GOP control expands in Mississippi Senate, steady in House


In this Oct. 31, 2019 photograph, Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn of Clinton, addresses business leaders at the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual “Hobnob Mississippi,” in Jackson, Miss. Gunn will begin the January 2020 Legislative session with Republicans maintaining the supermajority-level control in the state House as they are on track to win 75 seats, the same number they held before the election, with three races uncalled. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

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JACKSON, Miss. — Republicans will expand their majority in the Mississippi Senate and maintain supermajority-level control in the state House following Tuesday’s elections.

In the Senate, Republicans will hold 36 of 52 seats, up from 33. Democrats will shrink from 19 to 16. In the 122-member House, Republicans are on track to control 75 seats, the same as before the election, including a lead in one of three uncalled races. The number of Democrats is on track to increase from 45 to 46, with one Democrat defeating Rep. Steve Holland, a longtime Democrat from Plantersville who pursued re-election as an independent. Rep. Angela Cockerham of Magnolia, another former Democrat, won re-election as an independent.

In both chambers, Republicans will control 60% of seats, meaning they can pass tax changes and borrowing bills without any Democratic votes.

In the Senate, Republicans picked up two seats in northeast Mississippi that had been held by conservative-leaning Democrats, while Melanie Sojourner regained her former Senate seat in southwest Mississippi. On the Gulf Coast, Republican Mike Thompson won a seat now held by Democrat Deborah Dawkins, who lost in the primary. Democrats got one back when Joseph Thomas Sr. won a seat now held by Republican Eugene “Buck” Clarke that was redrawn to give an African American a better chance of winning.

The Associated Press hasn’t called three House races because of close margins. In District 12, now held by Democrat Jay Hughes of Oxford, Republican Clay Deweese narrowly leads Tiffany Kilpatrick. In District 40, incumbent Rep. Ashley Henley of Southaven narrowly trails Democratic challenger Hester Jackson McCray. And in District 64, Democrat Shanda Yates narrowly leads longtime Republican incumbent Bill Denny of Jackson.

Party control would flip in all those races if the leaders hold on. Besides those instances and Holland’s loss, the only other district to change hands was District 122, where Republican Brent Anderson won the seat now held by House Democratic leader David Baria of Bay St. Louis. He didn’t seek reelection.

Holland has been one of the most outspoken figures in the Legislature over his nine terms, with a sense of humor that sometimes drew national attention, like the time in 2012 that he filed a satirical resolution to rename the Gulf of Mexico as the Gulf of America trying to make a point about how he felt immigrants and Latinos were being demonized.

The 64-year-old funeral home owner declared that “it’s been a wonderful 64 years and I have no regrets” in a Wednesday phone interview. By becoming an independent, Holland avoided a Democratic primary against Rickey Thompson, but lost to him in the general election. Holland, who is white, said Republicans had designed his district so that he would have to contend with African American candidates such as Thompson.

“It has been premeditated by blacks and whites, Republicans and Democrats, and the racism is as severe as I’ve ever seen it,” Holland said. “Rickey Thompson is going to be my representative and I wish him the best.”

Once-dominant white Democrats like Holland continue their retreat. The new Legislature is on track to have seven white Democratic House members and two senators. As late as January 2008, 15 white Democrats were sworn into the state Senate.

The number of women lawmakers is on track to increase from 24 to 29 overall, rising from nine to 12 in the Senate and from 15 to 17 in the House. Mississippi had the lowest percentage of women lawmakers of any state legislature in the nation this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures , at 13.8%. Overall nationwide, 29% of state lawmakers are women.

The additional numbers will push Mississippi’s percentage to 16.7%, which could push Mississippi past at five other states that don’t have elections this year. In Louisiana, which has elections later this month, 16% of lawmakers were women last year.

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