Rupert Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 26, 2007

Long election season started too early

I’ve got a case of the election blues.

It’s called election fatigue and many of my fellow Panola Countians are suffering from its symptoms.

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It began early in the year following the untimely death of State Representative Leonard Morris. His premature exit on January 12 put a fear in many of us and also put us on notice that we shouldn’t depend on anyone to do so much.

By the end of the year, we will have witnessed as many as six and possibly seven local elections. That doesn’t include the bombardment our area receives from the Memphis media during their municipal elections or constant banter on the national level involving platoons of candidates vying to be the major parties’ nominees.

Following Morris’s death, a special election was held February 13 to fill his unexpired term. The eventual winner would be a Morris friend and neighbor Joe Gardner, but he had to win in a runoff with Teresa Wallace on February 27.

So we had elections number one and two and before the runoff was complete the Mississippi political year had begun to simmer as local candidates for most all state and county elective offices began to elbow into position for the summer primaries. As qualifying deadlines approached all but three local office holders had serious opponents attempting to build consensus before the August 7 party primary election.

Remember the heat of the summer was augmented by both state and local politicians who turned up the burners during that primary election and runoff that was held August 28. Those were elections three and four.

Meanwhile, another deadline was approaching as three school board posts in the South Panola District and one in the North Panola are open and will be included in the November General Election ballot.

The most sought after post in the South Panola District is School District Three where five candidates will probably insure a runoff for one of them to wind up with a majority. The non-party offices such as school board, judgeships and election commissioners require a majority to win whereas other elections that involved party primaries require a plurality (aka high man wins).

There may be some confusion there as former candidate Ken Lewis withdrew from that race too late to have his name removed from the ballot.

Circuit Clerk Joe Reid, whose official duties encompass the general election and its ballot preparation, at first thought that the name of Lewis could be “programmed out” and not counted by the Diebold machines. He later learned that the law requires that all names on the ballot be counted.

Whatever the outcome of that situation the general election and likely school board runoff are elections five and six. (Other races with party primaries require only a simple plurality to win in the general election.)

Panola and Tate Countians are awaiting the outcome of legal maneuvering of the Senate 10 Democratic primary runoff election. That runoff election was certified by the local Democrat party and Nolan Mettetal was declared winner but a complaint filed by opponent Mona Pittman to the State Democratic Executive Committee was upheld and a new election was ordered on the Panola County side of that District by the State Democratic Executive Committee.

“Not so fast,” Mettetal said as his attorney filed for the State Supreme Court to intervene. They did and appointed a Madison-Rankin Circuit Judge named Samac Richardson to hear the case. He heard it in Batesville on Friday, July 19 and ruled that the election ordered by the Democrat committee was not to be held. In the meantime, Pittman’s attorneys had filed with the Supreme Court a Writ of Mandamus declaring that Hinds County should have jurisdiction in the multi-county State Senate election.

Mettetal’s attorney filed Monday morning a request to keep the hearings in Panola County. The State court ruled that the hearings should be held in Panola and on Wednesday, an attorney for Pittman filed motion for Judge Richardson to withdraw or recuse himself.

As of yesterday, the general election will proceed on Tuesday, November 6 with Nolan Mettetal and Republican Shelley Turner on the ballot for District 10 Senator and Ken Lewis on the ballot for district three school board member.

But be aware that with continued legal wrangling, the 2007 election season is not nearly over and may continue well into 2008 or beyond.