The past year has been filled with more than its share of momentous events affecting the politics of the South. Here are this writer’s choice for the top ten.
Charleston massacre and Haley’s response. The tragic murders of nine members of a Bible study group at the Emanuel African American Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, brought forth a massive response, not of violence, but of sorrow and forgiveness. Gov. Nikki Haley (R) led the state in mourning and called for – and got – the removal of the Confederate Battle flag from a monument on the state house grounds. And relatives of the dead offered forgiveness to the killer, whose name shall go unmentioned.
Democrats win Louisiana governorship. US Sen. David Vitter (R) was all but a shoo-in in this year’s governor’s race. But a conservative Democrat, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, with help from allied supporters, focused on Vitter’s 2007 involvement with a prostitute. Edwards won, proving that being the more rightwing candidate is, all things considered, not a sure thing even in the Deep South.
Republicans win Kentucky governorship. Tea Party-backed Matt Bevin (R) fooled the pollsters and won an easy victory (53% to 44%) in this year’s governor’s race, proving that a hard-right Republican can win, even in the Border South. Bevin is only the second Republican to hold the office in the past 40 years.
Virginia GOP keeps legislature. Some $40 million was spent in the Old Dominion’s legislative campaigns, but not a single incumbent lost and the Democrats, despite a major effort by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on his party’s behalf, gained only one state House seat while the GOP retained control of the state Senate. Not a good omen for the McAuliffe’s remaining two years in office.
Trump triumphs. Poll after poll in almost every Southern state has found that Donald Trump, that brash, even vulgar, New York City billionaire is Dixie’s choice for the Republican presidential nomination. Stay tuned!
No-go for seven Southern contenders. 2015 was the year that saw the demise, or failure to rise, of seven Republican presidential candidates from the South, all of whom held or had held statewide office. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and US Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) have dropped out of the race. Four others are languishing in the purgatory of low single digits: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (though he’s well-funded), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, and US Sen. Rand Paul (KY).
Carter cancer-free. Former President Jimmy Carter (D), 91, announced in early December that his doctors found no evidence of a brain tumor and that he was cancer free. Sadly, by the end of the month, Carter announced that his grandson, Jeremy Carter, 28, had died suddenly of heart failure.
Florida redistricting will hurt GOP. The Florida Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a congressional map that will change the state’s US House delegation from 17R-10D to a more even 15R-12D, say experts. Several incumbents in both parties have been put into the same district as another member. The ruling came in the wake of the 2010 passage of a “Fair Districts” referendum. Stay tuned.
Kim Davis stands her ground. Praised by many, reviled by others, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis refused to issue a marriage license to same-sex couples, even under court order, and spent six days in jail to make her point.