The Greenwood Commonwealth

Published 2:42 pm Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Democratic Party in Mississippi is making a huge mistake if it comes up with some sort of “loyalty test” to determine whether candidates who have qualified to run for office in this year’s elections have a suitable political background to do so.

Such sniping stems from past decisions of party members like Insurance Commissioner George Dale, who publicly supported President Bush for re-election in 2004; and state Rep. Jeff Smith, a conservative from Columbus who has voted with Republicans on a number of issues such as tort reform.

Leading the charge for Democrats to be more selective is Ike Brown, chairman of the party in Noxubee County.

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Brown has said Smith’s Republican leanings could disqualify him from being a Democrat. And he should know, right? Because he is the same guy who recently completed a three-week trial as the defendant in a Justice Department lawsuit that alleges he used his political position to discriminate against white voters in Noxubee County.

A judge has not ruled yet, but if Brown is found to have violated the Voting Rights Act, that would be a far more serious offense than anything Smith has done.

Democrats like Brown need to wake up and realize that they are fast becoming the minority party in Mississippi.

Republicans are winning the hearts and minds of more voters, and if Democrats start kicking out moderates or conservatives just because they won’t blindly follow a script, that will only hasten the decline of the party’s influence in state politics.

Mississippi Democrats must carry the burden of association with the national Democratic Party, whose positions generally do not appeal to voters in this state.

Accordingly, state Democrats need to recruit some moderate and conservative candidates — not block their participation just because they have different opinions.

Any candidate rejected from the Democratic ticket will simply run as a Republican. That’s a poor way for Democrats to broaden their appeal when the party must attract more voters than it has in recent years.

The attorney general’s office has issued an opinion saying there is nothing in state law that allows a party to apply a loyalty test. The author of that opinion is trying to do Democrats a favor, if only they will listen.