After a hotly contested Republican primary election for Mississippi attorney general, there isn’t much question about the outcome of the November general election for an office the state GOP has craved for decades.
Barring something totally unforeseen, current State Treasurer Lynn Fitch will win, becoming the first Republican since Reconstruction (George E. Harris from 1874 to 1878) to occupy the office.
Even if Fitch should lose which, to repeat, isn’t likely, the winner will go down as the first female attorney general in Mississippi history.
The Democrat nominee is Meridian native Jennifer Collins, the executive director of the Mississippi American Civil Liberties Union and a military veteran.
So a female wins the office for the first time either way it goes.
Being a veteran is an asset for a politician in a Mississippi election; running the ACLU is more of a liability.
Aside from that, Collins lacks the statewide name recognition and the political networking and background to be a serious threat to Fitch, who has proved to be a tough person to beat in either primaries or general elections.
In two successful races for state treasurer, Fitch prevailed over well-funded opposition, as she did in the recent GOP primary for attorney general.
In fact her two primary opponents, Andy Taggart and Mark Baker, tried to convey the notion that Fitch was too closely aligned with Jim Hood, the attorney general the Republicans were never able to defeat and who is now running for governor.
Fitch’s ascendancy in Mississippi politics is somewhat reminiscent of another female trailblazer, the late Evelyn Gandy, although Fitch still has a way to go to match the Gandy legacy.
Gandy, a Hattiesburg native who died at age 87 in 2007, was the first female to be elected to any statewide office in Mississippi and she broke the so-called glass ceiling on three of them.
After attending the University of Southern Mississippi (then Mississippi Southern), Gandy studied law at Ole Miss where she was the only woman in her 1943 law school class.
She was the first woman editor of the Mississippi Law Journal and the first woman to be elected president of the law school student body.
After having served in the Legislature and other political jobs, Gandy was elected state treasurer in 1959, the first woman elected to statewide office.
In 1972, she became the first woman elected insurance commissioner.
In 1975 she became the first woman elected lieutenant governor.
She twice ran unsuccessful races for governor, making it to the second Democratic primary but losing in 1979 to William Winter and in 1983 to Bill Allain.
After graduation from law school Gandy worked as secretary and campaign assistant for notorious segregationist U.S. Sen. Theodore G. Bilbo. Wikipedia notes that “while Gandy renounced her segregationist views in her gubernatorial campaigns, it is believed that those positions and her close relationship with Bilbo eroded her support among African Americans, a key segment of voters in the Mississippi Democratic Party.”
Perhaps that’s true; I’m not so sure.
Voters, especially in Mississippi, were more inclined to vote for a man than a woman in Gandy’s day than they are now.
Both Winter and Allain were Army veterans, and the usually genteel and intellectual Winter, especially, played on the idea of masculinity.
He ran ads showing him firing a pistol on the Highway Patrol firing range and marching in front of a National Guard tank.
But on her death, Winter called his former intraparty rival “one of Mississippi’s most conscientious and able public leaders.” n
Charlie Dunagin is retired as the editor and publisher of the Enterprise-Journal in McComb and now lives in Oxford. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.