Dale asks judge to consider independent candidacy

Published 11:06 pm Saturday, April 28, 2007

Insurance Commissioner George Dale has asked a judge to let him run for re-election as an independent.

Attorneys for the state are questioning whether the judge appointed to hear the candidacy challenge has the authority to do that since the qualifying deadline for candidates in the 2007 elections was March 1.

“I think there is serious doubt whether this court can circumvent the statutory requirement for an independent candidate,” Special Assistant Attorney General Harold Pizzetta said Friday at the hearing before Circuit Judge Henry Lackey.

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In addition to the March 1 qualifying deadline, candidates wanting to run as independents must submit 1,000 signatures from qualified electors supporting them.

The state Election Commission decides whether they qualify for the Nov. 6 general election. The commission will tell the court what its position on Dale’s request is by Tuesday, Pizzetta said.

Dale qualified to run as a Democrat, but was removed from the ballot after the party’s executive committee cited Dale’s support for President Bush in 2004. Dale sued.

Democratic Party attorney Willie Griffin told Lackey on Friday that the party had erred and Dale would be put on the ballot.

The party’s offer was withdrawn after Dale’s attorney, Greg Copeland, asked the judge to allow Dale to run as an independent.

Media coverage of the case “has affected and diminished Dale’s ability to compete and win the Democratic primary election,” Copeland said.

“The argument seems to be that the Democratic Party did something improper,” Griffin said. “We have confessed that to the court, and to pursue this line of argument suggests (Dale) is not willing to accept that confession.”

Lackey gave attorneys for both sides until Friday to file final briefs in the case.

Dale told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper after the hearing said no one had tried what he was doing before.

“My whole opinion is, in the ’50s and ’60s, black people had to go to court to vote or seek public office because a few misguided white people kept them from running. I know how they felt now,” Dale said in a www.clarionledger.com article.

Dale has been insurance commission since 1976 and has run for re-election as a Democrat.

Mississippi voters this year are electing all eight statewide officials and a long list of regional and local officials. March 1 was the candidates’ qualifying deadline. Party primaries are Aug. 7 and the general election is Nov. 6.