Date set for senate election

Published 4:19 pm Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a special election for Trent Lott’s former U.S. Senate seat will take place in November.

In doing so, the court sided with Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who had set the special election to coincide with the Nov. 4 federal general election.

The court’s ruling was a boon to U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, who was chosen last year to temporarily hold Lott’s seat until the special election. The ruling means Wicker, a Republican, has more time to establish an incumbency.

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Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, filed a lawsuit to challenge the date. Hood said — and a circuit judge agreed — that state law requires the special election to be held within 90 days from Dec. 20, when the governor issued a proclamation announcing the vacancy. That would be in March.

In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court overturned a Jan. 14 decision by Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter.

“Mississippi already is preparing itself for the November Presidential Election, which is taking place in a few months,” Justice Chuck Easley wrote. “Economically, a special election is unjustifiable in this election year. Reason and economy must prevail.”

In a statement issued after the ruling, Barbour said the Nov. 4 date was in the best interest of voters and the state.

“This decision by the State Supreme Court means that a million Mississippians will vote on who will be their next United States senator,” Barbour said.

Hood was in court on Wednesday and unavailable for comment.

At issue was the wording of the law.

Mississippi law states that after receiving official notice of a Senate vacancy, the governor has 10 days to announce an election to fill the seat. That election must be held within 90 days of the announcement, unless the vacancy occurs during a year when “there shall be held a general state or congressional election.”

In his dissent, Supreme Court Justice James Graves said the law was clear.

“Much of what has been written by the majority in the instant case would be dismissed as mere gobbledygook but for the fact that it is being promulgated by a venerable institution in our democracy, the Mississippi Supreme Court,” Graves wrote.

Lott officially resigned Dec. 18 with five years left in his current six-year term.

On Dec. 31, Barbour chose Wicker to hold the seat until the special election. Wicker, Lott and Barbour are conservatives.

Wicker is the only GOP candidate for the special election. The Democrats are former U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows and former Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.