Mississippi voters are talking now, for good reasons, about the governor’s race. It’s the state’s most powerful position. The race features ideological opposites. The winner will hold considerable sway over the direction of Mississippi’s future. And it’s, frankly, the only statewide race that Democrats hold any shot at winning.
But you can read about Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Attorney General Jim Hood just about anywhere. But there are a lot of interesting races throughout Mississippi down what is a very long ballot. That includes state, legislative, regional and county positions.
Beyond the personalities, parties and platforms of the candidates, a question lurks that voters often think about but may be too embarrassed to ask: What in the world do all these positions do?
So in the name of better civic engagement and voter education, I present to you Smith’s Nonpartisan Guide to What in the World Mississippi Elected Officials (Are Supposed) To Do. I culled this info from my own experiences of covering Mississippi politics in various capacities for the past dozen years and from official sheets published by the Mississippi State Extension Service, which are very helpful and appreciated. We’ll start at the bottom of the ballot and work our way up.
Duties: Serves papers for court cases and provides security and support while court is in session in justice and circuit courts.
Comments: If you’ve never read Faulkner’s “The Reivers” do yourself a favor and check it out from your local library. It’s the last and most accessible book by the famed Mississippi novelist, known for writing deep, tangled and what I, a laymen, would call weird novels. I’ll openly admit that “The Reivers” is the only Faulkner novel where when I reached the end I had the first inkling of what just happened.
Anyway, in it there is a cameo by an honest constable who is the symbol of fairness in an otherwise corrupt system.
He tells a group, “And when you come back, remember that you aint in Memphis or Nashville either. That you aint even in Hardwick County except primarily. What you’re in right now, and what you’ll be in every time you get off a train at that depot yonder, is Beat Four.”
Man, I love that. It hearkens back to a time when constables were The Law in their beats.
Duties: Responds to all deaths and officially declares the person deceased, along with investigating the cause.
Comments: There’s a potential for a conflict of interest, in my opinion, with coroners who work for funeral homes, which is common throughout the state. That’s because they have the ability to steer business through their official capacity to one funeral home over another.
Justice Court Judge
Duties: Hear misdemeanor criminal cases and lawsuits as well as holds bond hearings after felony arrests.
Comments: This position doesn’t require much judicial training — just a high school degree and going to some classes after being elected — but it has a lot of power on local matters and is thus an important one for voters to consider carefully.
Duties: Sets county policy and funds most all the business of the county.
Comments: I don’t think the average person realizes just how much power county supervisors have. It’s far more, in my estimation, than mayors or other municipal officials because counties typically have much larger budgets than cities (bigger area for which to levy property taxes on). Again, it behooves voters to understand how influential these positions are before casting their ballots.
Well, I ran out of space. But I’ll continue in this space before the Nov. 5 elections, looking at the rest of the county, regional and state elected offices. n
Charlie Smith is editor and publisher of The Columbian-Progress. Reach him via email at email@example.com or call (601) 736-2611.