How to paint yourself into a corner, apparently on purpose

Published 7:45 pm Monday, March 26, 2007

Just at the time the national Democratic Party won a major election by going out and recruiting candidates that may not agree with every little thing the current very liberal, entrenched leaders of the party desire, the Mississippi Democratic Party is dumping two of its winners.

Some people have to work at being stupid, which apparently is the case with a majority of the executive committee of the Mississippi Democratic Party. Over the objections of its executive director, Wayne Dowdy, a former U.S. Congressman, the party has voted to delete three candidates from its party primaries, apparently excommunicating them from the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party has sold itself for years as being a big tent where everyone is welcome. The party even put up with the likes of Jim Eastland as the Democratic senator from Mississippi at a time when everyone else in the national party was running from him and the party was making a big shift to the left.

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To enforce its big-tent doctrine, the national party eventually disavowed the narrow-minded, segregationist Mississippi Democratic Party delegation at a national convention, though not removing its segregationist politicians from its rolls, eventually forcing the state party to integrate and become more diverse with both liberal and conservative members. The remnants of the state Democratic party that didn’t want to integrate, including most of Eastland’s followers once he retired as senator, raced over to the Mississippi Republican Party, which suddenly grew from a weak vessel that held almost no offices in the state to what it is today. That’s a little bit of uncomfortable history neither party really wants to remember, which in fact they studiously ignore, and in the case of the Republican Party denies, but it happened.

Now comes the current Mississippi Democratic Party telling three people who initially qualified as candidates in the party’s primaries that they can’t run as Democrats. Two of those people are current Mississippi Democratic office holders: Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale and state Rep. Mary Ann Stevens of West.

Apparently, the executive committee of the Democratic Party doesn’t like the way Stevens votes or the way Dale talks or the fact that Republican Gov. Haley Barbour has praised his efforts to reach a solution in some insurance disputes with State Farm.

You don’t suppose some members of the state Democratic Party executive committee are taking seriously that tired, old Republican smear that all Democrats are liberal and left-wing? Unfortunately, it sounds like it to me.

The third person disavowed by the party was Shawn O’Hara, a perennial candidate for office after office who this time had the temerity to seek seven state-wide offices and a variety of others all at the same time. The rules at the time he registered with the party for those offices allowed him to do so and now the party is trying to change the rules in the middle of the stream.

It’s too late for that, in my opinion. Change the rules for the next election and just let O’Hara go down to defeat in all of those races this time around. I say “allow him to go down to defeat” because while he has run for innumerable offices over the years, he has never won one. I don’t recall his even coming close to winning. I really can’t figure out why he runs, but he does. So what?

Is the Mississippi Democratic Party now applying a litmus test to those who wish to run as party candidates? I hope not. That is a sure way to paint yourself into the corner called “permanent minority.”

Why would a party put up candidates in a race it knows the candidate can’t win because it follows a narrow ideological line and requires the candidate to do the same? Actually, maybe they should recruit O’Hara, indoctrinate him in their ideology and let him continue being a perennial candidate, their perennial candidate, and in all the offices they know they won’t win because of that narrow ideology. That would save time and resources.

The Democratic Party has always had conservative and liberal members and conservative and liberal office holders. The common thread binding them together is that they care more for the little guy than they do for the wealthy and for corporations, something called “populism.”

The executive committee of the state Democratic Party needs to pay closer attention to what the national party did before this last election. The entrenched, very liberal party leadership went out and recruited people to run in races based on the candidates’ understanding of their prospective constituents. The Democratic Party is more diverse now than it has been for a long time in its members in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate — in both of which it now holds a majority — in large part because of that recruiting drive, and not just because of Iraq.

Among the conservative members of the Democratic Party in the U.S. House of Representatives is Gene Taylor, who has been there for about 20 years and who represents South Mississippi. You can be sure the National Democratic Party is glad to have him, though he may vote against the leadership on some issues. He helps the party now hold the majority in the House, which allows all of the Democrats, including Taylor, to accomplish more than they would otherwise.

Hopefully, this foolishness on the state Democratic Party’s executive committee is short-lived and doesn’t do any permanent damage. We need at least two viable parties for an exchange of ideas and political debate to help us find our way.