Despite being an "off-year" for Mississippi politics (outside municipal elections), we still saw some interesting 2009 political stories.

In January, the Sun Herald reported an analysis of Mississippi Department of Transportation officials' travel records showing thousands of dollars in trips around the world funded by taxpayers and special interest groups. This included a taxpayer funded trip to Brussels, Belgium; Budapest, Hungary; and Vienna, Austria for Commissioner Wayne Brown and Executive Director Butch Brown.

Later that month, Chancery Judge Larry Buffington appointed his friend Oliver Diaz to be a Simpson County public defender, reportedly to aid Diaz's state retirement. Diaz lost reelection to the Mississippi Supreme Court the prior November. Buffington furiously issued subpoenas to Simpson's Republican supervisors and demanded they appear before him to discuss who "leaked" the public appointment to the press. Later in a public meeting, Buffington admitted he did not comply with statute when issuing the subpoenas, freely discussed using his position as a judge to appoint his friends to office, and noted he used his position to influence Covington County Supervisors to help a friend get a contract. At least one complaint was filed with the Commission on Judicial Performance which investigated Buffington, but to date has made no public statement.

In February, state Representative Billy Nicholson left the Mississippi Democratic Party and became a Republican. A total of nine Democratic elected officials would switch to the GOP in 2009 including a district attorney, sheriff, and a five-term chancery clerk.

In late February, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a 2007 decision that then Noxubee County Democratic Party Chairman Ike Brown had violated the Voting Rights Act by engaging "in improper, and in some instances fraudulent conduct, and committed blatant violations of state election laws for the purpose of diluting white voting strength."

Brown became an issue for the Mississippi Democratic Party in March. Democratic Chairman Jamie Franks hired Sam Hall as the party's executive director and defeated an effort to place Brown on the state executive committee. One week later, Franks was out of town and Vice Chairman Barbara Blackmon conducted a meeting booting Hall and instating Brown on the committee. Franks declared Blackmon's meeting void, and appointed a new Vice Chairman in a move against Blackmon.

April brought not only the annual tax day, but also the national movement of "Taxed Enough Already" - the Tea Party. Organizations and events growing out of this grass roots movement continued throughout the year.

In May, Jackson Mayor Frank Melton collapsed from heart failure fifteen minutes before the polls closed on his reelection, and days before his second federal trial. He never knew he came in third. He died, in his mind, undefeated and not guilty.

June featured municipal elections with big wins for Democrats in Vicksburg, Starkville and Ocean Springs; big wins for Republicans in Tupelo and Meridian; an independent upset in Greenwood; and the first African American mayor in Philadelphia.

One of the final chapters in the Dickie Scruggs judicial corruption cases closed in July when Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Bobby DeLaughter entered a guilty plea of lying to federal investigators.

Nationwide in August, congressmen faced off in town halls with angry constituents. Congressman Gene Taylor assured his constituents he would not vote for President Barack Obama's health care plan and called cap & trade "a Ponzi Scheme."

MDOT returned to the news in September following a dinner at which Commissioners Wayne Brown and Bill Minor discussed Madison County road business in violation of the Open Meetings Act. Entertainingly, it was Minor's defense to the Ethics Commission which proved the case by admitting the quorum and subjects of discussion.

Bill Luckett's campaign continued its stumbling fall from the starting gate in a gubernatorial run in October when his friend and business partner, Morgan Freeman, told the Associated Press that Mississippi needed Luckett because "the base stock of this state is a mule-headed bunch of farmers."

In November, another celebrity, author John Grisham, hosted a fundraiser for state Representative Bobby Moak, a Democrat who represents Lincoln County. Grisham's VIP book signing for his short story collection "Ford County" was held at Jackson's Bravo! Restaurant and added to rumors that Moak will run for Speaker of the House.

In December, the Washington Post reported an investigation by the U.S. House Ethics Committee into whether Congressman Bennie Thompson used his position as Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee to leverage a hearing into campaign contributions. The New York Times noted another investigation into a trip organized by Thompson in Tunica for Democratic congressmen which allegedly - in conflict with House Ethics Rules - utilized corporate sponsors.

Quite a year and we didn't even get to voter-ID, Jim Hood, Haley Barbour, legislative sessions, or Dirk Dedeaux's trip to Disney World during Medicaid negotiations. Don't worry; there will be plenty of politics in 2010.

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