Takeaways from Mississippi’s Senate runoff

Takeaways from Mississippi’s Senate runoff

Video Courtesy of ACLU


Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith’s victory in Mississippi’s Senate election runoff was closer than usual in the GOP-dominated Deep South state. But she still was never really threatened by Democrat Mike Espy in Tuesday’s contest, which brought the state’s long history of racial politics into sharp relief.

Some takeaways as Hyde-Smith, who was initially appointed to succeed former Sen. Thad Cochran, returns to Washington as the first woman elected to represent Mississippi on Capitol Hill:

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RACIAL POLITICS STILL DOMINANT

In the end, Hyde-Smith defeated Espy by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent — much closer than the cakewalk many predicted in a reliably red state that President Donald Trump won by 17 points in 2016. The contest was the latest reminder that race remains a potent factor in the region’s polarized partisan politics. Espy was seeking to become Mississippi’s first black senator since Reconstruction.

Ahead of the runoff, a video surfaced of Hyde-Smith praising a supporter by saying, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” For many black voters, the comment harkened back to the state’s dark past of lynchings during the Jim Crow era. They were galvanized by her remarks and saw their votes as a rejection of racism. Many whites dismissed accusations that Hyde-Smith’s comments were racist.

Her statement was widely seen as a dogwhistle, similar to comments made in Florida by then-Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis, who warned voters not to “monkey up” the election by voting for Andrew Gillum, who lost his bid to become the state’s first black governor. It also echoed comments by President Donald Trump, who cast Gillum as incompetent and Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams as unqualified.

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STRONG BLACK TURNOUT NOT ENOUGH

Black voters came out for Espy, but it wasn’t enough, given the overall makeup of Mississippi’s electorate and white voters’ overwhelming loyalty to Republicans, even among suburban whites who elsewhere nationally trended toward Democrats in the 2018 midterms.

Espy’s biggest challenge was simply that Mississippi doesn’t have a metro area comparable to Atlanta or Nashville, Tennessee, or Charlotte, North Carolina — growing population centers where white voters are considerably more likely to support Democrats than their counterparts in small towns.

Yet even in Mississippi counties that fit the suburban model — better educated, more affluent — voters stuck with Hyde-Smith. Her 71 percent in Rankin County and 54 percent in Madison County (both outside the Democratic stronghold of Jackson) put her just a few percentage points behind Trump’s 2016 marks in those counties.

That’s a contrast even to other recent Deep South elections.

In Georgia, Abrams lost the governor’s race by just 1.4 percentage points in no small part because she won large suburban counties like Cobb and Gwinnett in metro Atlanta. In Alabama’s 2017 Senate special election, Democratic Sen. Doug Jones capitalized on Republican Roy Moore’s weaknesses not by winning large suburban counties, but by vastly outperforming Democrats’ usual marks.

Espy’s almost 409,000 votes statewide was 84 percent of Hillary Clinton’s vote count against Trump in 2016. By comparison, Jones managed 92 percent of presidential turnout in his Alabama victory. In Georgia, Abrams actually exceeded Clinton’s 2016 mark. If Espy had managed that on Tuesday, he’d have won: Clinton got 485,131 votes. Unofficial returns show Hyde-Smith at 479,365.

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SOME AFRICAN-AMERICAN GAINS

Despite the Democratic loss in the state’s marquee race, civil rights groups and grassroots organizers point to down-ballot gains, particularly in judicial contests. High black voter turnout elected two black women to the circuit court in Hinds County, giving the county an all-black bench for the first time ever, including three black women.

The wins mirror gains in Texas, where 19 black women were elected to judgeships earlier this month, and Alabama, where a record nine black women judges were elected in last year’s special election.

Down-ballot candidates and issues also benefitted from high black turnout this midterm cycle in Georgia — where Lucy McBath, a black woman, unseated incumbent Republican Rep. Karen Handel, flipping a seat once held by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — and in Florida, where voters supported restoring voting rights to tens of thousands of former felons.

With an increased focus on issues of criminal justice and voting rights, such victories could have more of an impact on voters’ daily lives.

