PRC Democrats trying to reorganize after county takeover by Republicans

Published 2:10 pm Friday, March 2, 2012

Forty years ago in Pearl River County, a Republican office holder, or Republican candidate running for elective office, was as scarce as hen’s teeth. Actually, in Pearl River County there were no Republicans holding elective office as late as the 1960s.

Now Democrat office holders in the county are extremely scarce. County Democrats hope to turn that around and get more Democrats active in the political process, says county Democratic Party chairperson Agnes Dalton.

Pearl River County, along with the state, began a process in the 1970s of gradually changing over through the election process to the Republican Party, and it has continued even up to the last local election when Circuit Court Clerk Vickie Hariel and former State Sen. Ezell Lee switched to the Republican Party before they ran for office in the November, 2011, election.

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Late Picayune Mayor and businessman Grady Thigpen, Jr., was the first to begin a trend here toward Republican candidates running for, and being elected to, public office. Eventually, Republicans took over everything, culminating in the historic November 2011 election, on the local and state levels.

Thigpen was probably the first Republican to be elected to a major county political office in Pearl River County in the early 1970s when he was elected Picayune’s first Republican mayor.

He was, at that time, President of First National Bank and owned with his family’s Thigpen Hardware company, Thigpen Realty and Thigpen Insurance. His son, known as “Little Grady,” or Grady Thigpen III, still owns and runs the insurance company. The family’s patriarch, “Grandpa” Thigpen, was a founder in 1948 of First National Bank.

Mayor Thigpen later brought in two more Republicans on the City Council, the late Dick Cook and former councilman Aaron Russell, Sr. In the early 1970s, they were looked on as blazing a new trail for county Republicans here, as most office holders were registered Democrats, as was the case throughout the state.

During the last election in November, Republicans consolidated their hold on power, taking over the State House and hanging onto governor’s office and State Senate. It was the first time in 140 years that the House was controlled by a Republic majority. Now Republicans control the governor’s office, the House and the Senate in Mississippi.

That boded well for Pearl River County, however, because two state House legislators got two prime spots in the Republican-controlled House this year. Rep. Herb Frierson (R-Poplarville) was named chairman of Appropriations and Rep. Mark Formby (R-Picayune) chairman of the House Rules committee. And Sen. Billy Hudson (R-Hattiesburg), who represents over half of Pearl River County, was named head of the Senate Agricultural Committee.

During the last election, there were 66 Republicans on the county ballot and only three Democrats.

That might change soon, as local Democrats are trying to get reorganized and recruit Democratic party members and candidates to run for office here, said Dalton of Poplarville. The change and push began last August among Democrats here and is continuing, successfully, she said.

Local Democrats will hold their monthly meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday in the Coast Electric auditorium in Picayune, and Dalton says if you are interested in running as a Democratic candidate in a county or city race, or if you are a Democrat and want to become active in the party, or you just prefer the Democratic Party, you need to come to the Monday night meeting and join the effort now underway.

“You are definitely wanted and appreciated in the Pearl River County Democrat Party,” she said.

Why it’s important to join now is because county Democrats are looking for delegates to upcoming conventions, will elect an executive committee and county chairperson shortly, and members will have a shot at those positions if they get active in the county party now, Dalton said.

Party officials and members meet once a month. In August, the party was revived and has shown steady growth since being rejuvenated last year. When Dalton took over last year, there were only a few members in a computer data base, but that has exploded upward under Dalton and her fellow party workers.

She readily admitted that the Democratic Party in Pearl River County had, at one point, “fallen apart.”

“But we are coming back and are determined to come back,” she said.