June 2, 2011 12:33:00 PM
Longtime state Rep. Jeff Smith of Columbus switched to the Republican Party just before Wednesday''s qualifying deadline for legislative races, and he said he still plans to run for the open spot of Mississippi House speaker in January.
Smith, who earlier said he planned to run as an independent, said today that he decided to become Republican because the GOP recruited a friend of his, Jack Larmour of Caledonia, to run against him. Smith said he''s hoping to secure his re-election in the Aug. 2 party primary rather than waiting until the Nov. 8 general election.
Being independent "wasn''t going far enough," Smith said. But since he became a Republican, the response has been "amazing."
"I sort of hated to change parties, but I''ve been so conservative for so long," Smith said. "It''s not a big leap from being a super-conservative Democrat to being a Republican. I did have a stop-off for three weeks as an independent."
But Larmour, who owns a storage building business in his hometown, said he was "a little confused" by Smith''s party-switching and emphasized that he had been and would be conservative.
"I will be the same guy today and tomorrow as I was yesterday," he said.
When asked if his recent transition between parties might cost him votes, Smith pointed to his extensive conservative voting record.
Smith has served in the House for 20 years as a conservative Democrat and unsuccessfully challenged populist Democrat Billy McCoy of Rienzi for the speakership in January 2008 -- a nail-biter of a contest that McCoy won by a 62-60 vote.
McCoy announced last week that he won''t seek re-election to the Legislature, and his decision opened a race for the job of presiding officer of the 122-member body. Smith said last week that he''d run for re-election this year as an independent, and he even filed qualifying papers.
If Smith is reelected, he''ll likely face several Republican opponents and Democrat Bobby Moak of Bogue Chitto, who''s unopposed for re-election in his own district.
Republican Sid Bondurant of Grenada, who faces a Democrat in his district, is also running for speaker. Others say they''re considering running for the top job in the House, which McCoy has held since January 2004.
Democrats now hold a 68-54 advantage over Republicans in the House, but it''s unclear whether the partisan balance will hold.
Since 2008, seven conservative Democrats -- including Smith -- have crossed the aisle.
In other local legislative races, only House District 36 Democrat Rep. David Gibbs of Clay County is being challenged. His opponent in the primaries is Jimmy Davidson.
Sens. Terry Brown, a Republican in District 17, and Bennie Turner, a Democrat in District 16, are unopposed in their elections, along with Republican Rep. Gary Chism, of District 37, and Democratic Reps. Tyrone Ellis, of District 38, and Esther Harrison, of District 41.
All legislative candidates are running for four-year terms that begin in January.
Nine of the 52 Senate seats are open this year -- eight of them because incumbents aren''t running and one because longtime Democratic Sen. Jack Gordon of Okolona died May 7.
Seventeen of the 122 House seats are open, all because incumbents chose not to seek re-election.
Sixteen Senate incumbents are unopposed, as are 48 House incumbents.
Two newcomers have a clear path to election. Republican Sean Tindall of Harrison County is the only person running in Senate District 49, a seat that''s open because longtime Republican Sen. Billy Hewes of Gulfport is running for lieutenant governor. Republican John Thomas "Trey" Lamar III of Tate County is the only person running in House District 8, where Republican Rep. Larry Baker chose not to seek re-election.
Some other highlights of the 2011 legislative races:
Mettetal was elected to the Senate as a Democrat in 1999, 2003 and 2007. Mettetal struggled in the 2007 Democratic primary, defeating challenger Mona Pittman of Batesville by only 88 votes. Mettetal switched to the Republican Party in January 2008, shortly after starting the current four-year term.
Mettetal is now running for a House seat that''s open because Democrat Warner McBride is not seeking re-election. One other Republican and two Democrats also are running for the House District 10 seat that McBride has held since January 1992. Four Democrats and one Republican are running for the Senate District 10 seat now held by Mettetal.
Baria has served one term in the Senate. He''s running for a House seat that''s open because Democrat J.P. Compretta is not seeking re-election. Compretta served in the House 1976-84 and continuously since 1988, and he has been House speaker pro tempore -- the chamber''s second-in-command -- the past two terms. Baria and one Republican, Dorothy Wilcox of Hancock County, are running for the House District 122 seat Compretta is leaving. Two Democrats and four Republicans are running for the Senate District 46 seat now held by Baria.
stirthestupid commented at 7/13/2011 11:05:00 AM:
Jeff, I just would like to apologize for the rude approach used at a recent meeting by someone who abused their position. Thank you for all you do.
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