Bobby Harrison

Bobby Harrison Mississippi Today

Mike Parker, the last Republican candidate for governor to lose in the general election, has for almost two decades been a non-factor in Mississippi politics.

But in recent weeks, Parker’s name has resurfaced as he joined more than two dozen former Republican congressmen across the nation in endorsing Democrat Joe Biden for president.

The ghosts of Parker’s political past will be on the November general election in Mississippi in another way.

Parker, the only candidate in state history to force Mississippi House members to cast the deciding vote on who would serve as governor, said he will vote this fall to take that responsibility away from House members.

Mississippi voters will decide in November whether to remove a state Constitutional provision requiring a candidate for statewide office to win both a majority of the votes and the most votes in a majority of the state’s 122 House districts.

If both of those thresholds aren’t met, that same constitutional provision, written in 1890 by white lawmakers to keep African Americans from holding statewide office, grants the state House the responsibility to decide the winner from the top two vote-getters.

This year’s proposed change would instead force a runoff election between the top two vote-getters instead of letting House members decide the outcome.

Surprisingly, Parker said recently he was not familiar that amendment would be on the November ballot.

“I think that is good,” Parker said. “If that is what the amendment says, that is what I will vote for.”

Parker, age 70, says he has no regrets in forcing the House to decide the election for governor on the first day of the 2000 session of the Legislature.

In the November 1999 election, Ronnie Musgrove, the Democratic lieutenant governor, won a plurality of the vote against Parker, a former congressman who resigned from the House to run for governor as the chosen candidate that year of the Republican establishment. Not only did neither candidate win a majority of the popular vote, but Musgrove and Parker each won 61 House districts.

Based on those results, Parker said he opted to take the election to the House, as allowed by the Constitution, to see if members would vote the way their constituents voted “one way or the other.”

“A lot of them wanted to push it under the rug. But they are elected to vote,” Parker said.

The House voted for Musgrove 86-36, with two Republicans voting for Musgrove and two Democrats voting for Parker. All three independents voted for Parker.

While Parker is still the only candidate to take a statewide election to the House for the members to decide, there have been other instances where candidates could have done the same. In two races for lieutenant governor in the 1990s, the winning candidate did not achieve both constitutional thresholds to win, but in those instances the candidate who did not receive the most popular votes conceded.

Twenty years after Parker threw the election to the House, the Legislature has opted to put the proposal on the ballot to remove the archaic provision from the Constitution. But the Legislature’s action only comes after a federal lawsuit was filed saying the provision was unconstitutional because it had the possibility of diluting minority voting strength.

Based on the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan of the Southern District of Mississippi, strongly hinted that if the provision was not removed by a vote of the people, he would do it himself.

Ironically, Parker, who in Mississippi history will always be closely associated with the electoral provisions of the state Constitution, said he has not kept up with the issue.

But he does keep up with national politics enough to know he opposes incumbent Republican President Donald Trump.

“His (Biden’s) politics are not mine,” Parker said. “They are very different. I am a Republican. Trump is not. This is a constitutional thing more than anything. Trump does not understand our system of government. He has no respect for our system of government. That is sad.”

Parker bemoans the fact that his grandchildren live next door to he and his wife in Brookhaven, but they limit their contact with them because of COVID-19. Parker said both he and his wife have pre-existing conditions that would put them in danger if they contracted the coronavirus from the grandchildren, who are now in school, or the children’s mother, a teacher.

Parker said his brother-in-law, whom he describes as the healthy member of the family, recently died “a terrible death” from COVID-19.

“He was on a ventilator for 20 days,” Parker said. “I can’t imagine the leadership of the country not telling us how bad this is. The people needed to know that.”

BOBBY HARRISON is Mississippi Today’s senior Capitol reporter and was a longtime Capitol reporter for the Daily Journal. Readers can contact him at (601) 946-9931 or BHarrison@mississippitoday.org.

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