JACKSON (FinalCall.com) – To hear Barbara Blackmon tell it, her election to be Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi in November is a foregone conclusion. She is the nominee of the Democratic Party, and her campaign has already begun to draw national attention.
“It’s already done. I’m just going through the formalities,” she told this writer in an interview for the public radio series “Soundprint” recently.
If she is right, her victory on Nov. 4 will catapult her career onto a plane that no Black woman has ever before achieved. And if she is successful, she will have succeeded in Mississippi, a state historically known for being the most rigid in denying opportunities to both Black males and females. Ironically, the state also has the most Black elected officials and the highest percentage of Black population in the country.
Ms. Blackmon, a state senator for the last 12 years, feels that her work “has resonated with the voters.” She won the Democratic Party primary outright, defeating two male opponents, one Black, the other White, without a run-off. She garnered 54 percent of the vote. At least 30 percent of that Democratic Party majority came from White voters, she said.
In the general election, she’ll certainly need some White votes to win. Since Richard Nixon employed his famous “Southern strategy” in 1968, the GOP has reversed its role from being the party of Reconstruction and the empowerment of Blacks in the South, to the party that is now home to the former “Dixiecrat” segregationists who felt alienated from the liberal civil rights policies of Democratic Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
This year a high profile Republican, former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour, is running for governor against incumbent Democrat Ronnie Musgrove, and his entry is seen as energizing White Republicans to march to the polls.
Ms. Blackmon, who is a product of the state’s integrated schools, and who graduated from Ole Miss Law School at the University of Mississippi, may excite enough Black voter turn-out on election day to re-elect Mr. Musgrove, according to one political analyst in the state, even if she is not elected herself.
He predicts that because some Whites in the state may be willing to vote for the White Democrat, but simply will not vote for the Black Democrat, she may not excite enough Blacks to overcome the White bias.
“Race will be an unspoken major factor in this campaign,” Dr. Leslie McLemore, a political science professor at Jackson State University and member of the Jackson City Council told The Jackson Free Press.
“What’s so bad is that it’s not about issues. It’s social. So many White Mississippians are making their decisions around social politics, as opposed to issue politics. The division is certainly there, and unfortunately it is centered on race,” he said.
Another Black candidate is making a bid this year for statewide office on the Democratic ticket. Gary Anderson, who resigned his appointed position as State Fiscal Officer earlier this year, defeated State Senator Rob Smith in a hard-fought run-off Aug. 26, to earn the party’s nod to try to hold on to the office of State Treasurer. Tate Reeves, a 29-year-old bank portfolio manager, is Mr. Anderson’s Republican challenger.
“My candidacy shall result in my becoming the lieutenant governor,” Sen. Blackmon insisted. “I am a native of Jackson and a product of integration. I have friends who are White from when I was in the ninth grade. I taught at a predominantly White community college and I have students who know me. I am a member of the state bar, have participated in bar activities. So those individuals know me. Then, with my 12-year record as a state senator, I have always taken positions that were not necessarily popular, but they were positions that were right. And over the last 12 years, people have seen that I have principles.”
Ms. Blackmon is also the first candidate endorsed by The Future PAC, the first political action committee raising campaign contributions for Black women running for state and national offices. She is one of only 189 Black females, among 7,382 state legislators around the country. There are no Black males or females in the U.S. Senate, and 15 Black women are among 39 members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). There are 435 members in the House of Representatives and 100 in the U.S. Senate.
“I can’t emphasize how important this is,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) told more than 300 guests attending a Future PAC fundraiser Sept. 26 during the Congressional Black Caucus festivities. “You have to persuade women there’s enough critical mass to support them.” Former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley-Braun and actress Cicely Tyson attended the event, which was organized by Cora Masters Barry, wife of former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry.
Ms. Blackmon has put forward several innovative proposals she will work to enact if she’s elected. Most fall under the umbrella of the “Blackmon Jobs Plan.”
She has proposed a $100 million pool for small businesses in the state. Those small businesses, she said, make up 85 percent of the employment in the state. “If we grow our small businesses, if we provide the kind of incentives we provided for Nissan, we can create and expand our small businesses,” she said, referring to the recent acquisition of a Nissan Motors assembly plant built near Jackson.
“With that Blackmon Jobs Plan, we also propose to expand upon the Rural Economic Development Act where we were trying to provide economic opportunities. It covered communities with a population of 10,000 or less. We propose to expand that definition to include 25,000 or less, and that would get a lot of the small cities in the state.
“In that Blackmon Jobs Plan, we have a program that you can save for college and lock in college tuition at today’s rate. That program presently only covers two-year institutions and four-year institutions. We’re proposing that it cover vocational schools and technical schools, because a lot of our students don’t go on to college, but they will go to a vocational or technical school.
“We have also proposed a prescription drug compact where we would come together with other states and pool our moneys to purchase prescription drugs in bulk, so that we will reduce the cost of prescriptions to our senior citizens. Those kinds of programs resonate with the voters and they transcend racial lines, gender lines,” Ms. Blackmon said.