Mississippi State Senator Dean Kirby successfully defended his position in the Republican primary after being in office for more than ten years. He won by a landslide with 70% of the vote.
It’s been nearly two decades since Kirby has had to face off against an opponent. The senator from the Jackson-area is running for re-election this year, and interestingly enough, he doesn’t have any competition from either the Democratic or Republican party.
Kirby’s streak of being uncontested for a long period of time may seem uncommon, but it’s not an unusual situation in Mississippi. In fact, over 80% of the legislative candidates in the state won’t face any major-party opposition during the upcoming general election on November 7th. Additionally, more than half of the winners in this year’s elections will not have had to compete against any other Democrats or Republicans in either the primary or general election.
Kirby, who serves as Mississippi’s Senate President Pro Tem, believes that the current state of affairs is pleasing to the people. This, he explains, is the reason why there is a dearth of contenders.
While Mississippi serves as an extreme case, it sheds light on the larger issue of declining competition for state legislative positions across the country. Recent studies indicate that the causes go beyond mere voter contentment with current officeholders. This trend also brings into question the effectiveness of American citizens to hold their elected officials responsible.
According to Steven Rogers, a political scientist at Saint Louis University who specializes in state legislatures, certain states have an abundance of uncontested seats, resulting in one party winning the chamber even before an election occurs.
According to Rogers, a democracy operates on the fundamental principle that the people have a say in their governance. However, for this to happen, there needs to be a viable option available to them. In other words, without candidates running for office, the people are left with no real choice.
According to data compiled by Ballotpedia, a nonprofit organization that tracks elections, the state of Mississippi has witnessed a steady increase in the percentage of legislative seats with no major-party opposition in the general election. In fact, the percentage has risen from 63% in 2011 to 85% in the current year. Moreover, the percentage of seats with no Republican or Democratic challengers in either the primary or general election has also grown from 45% to 57% over the same period.
According to the findings of Rogers’ research, legislative competition in the United States has been on a decline for several decades now. While in the 1960s and 1970s, contested elections were the norm, things have changed drastically since then. In fact, as per Rogers’ latest book titled “Accountability in State Legislatures,” around 35% of incumbent state lawmakers did not face any challenge in either primary or general elections from 1991 to 2020.
Political gerrymandering is a significant reason for the unfair advantage given to a particular party’s candidates through the process of drawing voting districts by those in power.
According to Rogers, lawmakers tend to face fewer challenges when their political party holds a significant majority in the legislature, and when district lines are drawn to include voters who predominantly favor that party. Additionally, a lower salary for lawmakers often results in less competition. Interestingly, when an unpopular president is in office, fewer challengers from the same party are likely to step forward. These factors all contribute to a decrease in competition in the political arena.
This year in Mississippi, the political landscape is shaped by various factors. The Republican party holds a significant advantage in legislative majorities, and most districts are heavily skewed towards one party. Lawmakers earn a salary of $23,500, supplemented by a daily expense allowance while they are on the job. Furthermore, President Joe Biden’s approval ratings are currently low, which presents an additional hurdle for Democrats in the state.
According to Abhi Rahman, the communications director for the national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, candidates are often reluctant to participate in races that they believe they have a low chance of winning.
The DLCC has allocated a few thousand dollars towards various legislative races in Mississippi and Louisiana, which are predominantly Republican-leaning states with limited competition. In contrast, the organization has already spent $50,000 on the Democratic-controlled state of New Jersey, which is one of the four states that hold legislative elections this year. However, the DLCC has put forth a significant sum of $2.2 million towards legislative races in Virginia, demonstrating its commitment towards supporting Democratic candidates in the state.
Numerous groups affiliated with both the Democratic and Republican parties are investing vast sums of money in the legislative races taking place in Virginia.
The political landscape in Virginia is currently in a state of high tension, as both Democrats and Republicans vie for control of the House of Delegates and the Senate. With a narrow majority in the Senate, Democrats are determined to hold their ground, while Republicans are equally determined to secure a slim majority in the House. The outcome of these races is being closely watched as a test of the messaging strategies of the two major parties in the run-up to the 2024 national elections.
According to Ballotpedia data, Virginia has seen a significant decline in the percentage of Republican or Democratic candidates who don’t face any major-party opposition in both the primary and general election. In contrast to Mississippi, the percentage in Virginia has dropped from 61% in 2011 to 28% this year. The districts for this year’s election were designed by court-appointed experts as the bipartisan commission responsible for redrawing boundaries based on 2020 census data failed to come to a consensus.
According to Rahman, there’s a common belief in Virginia that even in tough districts, one can still have a fighting chance. However, in states like Mississippi and Louisiana, many candidates feel like they are entering the race just to be defeated.
Despite being a minority in Mississippi, Democrats tend to secure victory in districts that are densely populated with their voters.
This year, three Democratic lawmakers will be succeeded by their sons who are running in uncontested races. The married couple, Sen. Barbara Blackmon and Rep. Ed Blackmon, initially qualified for re-election with their sons running in the Senate and House races respectively. However, as no other candidates signed up to run, the incumbents withdrew from the race, creating a clear path for their sons to be elected. Bradford Blackmon will now take over as the new Senator while Lawrence Blackmon will serve as the new Representative. Additionally, Sen. Robert Jackson’s son, Reginald Jackson, is also running unopposed for his father’s seat.
Andy Berry, a first-time Republican candidate, is set to take an uncontested path to the state Senate in a reconfigured district south of Jackson. This comes after a two-term Republican incumbent decided not to seek reelection. Although Berry lacks family ties, he has strong connections to three of the four counties in the district. He grew up in one, lives in another, and has a cattle farm in a third. For the past nine years, Berry has worked for the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association and the affiliated Mississippi Beef Council.
Berry expressed his gratitude for being assured of a win but acknowledges the importance of people’s voices in the government. He is urging the public to use their right to vote, but the lack of an opponent makes it challenging to generate interest.
According to Berry, “turnout is a challenge in every election.”