By JACK ELLIOTT JR.
JACKSON — Mississippi is on track to have one woman in statewide elective office for the upcoming term, possibly two.
Still, Mississippi’s track record of electing women to statewide office is dismal. Consider:
Nellah Massey Bailey of Meridian, widow of former Gov. Thomas Bailey, was the first woman elected to statewide office, serving from 1947 to 1956 as state tax collector. The office was abolished by the Legislature in January 1964.
Julia H. Kendrick (1968-1972) was the last statewide elected clerk of the Mississippi Supreme Court. The court now appoints the clerk.
One woman, the late Evelyn Gandy of Hattiesburg, held three elective statewide offices: lieutenant governor (1976-1980), insurance commissioner (1972-1976), and state treasurer (1960-1964 and 1968-1972). She was also a state representative (1948-1952).
In 1997, Gandy, a Democrat, was honored by an American Bar Association group as a pioneer for women in the legal profession and political arena. At the event, Gandy said that in her early campaigns said she told voters, “I’m proud to be a woman and I hope no one will vote against me because I’m a woman. Likewise, I don’t seek votes on that basis.”
“I do not think we have done a very good job in educating women about how far we have come,” Gandy said. “If they knew a bit more of the history of women’s rights perhaps they could be more motivated to take full advantage of their opportunities.”
When Gandy left office in 1980, Mississippi returned to an all-male slate of statewide officials until 1999, when Amy Tuck, then a Democrat, was elected lieutenant governor. Tuck switched parties in late 2002 and was re-elected in 2003 as a Republican. She was term-limited and left office in January 2008. Men have held all statewide offices the past four years.
Mississippians fill eight statewide offices in Nov. 8 general election, and new officials are inaugurated in January.
The state will certainly have a woman in the office of treasurer — the two major candidates are Democrat Connie Moran and Republican Lynn Fitch.
Tate Reeves, the two-term state treasurer, is the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.
Fitch is head of the state Personnel Board and has been deputy director at the state’s employment office. Moran is in her second term as mayor of Ocean Springs and once managed Mississippi’s trade office in Germany.
They both pledge to guard the investment of state funds and the college savings program and, as a member of the state retirement board, protect the state pension for active and retired public employees.
Fitch said her relationships in Jackson will help make an immediate impact in attracting businesses to the state and growing current Mississippi-based businesses. She said such continuity in state government gives companies confidence to locate in the state.
Moran was elected mayor of Ocean Springs in 2005, only weeks before Hurricane Katrina — what she called “a trial by flood.” She said her experience in finance and economics helped her guide the city to recovery without any increase in taxes.
Odds are that Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith will be elected agriculture commissioner — the first time a woman will hold the job. The current commissioner, Republican Lester Spell, is retiring.
Hyde-Smith, who’s in the livestock business with her husband, said she will get the agency involved in recruiting jobs in agricultural research, not something traditional economic developers think about. She said that with predictable growth in world populations, Mississippi must be a bigger player in helping feed the world.
Her chief opponent, Democrat Joe Gill, said he’d like to institute a mentor or apprentice program to pair young farmers with senior farmers who lack heirs or family interests in continuing their operations.
The Reform Party, which has no history of winning Mississippi elections, is running Shawn O’Hara for treasurer and Cathy L. Toole for agriculture commissioner.