Sid Salter Column 10-31-08

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2008

Salter: Wicker/Musgrove campaign pales beside ‘83 gubernatorial contest

Those young enough to believe that the muddy U.S. Senate race between Democratic former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Republican interim U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker is the dirtiest political campaign in state history are fortunate in that assessment.

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Your elders know better. It was 25 years ago this week that Mississippi and the rest of the nation waded through one of the more bizarre chapters in Mississippi political history and the dirtiest campaign seen before or since in this state.

The 1983 gubernatorial campaign between then Democratic Attorney General Bill Allain and Republican nominee Leon Bramlett made the current exchange of negative TV ads between Musgrove and Wicker look like Ned and The First Primer.

Political bombshell

Two weeks before the November general election, Allain — a divorced Natchez attorney and U.S. Army infantry combat veteran of the Korean Conflict — was leading Bramlett by 25 points in popularity polls before a group of his Republican opponents unveiled allegations that Allain had engaged in sexual liaisons with three black, transvestite prostitutes.

Allain vehemently denied the allegations. Bramlett challenged Allain to take a lie detector test and Allain eventually complied — releasing results that indicated that he was telling the truth when he said he was not guilty of the allegations.

The allegations set off a state and national media circus — bringing in an appearance by then-controversial ABC 20/20 reporter Geraldo Rivera — who interviewed the three prostitutes and aired a story in which all three recanted their prior accusations against Allain.

Allain won the election — carrying 74 of the state’s 82 counties — and went on to serve a rather productive term as governor despite complaints that he served the term somewhat cloistered in the Governor’s Mansion after the raucous, raunchy campaign.

Successful in office

Among Allain’s greatest contributions and one that led to his election as governor was a lawsuit he filed while serving as attorney general that fundamentally changed state government.

The lawsuit asked the state  Supreme Court to stop allowing members of the Mississippi Legislature to serve on boards, commissions, and agencies in the executive branch. Allain argued that Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution required a separation of powers and that legislative officials could not serve in the executive branch.

The court sided with Allain, strengthening the office of governor. Also during Allain’s term came passage of gubernatorial succession and a restructuring of the state Board of Education.

The low point of Allain’s term as governor was his unsuccessful 1987 veto of the AHEAD highway program. The Legislature overrode Allain’s veto to enact a long-range highway program that was originally estimated to cost $1.6 billion and expected to build 1,077 miles of four-lane highways over a 14-year period in three phases.

Allain, now 80, returned to the active practice of law in Jackson after completing his term. Despite the personal attack and the national media attention it engendered, Allain remained active and accessible in political events as long as his health enabled him to do so.

(Contact Perspective Editor Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail Visit his blog at