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DECLINING CLOUT

Mississippi isn’t used to having backbencher senators. From 1947 to 2007, the state sent just four senators to Washington. It wasn’t long ago that Mississippi’s Senate team consisted of Cochran as chairman of the Appropriations Committee and Trent Lott as majority leader, both of them specializing in fast-tracking federal money back to their home state.

Now, the senior senator is Roger Wicker, who has been in office since Dec. 31, 2007, but will find himself behind more than a dozen Republican colleagues on the seniority list when Congress convenes in January. Hyde-Smith won’t be at the back of the line — her months as an appointed senator put her ahead of the GOP freshmen just elected in November — but she’s close.

Certainly, Washington is different than in Cochran’s prime, with budget earmarks no longer at the center of every negotiation. But for a small, economically disadvantaged state that’s long depended on federal influence, the 116th Congress will be new territory.

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NO PERFECT FORMULA FOR SOUTHERN DEMOCRATS

Democrats have made key gains in recent elections in the South, but there’s no perfect formula for winning statewide.

Espy, a former Cabinet official under President Bill Clinton, ran as a moderate with experience reaching across the aisle. Georgia’s Abrams and Florida’s Gillum ran as unabashed liberals and nearly pulled out wins in governor’s races that would have been historic. Democrats in Alabama and South Carolina nominated white men — relatively young, relatively moderate — for governor.

All of them lost: Abrams and Gillum had narrow margins; Espy ran strong but wasn’t close; Alabama and South Carolina were the usual Republican routs.

The lesson: Candidates matter, but so does the electorate. The three closest races made the case that Democrats shoudn’t cede the South, and that tests of electability shouldn’t be limited to white men.

The next test comes in Georgia, where a Dec. 4 runoff for secretary of state pits Democrat John Barrow, a 63-year-old moderate former congressman, against a little-known Republican state lawmaker. After that, the focus shifts to Louisiana, where Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards will seek re-election in 2019 four years after upsetting his Republican rival, then-Sen. David Vitter.

National Adoption Month: A Personal Reflection & Public Encouragement

National Adoption Month: A Personal Reflection & Public Encouragement

When I was 15 years old I found out I was adopted by accident. I was flipping through the pages of my family’s gigantic keepsake Bible and I happened upon the family milestones section. In those pages documenting weddings and births was my own entrance into the family and it read as follows,

“Nicole was born to adopted by _________ and ________ born on December 26, 1980.”

I almost dropped the five-pound Bible when I read those words. “Adopted?” I ran into the kitchen and interrupted my mom who was in the midst of cooking breakfast. With tears in my eyes, I said, “Why didn’t you tell me I was adopted? How could you just let me read it in a book without telling me yourself?” With tears in her eyes, she said, “I was going to tell you, but I wanted to wait for the right time.” That moment became the time—right oradoption-253x170 not. She told me my biological mother, a teenager about the age of 16, gave me up for adoption on the day of my birth. I would go from this young woman’s arms to the foster care system for about six months until I was adopted at eight months old.

Finding out about my adoption brought many questions. “Why didn’t my biological mother want me? How could she give a child up and never come back for it? Should I look for her?” It wreaked havoc on my self-confidence, my friendships, and on any relationships that were in formation because I was always afraid of people letting me go and never turning back. It was both the gift and the curse. The gift being that it gave me the wonderful parents I have who have loved me, and the curse being that I existed in a tension of that love and wondering about my other mother.

In my late 20s, during a Christmas vacation at home, my mother presented me with all of the paperwork from my adoption and she told me that if I wanted to I could look for my birth mother. At that point I never really thought about looking for her but I was thankful for my mother’s clearance all the same. Periodically I look at that paperwork, read about my biological mother, and then I put it all back in the age-worn manila envelope it was given to me in. Every few years I do a Google search using my mother’s name but I either don’t come up with anything or come up with too much. I also have my moments when I’m sitting in a room and I look at a woman whom I think looks like me and I wonder, “That could be my birth mother.” As quickly as the thought arrives is as quickly as it leaves and I come back to reality. That is the extent of search-like behavior and I have no plans to launch a full-on search for her. I’m not going to plan a stakeout in front of her home or meet her in a coffee shop—both scenarios I’ve seen on TV and in the movies. I may never meet my biological mother, and that’s fine, but there is always the chance that someone will remind me of what I may be missing.


