Rhetoric hides real reason for party switch

Published 12:55 am Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mississippi’s speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, called the latest legislative defection to his political party a “godly man, a Christian man.”

That may be so, but state Rep. Jason White’s decision to become a Republican has little or nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with legislative redistricting and political opportunism.

A year ago, White ran as a Democrat for the open seat in House District 48, which includes parts of Holmes and Carroll counties. At the time of that election, the district had a majority-black voting-age population of roughly 44 percent. That demographic, given the historical propensity of blacks to vote for Democrats, generally assured that the only way White, an attorney from West, could win was by putting a “D” next to his name.

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Earlier this year, though, the Legislature redrew its district lines to account for population shifts as reflected in the 2010 census. Now White is in a district that is about 28 percent black — much more friendly confines for the Republican Party.

White said he never felt comfortable with the Democratic Party after arriving in Jackson. But what he obviously wasn’t comfortable with is the new shape of his district. Not only is it less Democratic, but also it will pit White in 2015 against veteran Democratic lawmaker Bennett Malone of Carthage, assuming they both decide to run for re-election. …

White’s odds of pulling the upset are better in a general election than a Democratic primary. He’s expecting that, by adding to the Republicans’ majority in the House, they will return the favor by helping to beef up his legislative resume and his campaign treasury over the next few years.

The payoff started this week with the welcoming party the GOP put on for White and Gunn’s gushing compliments.

The speaker was absolutely correct when he said White “has convictions.” One of those is the conviction to do whatever it takes to get elected.