Republican and Democratic signs are in place for voters at Casey Elementary School during Mississippi's Primary Election Day, Tuesday, August 6, 2019. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

The Mississippi Republican Party, touting its unifying conservative values, kicked off a minority outreach initiative Wednesday outside of party headquarters in downtown Jackson.

The state party also announced an initiative, led in part by Attorney General Lynn Fitch, to try to increase the number of women elected officials in the state.

At the event, attended by about 20 African Americans, party officials said Republicans and Mississippians of all races hold the same conservative values.

“There is more that connects us than divides us,” said Rodney Hall of Southaven, the chair of the GOP outreach committee.

Fitch, whose office defended the Mississippi law that led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that repealed a national right to an abortion, said: “We are very conservative about life. We are conservative about family … Now more than ever, Republican values are needed.”

In Mississippi, perhaps more so than in any state in the country, the vast majority of white residents vote Republican while most Black residents support the Democratic Party. African Americans comprise about 38% of the total state population — the highest percentage of any state in America.

There are few elected Black Republicans in the state and none in the Legislature.

At the event, state Republican Party leaders did not address some of the issues that African American elected officials often stress, such as the need to expand Medicaid to provide health care coverage for about 250,000 primarily working Mississippians. Republican leaders have blocked those efforts, leaving Mississippi as one of only 12 states in the nation not ensuring health care coverage for poor workers.

Another issue where there have been policy differences is on the elimination of the tax on groceries, the highest of its kind in the nation. Efforts to eliminate the tax have been blocked in past years by Republican leaders, though it results in poor people, many of them people of color, paying a larger percentage of their income in taxes. Plus, many have cited efforts of Republicans to ban the teaching of critical race theory as an effort to prevent the teaching of the impact of racism on the history of the state and nation.

Fitch did endorse providing Medicaid coverage for mothers for one year after giving birth. Currently, the state Medicaid program only provides 60 days of postpartum coverage, though the Biden administration mandated a year of coverage as part of the federal COVID-19 emergency order.

Many Mississippi Republicans have opposed expanding health care for poor mothers.

“We as Mississippi Republicans are eager to grow our party,” party Chair Frank Bordeaux said in a news release. “We know our plans and policies to reduce inflation, lower taxes, cut wasteful spending, secure our borders, invest in national defense, and restore American energy are appealing to all Americans. We’re going to take that message to communities where Republicans have not traditionally been as successful in order to recruit, train, and elect a more diverse group of candidates and bring thousands more freedom-loving Mississippians into our party.”

Fitch said there have been only four women elected to statewide “constitutional” office in Mississippi, and just 15% of the majority Republican Legislature is comprised of women.

There have, however, been six women elected statewide: Nellah Bailey as tax collector, Julia Henrich Kendrick as Supreme Court clerk, Evelyn Gandy as lieutenant governor and treasurer, Amy Tuck as lieutenant governor, Cindy Hyde-Smith as commissioner of agriculture and commerce, and Fitch as attorney general and treasurer.

Hyde-Smith is currently serving in the U.S. Senate as the first woman from Mississippi elected to federal office.

The posts of tax collector and Supreme Court clerk have been eliminated as elected offices.

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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.