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A Big Mississippi Thank Y'all

August 15, 2003|Robert S. McElvaine | Robert S. McElvaine, who teaches history at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., is author of "Eve's Seed: Biology, the Sexes and the Course of History" (McGraw-Hill, 2002).

Greetings, Californians, from the grateful people of Mississippi. Your state has never been more popular in Mississippi than it has become in the last week.

Some years ago, the Golden State displaced New York as the state many white, traditionalist Mississippians most loved to hate. Once, when my wife told a self-proclaimed Christian here in Jackson that we would be spending the summer in California, the woman's disgusted response was: "It's a hellhole, you know."

Why, then, a sudden surge in popularity among the magnolias for California? Simple. We're thankful for the lunacy of California politics.

Actually, the gratitude can probably be traced back to several years ago when, largely as a result of the adoption of Proposition 13 in 1978, California fell behind even Mississippi in some education ratings. Now, though, there is even more reason for Mississippians to thank California's voters.

Mississippi holds its statewide elections in the off-years preceding presidential election years. Being virtually the only political game in town usually results in Mississippi elections receiving a good deal of scrutiny -- and often more than a little ridicule.

Our Mississippi politicians have provided the nation with amusement for decades. In 1959 Ross Barnett, when running for governor, was asked what he would do about Quemoy and Matsu, two islands near the coast of China that were then much in the news. The candidate pondered for a moment and said, "I think we could find a position for them on the Fish and Game Commission." While governor, Barnett opened a speech at the dedication of a new synagogue in Jackson with these words: "My fellow Christians...."

The Barnett stories are legion, as are those about many other Mississippi politicians, from Theodore Bilbo to Kirk Fordice. But, given space limitations, let us turn to just one other example. Cliff Finch, elected in 1975, carried a lunch pail around to show his solidarity with the working man, trashed the governor's mansion in fights with his wife and then tried to run for president by driving an 18-wheeler to Washington and being photographed in a heart-shaped bathtub.

No one is likely to make fun of any Mississippi candidates this year. We just can't compete with y'all in California.

Elvis may be alive and well somewhere, but he isn't running for governor of Mississippi. Ike Turner has not thrown his hat into the ring. Nor has B.B. King, Faith Hill, LeAnn Rimes or Little Milton. Morgan Freeman isn't a candidate. Neither is Sela Ward, Jerry Rice or Nevada Barr. John Grisham, a man with experience in the state Legislature, is not a candidate. Oprah Winfrey will not seek the governorship of her home state.

We have no pornography publishers running, no strippers, no child TV stars, no robots. All of our candidates are known by two names, which they usually use on annual checks to actually pay their taxes. So far, neither of our nominees for lieutenant governor, Barbara Blackmon and Amy Tuck, has appeared on billboards wearing a pink bikini. There is always a possibility that Republican gubernatorial candidate Haley Barbour will decide to campaign in a pink bikini, but it seems unlikely unless he falls behind in the polls. It's also unlikely that many of his advisors will be billionaires.

OK, I have to admit that we do have a folksinger on the gubernatorial ballot. Sherman Lee Dillon is the Green Party nominee. But he'll probably receive a smaller percentage of the vote here than Larry Flynt will get in California.

So Californians, as a former president -- the one from those halcyon days when the budgets of California, Mississippi and the United States were balanced -- liked to say: "We feel your pain." But you'll forgive us for being glad that, for once, it's not ours.

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