New leaders taking over Miss. political parties

Published 4:42 pm Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mississippi’s Democratic and Republican parties are being taken over by younger, more aggressive leaders.

The changes could intensify the parties’ competition for voters’ hearts, minds and money.

Former state Rep. Jamie Franks of Mooreville was elected Saturday as the new chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party, and he started the new position immediately.

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His counterpart in the Republican Party is Brad White of Simpson County, who was elected in May and will take over the chairmanship after the GOP national convention in September.

Franks, 35, is serving an unpaid post as chairman. He takes over from former U.S. Rep. Wayne Dowdy, who turns 65 this month.

White, 31, is unpaid as chairman but will keep his salaried job as executive director for the state’s Republicans. He will take over the chairmanship from Jim Herring, who will turn 70 in November.

Dowdy and Herring opted not to seek new terms as chairmen in 2008. Because Herring will lead a committee at the Republican National Convention, he is keeping his role as Mississippi chairman until the convention ends Sept. 4.

Franks and White have each been active in Mississippi politics for more than a dozen years.

Franks became one of Mississippi’s youngest lawmakers when he was elected to the state House of Representatives in November 1995 from a district that covered parts of Itawamba, Lee and Tishomingo counties. He earned a law degree while serving in the Legislature.

Franks was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2007, and despite an aggressive campaign, he lost to Republican Phil Bryant.

White was elected chairman of the Simpson County Republican Party when he was 19, but said he volunteered for GOP campaigns years before then. He was political director for the state Republican Party in the 1990s. After other work in the party and for Gov. Haley Barbour’s 2007 re-election, White became the state GOP executive director in January 2008.

White said he wants to focus on getting Republicans elected to local and county offices. He was successful in building his party’s numbers in Simpson County.

“Most everybody locally tells you, ’Well, I’m no Democrat but you’ve got to run that way to get elected around here,”’ White said. “But we’ve found that when good people would qualify as Republicans … they got elected.”

Franks said he wants to increase participation in Democratic politics in all 82 counties — even in traditional Republican strongholds such as DeSoto, Rankin and Jackson counties.

“Anywhere in this state we want a presence, and we want people in Mississippi to know Democrats care about working families and we’re going to stand up and do the right thing,” Franks said.

Democrats are still celebrating the takeover of north Mississippi’s congressional seat a few weeks ago — a seat that had come open because Barbour moved Rep. Roger Wicker to the U.S. Senate when Trent Lott retired in December.

Travis Childers, the longtime chancery clerk from Prentiss County, ran for the 1st District U.S. House seat as a conservative Democrat, who opposes abortion and supports gun owners’ rights. In a special election runoff, Childers defeated Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, a Republican who got campaign help from Vice President Dick Cheney.

Childers is serving the final seven months of the two-year term Wicker started. Childers and Davis compete again in the Nov. 4 general election.

Franks said Childers’ victory shows a winning formula for Mississippi Democrats. As the new party chairman, Franks said he won’t let Republicans define Democrats’ positions on abortion and guns.

“Republicans have the same old worn-out, tired rhetoric,” Franks said. “All they want to do is talk about things they won’t do anything about. Democrats in the Legislature have passed some of the toughest anti-abortion bills in the country.”

White said Mississippians simply need to look at the platforms of the two national parties to see differences between Republicans and Democrats on issues such as abortion.

“Unlike the Democrats, I don’t have to distance myself from my principles,” White said.

On the Net:

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