An Adoption Story: Voddie & Bridget Baucham

Video Courtesy of Keith Thompson


“But Don’t You Want to Know Who You Really Are?”

This is what a close friend asked me when we were talking about my being adopted. His question gave me pause not because I never thought I didn’t know who I was without my birth mother, but because it showed me some of the misguided perceptions about adopted persons. There are some misconceptions about the lives of people who are adopted: that we don’t have a true sense of identity or that being adopted is a painful story for us. I’ve learned that more of that is imposed on us by a culture that has a skewed understanding of adopted people. As an adopted person I can say that I do have a sense of identity, one that was cultivated by my parents, and I’ve become increasingly thankful that adoption is part of my history. Sure it makes me wonder sometimes, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m happy with my life and my parents as they are. What is integral to this understanding is that at no time did I feel like a child who wasn’t my parents’ own because they raised me with the same love as their own flesh and blood. This helped ground me in something larger than an adoption narrative. I never felt like an “other” in my immediate or extended family’s presence, but I know that a sense of “otherness” pervades the spaces of an adopted person’s life. Recently an article captured this issue   and that of other people’s perceptions of adopted persons.

In “Teach Your Children About Adoption Before Releasing Them on the Playground”  Rachel Quinn Egan, a white woman who adopted a black child, shared her daughter’s adoption story and the issues that arose when other children realized that she was adopted. This amplified the displacement, pain, and confusion the child already felt and, Egan points out, identified that a key problem is parents not speaking to their children about adoption as another way of creating a family. Adoption is sometimes relegated to the periphery of our understanding of family creation which has resulted in many treating adopted children as if they are abnormal. But adopted children are just like any other child who was birthed from their mother’s womb–they just happen to have a mother who can’t take care of them for one reason or another. Parents should teach their children about the many ways families come into being and people must remember that persons who were adopted do a great deal of processing on their own and in therapy–11% of all adolescents in referred to therapy have been adopted. Our arrival in this world had a different structure but we seek the same type of love and acceptance as anyone else.

The Well-Being of All Children & Adoption’s Spiritual Precedent

So as not to paint an incomplete picture of adoption, it stands to be mentioned that there is a disparity between adoption rates of American children versus non-American children. We’ve all seen the stories of people who adopt children from third-world countries because of their “heart” for these children, but doing so places American children in a precarious position. A statistic from the US State Department indicates that American families adopted more than 7,000 children in 2012 with the highest number of those children being from China followed by Ethiopia, Ukraine, Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. More American children age out of foster care systems without the necessary emotional or financial support they need to survive and thus end up in group homes, homeless, or turning to a life of crime. This isn’t to say that adopting children from third-world countries is bad but it is to point out that there must be an equal regard in our concern for the well-being of American children as well as non-American children. To hold their stories as closely to our hearts as we are willing to hold those of children not located in our backyards. To cultivate a heart for children far and near.

Being adopted and being able to adopt a child is a gift. I will forever be indebted to my parents–both sets–for giving me a life that almost never was. I’m also thankful for the spiritual precedent on adoption that God established and it is with that precedent that I conclude this piece:

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Friday night young adult Bible study and I was sitting on the right side of the chapel being attentive to the minister’s teaching about spiritual adoption. In the midst of his lesson he told us to turn to Ephesians 1:3-6 and he read the scripture aloud,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

As he read this, tears welled up in my eyes at the thought that not only had God planned my earthly adoption, He adopted me into the family of Christ and secured my place with Him for eternity before I was even knitted in my biological mother’s womb. It was preordained for me to be adopted so that I could eventually understand the significance of my spiritual adoption and the fact that I was always kept. I came to see my physical adoption as a small part of a bigger portrait that God was painting of me.

And so I hope and pray that many adopted people would come to see their adoption as a small part in a bigger portrait that God is painting of their lives, that people will learn how to embrace adopted persons as they would their own, and that more children will be placed in loving homes and be afforded the opportunity for new life.