Legislature to City Hall not sure move

Published 10:10 pm Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Five Mississippi House members are running for mayor this year, and while name recognition might provide some advantage, lawmakers have had a mixed record in trying to go from the Capitol to City Hall.

Some have made the move successfully, while others have found that electoral success on one level doesn’t translate to victory for another office.

Among those running for mayor now is longtime Democratic Rep. George Flaggs of Vicksburg, who ran unsuccessfully for the city’s top job in 1997.

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The other four House members running for mayor are also Democrats: Billy Broomfield of Moss Point, Kelvin Buck of Holly Springs, Chuck Espy of Clarksdale and Omeria Scott of Laurel. All five face opposition.

A former state senator, Republican Billy Hewes III, will become the next mayor of Gulfport. His only opponent dropped out of the race, giving Hewes a straight shot to City Hall. Hewes was elected to the Senate in 1991, serving 20 years, with the last four as the chamber’s second-highest officer, president pro tempore. He ran for lieutenant governor in 2011, losing a hard-fought GOP primary to Tate Reeves.

Mayors sometimes seek “local and private” legislation — bills that affect only one city or county. If Hewes does that, or if he has other reasons to be at the Capitol, people will watch his working relationship with Reeves, who still has more than two years left on this term as lieutenant governor, the Senate’s presiding officer.

Among the former lawmakers who moved from the Capitol to City Hall was Democrat Kane Ditto of Jackson. The attorney served in the Mississippi House from 1987 to 1989 before serving two terms as mayor of the capital city, from July 1989 to July 1997.

Greg Davis of Southaven was elected to the House as an independent in 1991 and served until he was elected mayor in 1997. He has been mayor since then, serving as a Republican, even while running unsuccessfully for the 1st District congressional seat in 2008. Davis is seeking a fifth term this year as an independent, but he could have a tough time because of legal problems, including a state auditor’s demand that Davis repay more than $70,000 for personal expenses charged to the city.

Republican Bob Short was in the House 14 years before serving one term as mayor of Gulfport, from 1997 to 2001.

Democrat Phillip “Bucket” West of Natchez was elected to the House in 1997 and was elected mayor in 2004, serving one term.

Several lawmakers have also been frustrated in their attempts to move into city office.

In 1997, Democratic state Rep. Steve Holland ran for mayor of Tupelo, losing to Republican Glenn McCullough. Holland now lives in the Tupelo suburb of Plantersville, where his wife, Gloria Holland, is mayor.

In 2009, state Sen. Ezell Lee, then a Democrat, lost the race for mayor of Picayune. Lee served in the Mississippi House from 1988 to 1992, then in the Senate from 1992 until January 2012. He switched to the Republican Party in January 2011, losing in the GOP primary seven months later as he sought re-election to the Senate. Lee died in May 2012 at age 79.

Two current Democratic lawmakers have run unsuccessfully for mayor of Jackson: Rep. Mary Coleman in 1997 and Sen. John Horhn in 2009.

Some people have moved from City Hall to the Capitol. Ed Morgan served three terms as Hattiesburg mayor before winning a state Senate seat in 2003. The Republican served one term in the Senate, and then-Gov. Haley Barbour appointed him as head of the state Tax Commission — now the Department of Revenue — starting in January 2009.