Incumbents face challenges in Mississippi House, court races
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Three out of four incumbents in Mississippi’s U.S. Congressional Districts are facing challenges on Election Day. Two Republicans — Trent Kelly and Michael Guest — and the state federal delegation’s sole Democrat, Bennie Thompson.
Also on the ballot are several Supreme Court seats and a measure that could put an end to a Reconstruction-era voting law.
U.S. HOUSE — 1ST DISTRICT
Republican U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly will face Democratic challenger Antonia Eliason in north Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District.
Kelly is a former district attorney and Tupelo city prosecutor. He has been in the House since he won a 2015 special election. As a brigadier general in Mississippi’s National Guard, he has advocated for higher military spending and better healthcare for veterans.
Eliason is a law professor at the University of Mississippi and a self-described democratic socialist. She’s run her campaign on issues like “Medicare-for-All,” increasing the state and federal minimum wage, marijuana legalization and the Green New Deal. Eliason moved to Mississippi in 2013 after practicing law in London for nearly five years, and said she was motivated to run for office after Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid.
U.S. HOUSE — 2ND DISTRICT
U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson is facing a challenge from Republican military veteran Brian Flowers in Mississippi’s 2nd U.S. Congressional District, which stretches along the Mississippi River, through the Delta and into Jackson.
Thompson has been in Washington since winning a special election in 1993. He is the longest-serving member of Mississippi’s current congressional delegation. He is also the only Democrat and the only African American representing the state on Capitol Hill.
Flowers, who is white, works at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station and campaigned on improving healthcare for veterans, infrastructure and schools. He served in the U.S. Navy during the Obama administration. He told The Exceptional Conservative Show in October that President Donald Trump has done more for the military in three years than Obama did in eight.
U.S. HOUSE — 3RD DISTRICT
Republican U.S. Rep. Michael Guest will be running against Dorothy “Dot” Benford, in central Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District. Guest, a former district attorney for Madison and Rankin Counties was elected Congress in 2018.
Guest has campaigned as a supporter of law enforcement and has pushed himself as someone who would seek stronger immigration enforcement, saying it would help decrease illegal drugs. Guest serves on the Homeland Security Committee and the subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation and Operations.
Benford previously ran unsuccessfully for several offices, including Congress in 1988, 1990, 1992, 2006 and 2008. She’s in her late 70s and is a civil rights movement veteran.
U.S. HOUSE — 4TH DISTRICT
Republican U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo is running unopposed in south Mississippi’s 4th Congressional District.
Palazzo was a state House member when he unseated Democratic U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor in 2010. Palazzo, 49, is a military veteran and often praises President Donald Trump. He defeated three Republican challengers for the nomination in March.
SUPREME COURT - DISTRICT 1, SEAT 1
Justice Kenny Griffis is running to keep his seat on the Mississippi Supreme Court representing the central part of the state.
Griffis was appointed by former Republican Gov. Phil Bryant in 2019 to fill a vacancy on the nine-member court. He won an eight-year term. Griffis had served 16 years on the Mississippi Court of Appeals.
He is being challenged by Latrice Westbrooks, who’s currently on the Court of Appeals. If she wins, Westbrooks would be the first Black woman and the fifth woman ever to serve on Mississippi’s Supreme Court.
SUPREME COURT - DISTRICT 1, SEAT 2
Supreme Court Justice Leslie King is running unopposed for reelection in district 1 for a seat on the Mississippi high court representing the central part of the state.
King has served on the nine-member high court since being appointed by then-Gov. Haley Barbour in 2011.
A native of Greenville, King began practicing law in 1973. He first served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1980 through 1994, until being elected to the Court of Appeals in 1994. He served as Chief Judge from 2004 to 2011, when he joined the Supreme Court. He became a Presiding Justice of the Supreme Court in Feb. 2019.
SUPREME COURT DISTRICT 2
Chief Justice Mike Randolph is running unopposed for a third eight-year term on the Mississippi Supreme Court.
Randolph represents the southern part of the state. He was appointed to the Mississippi Supreme Court by Gov. Haley Barbour in 2004. He was then elected in November 2004, and reelected in 2012. He became a presiding justice of the Supreme Court in 2013, and chief justice in February 2019.
Randolph served in Vietnam before he began practicing law in 1975. He formed his own firm, Bryan Nelson Randolph, PA., serving as president and CEO.
SUPREME COURT DISTRICT 3
Justice Josiah Dennis Coleman is running for a second eight-year term in the Mississippi Supreme Court against Judge Percy L. Lynchard Jr.
Coleman was first elected in 2012 and is the second member of his family to serve on the state’s nine-member high court. He’s the grandson of former Gov. J.P. Coleman, who served on the Mississippi Supreme Court briefly and also was on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and at one point held the role of state attorney general.
Lynchard has served in Mississippi’s 3rd Chancery District Court since 1995 and served as the DeSoto County prosecuting attorney from 1992 to 1995.
BALLOT MEASURE 2 - HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION NO. 47
Mississippians will vote to decide whether or not they want to eliminate a Reconstruction-era electoral college provision in races for governor and other statewide offices.
The Mississippi Constitution currently requires a statewide candidate to win a majority of the popular vote and a majority of the electoral vote. One electoral vote goes to the candidate receiving the most support in each of the 122 state House districts. If nobody wins both the popular vote and the electoral vote, the race is decided by the state House. But representatives are not obligated to vote as their districts did.
Mississippi is the only state with the multistep process for electing a governor. The process was written when white politicians across the South were enacting laws to erase Black political power gained during Reconstruction. The separate House vote was promoted as a way for the white ruling class have the final say in who holds office.
Black plaintiffs sued the state over its electoral process last year. Days before the 2019 governor’s race, U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III wrote that he has “grave concern” about the constitutionality of the electoral vote provision. Jordan wrote that the plaintiffs’ argument about violation of one person, one vote is “arguably ... their strongest claim.”
In September, Gov. Tate Reeves described the lawsuit as a ploy by state Democrats to get a Democrat elected governor.
Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.