On Jan. 7, new and familiar faces will convene at the Mississippi Capitol for the start of the 2020 legislative session.
As a whole, the incoming lawmakers comprise a Legislature still whiter and maler than the Mississippi they represent.
Although the Legislature’s makeup does not mirror the state itself, the November 2019 statewide elections ushered in new representation for many districts. Now, those legislators serving in the 2020-2024 term comprise a slightly more African American and female group of lawmakers than the previous term.
Census data breaks down the demographics of Mississippi’s roughly 2.9 million person population. The state is 52 percent female (compared to 16 percent in the Legislature), 58 percent white (in the Legislature, that total is roughly 68 percent), and 38 percent black (31 percent in the Legislature).
In the House, men replaced three seats previously held by women — in districts 14, 70, and 95 — but the chamber also gained seven new female representatives. Five of those women replaced men, and two replaced women who previously held the seat. Most of these changes were within their respective parties, except for Shanda Yates from District 64 and Hester Jackson McCray from District 40, who each flipped seats formerly held by Republicans. McCray will be the first African American to represent DeSoto County in the Legislature in the modern era, and the third African American to represent a majority-white legislative district since Reconstruction.
In the Senate, Democrats saw a 21 percentage point increase in black membership. This is not because more African Americans were voted into the Senate. White Republicans actually flipped four seats previously held by white Democrats in districts 5 (J.P. Wilemon), 8 (Russell Jolly), 37 (Bob Dearing), and 48 (Deborah Dawkins), so the number of white Democrats decreased. As a whole, the Senate saw a slight increase it its percentage of female members because three Republican women — Kathy Chism, Nicole Akins Boyd, and Melanie Sojourner — each won districts previously held by men, and Democrat Sarita Simmons took over her father Willie Simmons’ seat in district 13.
*Editor’s note: After this story published, Rep. Kevin Horan and Rep. Michael Ted Evans switched from the Democrat to Independent party. The information in this story has been updated to reflect that.