baria said he is a supporter of the 2nd Amendment, he voted in the 2018 session against a proposal that amongst other things would have allowed enhanced carry permit holders to possess guns at sporting events. The state’s universities, as well as the Southeastern Conference opposed the legislation, which eventually died.

In addition to Baria’s career in politics and as a trial attorney where he is a former president of the group’s state association, the Bay St. Louis Democrat also has started or been involved in multiple businesses.

“These (other businesses) include a coffee house, restaurant, a demolition company and a security company,” Baria said. For a time after Hurricane Katrina, he stopped practicing law and formed a cleanup company that eventually morphed into a demolition company.

In the early 2000s, he was sued by Trustmark National Bank, which claimed he defaulted on a loan for a planned restaurant/brewpub he and partners were looking to open in Jackson. He filed a countersuit claiming that the bank got an appraisal on the land that was much less than the original appraisal that he had obtained. Baria said he believed the value of the land would more than cover the amount of his loan. The issue was settled out of court, Baria said.

Baria also formed a music production company, Darden Music – named after his deceased son.

“I have always loved music, especially live music, and wanted to promote live music in my hometown area,” Baria said. “…The company occasionally promotes concerts and sometimes breaks even on them. I do it mostly because life is short and I want to help people enjoy it through good music.”

Read more of our election coverage.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Take our 2023 reader survey

Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.