Mississippi Republicans celebrated a new representative and remembered their pioneer gubernatorial nominees this week.

At a press conference on Monday, the GOP added its 50th member in the state House of Representatives when Rep. Scott Bounds of Philadelphia announced his switch from the Democrat Party.

Bounds said in a statement, "My decision to switch party affiliations did not come about in haste. There has been much prayer and consultation with my family and many constituents over many months on this decision. My record as a legislator displays the conservative philosophical and policy beliefs of the majority of my constituency. The beliefs of effective, fiscally responsible and service oriented government, but not wasteful government, are the principles on which I represent my constituency. The Mississippi Republican Party embraces these same beliefs."

Bounds is the 10th elected Democrat official to switch to the Republican Party since the beginning of the Obama Administration, and the second legislator.

The response from the Democrat Party was anything but routine. Chairman Jamie Franks lashed out against Bounds, criticizing his conservative voting record and accusing him of "lying" to the voters of Neshoba County. It is no wonder conservatives continue to flee the Mississippi Democratic Party.

Longtime Mississippi journalist Sid Salter noted in his online blog the irony of Franks' criticism - by the numbers. On Election Day in Neshoba County in 2007, Bounds earned 5,060 votes for re-election while Franks (who was running for lieutenant governor) only managed 2,170 votes. Salter blogged, "That means that Democrat and Republicans alike in Neshoba County thought more of Scott Bounds than they did of Jamie Franks."

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran praised this new addition to Republican ranks later that Monday night at the Mississippi Republican Party's Second Annual Pioneer Dinner. The dinner honored the GOP's first gubernatorial nominee, Reubel Phillips, as well as subsequent nominees Gil Carmichael, Leon Bramlett, Jack Reed, Kirk Fordice, Mike Parker, and Haley Barbour. The Bounds party switch was one more thing to celebrate for the GOP as they looked back over their difficult years of recruiting and running candidates in an overwhelmingly Democratic state from the 1960s until the 1990s.

Reubel Phillips could not attend due to health issues, but he only allowed the event to take place on the condition that Stanford Morse also was honored. A Democratic state senator, Morse switched parties and ran as a Republican in 1963 for lieutenant governor; effectively on a ticket with Phillips. Gulf Coast businessman Victor Mavar explained that Morse faced a difficult decision to make that switch because his father was such a committed Democrat; but his father also held U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) in high esteem and respect. Wirt Yerger, Jr. arranged a phone call from Goldwater to the elder Morse and afterward, Stanford had the green light to run as a Republican.

Ambassador John Palmer presented an address on the providential life of Phillips who - in addition to serving as a circuit clerk and Northern District Public Service Commissioner - served as in-house counsel to Palmer's company.

Palmer explained, "As a lawyer, he handled everything from divorces to serving as counsel for our company. I noticed that in several of the divorce cases Reubel handled, no one ever ended up divorced. He wanted those spouses to settle their differences and get back together. And I observed how he could reconcile people and issues. That was important to our company, so he represented us in acquisitions of small companies and large companies....Reubel was invaluable and built up great value for our company and our stockholders. I don't know how best to explain what he did except: shortly after he put all our deals together, we sold the company to Bell South for an amount in excess of one billion dollars. So Reubel, thank-ya, buddy!"

Palmer discussed Reubel's leadership during his second run for governor in 1967. Phillips kicked off his campaign in a live televised address telling Mississippians that it was time for a change, that integration was here, and that it benefited everyone of both races to remove the social and legal barriers to equal education and economic opportunity. Palmer said, "He said something that the voters of Mississippi had never heard from a mainstream candidate." Palmer said in a time when Democratic leaders in the South included Orval Faubus screaming in Arkansas, George Wallace in Alabama and Ross Barnett in Mississippi, that Reubel Phillips and the Republican Party offered new ideas, new leadership, and progress for the South.

Palmer concluded, "Last week I heard Tom Brokaw say in a private conversation that Mississippi had come further than any state in progress. Makes you wonder how much further, how much more progressed Mississippi might be today had we done the right thing and elected Reubel Phillips our governor."


Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.