For a brief period in Mississippi’s political past, there was suspense going into the November statewide general elections about which party would control the Legislature.
For much of the state’s history, though, the minority party had no mathematical chance to capture the state Legislature in the general election. And that is certainly the case now.
If all the candidates Democrats found to qualify to run for state House and Senate seats won their November general elections, the Republicans still will have sizable majorities when the 2024 session begins.
Eleven Democrats qualified by the Feb. 1 deadline to run for House seats currently held by Republicans. But few expect all of the Democratic candidates to defeat the Republican incumbents. It would be more likely that all would lose.
But even if all 11 Democrats won, Republicans would still control a majority in the House. There are currently 76 Republicans, 41 Democrats and three independents in the 122-member chamber. Two seats are vacant — one held for years by a Democrat and one that traditionally is a Republican seat.
If the Democrats won all of those 11 seats, they would have 53 members, including the current vacancy, in the 122-member House. Democrats also will be favored to win another seat currently held by Michael Ted Evans, an independent from Preston in east Mississippi, though a Republican will be on the ballot. Democrats also could pick up a seat in House District 64, currently held by Rep. Shanda Yates, an independent from Jackson.
Over in the Senate, the outlook is not much better for the Democrats. Republicans currently have a 36-16 advantage in the 52-member Senate. Democrats are challenging five of those 36 Republicans. Even using the new math, there is no way in November that Democrats can gain control of the Senate.
The state is not quite in the same position it was for decades when it was a given that the Democrats would control the Legislature and there would be only a handful of Republican lawmakers at best. No matter what happens in November, there will be a healthy number of Democrats in both the House and Senate.
For a few election cycles in the late 1990s and 2000s, as state politics evolved from Democratic to Republican control, there was suspense going into the November general election about which party would control the Legislature.
That culminated in the 2011 elections, when Republicans by a narrow margin won the House for the first time since Reconstruction and captured the Senate by a wider margin. Those Republican majorities grew during the four-year term as House and Senate members changed from Democratic to Republican.
As a result of the 2015 elections, Republicans gained more seats and captured a three-fifths majority in both chambers. That was significant since a three-fifths majority gives Republicans enough votes to pass a tax cut or tax increase without any Democratic support if all the Republicans stick together.
Going into the 2023 elections later this year, Republicans have two-thirds majorities in both chambers — enough to pass by the required two-thirds majority a resolution to amend the Mississippi Constitution.
Should Democrat Brandon Presley prove political prognosticators wrong and defeat Republican incumbent Gov. Tate Reeves this November, Republicans without any Democratic help would have the required two-thirds majority needed to override a Presley veto.
Some other interesting legislative nuggets resulting from the deadline to qualify to run for office:
- Republicans are running in seven House seats currently held by Democrats. They are likely to win at least two of those seats.
- Republicans are challenging in four Senate districts held by Democrats.
- Twenty-eight House Republicans, including 27 incumbents, are unopposed this year without opposition in the party primary or in the general election from Democrats or from third party candidates.
- Nineteen House Democrats are running with no opposition.
- Sixteen Senate Republicans are running unopposed.
- Seven Senate Democrats are running with no opposition.
Under the current political climate, there is most likely no legislative map that could be drawn where the Democrats could capture control of the Legislature. But by the same token, the Republicans have gerrymandered the districts to such an extent that there are currently few competitive districts. Under the current legislative districts, there are a lot of Republican districts where the Democrat has little chance of winning and a fewer number of Democratic districts where the Republican has little or no chance to prevail.
A more balanced map with more competitive districts could be drawn.
But in the current political climate with the current legislative districts, the bottom line is that while there might be some individual races of interest on Nov. 7, there will be no questions that night about which party will control the Mississippi Legislature.
For decades it was the Democrats. Now it is Republicans.
In Mississippi, the more things change the more they stay the same.