Thompson is Mississippi’s only congressman who voted to ban Confederate statues from U.S. Capitol

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Three of Mississippi’s four congressmen either voted against or say they oppose legislation passed by the U.S. House to remove all Confederate monuments from the United States Capitol.

Although there are multiple on display, the vote has unique implications for Mississippi since it is the only state in the nation that displays at the U.S. Capitol two statues of Confederates: Jefferson Davis and James Zachariah George. Davis was a slaveowner and president of the Confederacy, and George was a lead architect of the 1890 state Constitution that stripped voting rights from nearly 150,000 Black Mississippians. Neither man was born in Mississippi.

The Mississippi statues were placed in 1931 after they were approved by the state Legislature in 1924. Congress in 1864 authorized each state to donate and display two statues at the Capitol of citizens “illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services.”

Reps. Steven Palazzo of the 4th District in south Mississippi and Trent Kelly of the 1st District in north Mississippi voted against the bill that passed 285-120 Tuesday. Rep. Michael Guest of the 3rd District, which is primarily central Mississippi and parts of southwest Mississippi, said he did not vote because he was delayed in returning to Washington, D.C., because of the funeral of a family friend, but would have voted no.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, who represents a large part of western Mississippi and is the state’s only African American and Democrat in Congress, voted with all other Democrats in the U.S. House to remove the monuments.

On social media, Thompson said he voted for the legislation because “statues of those who served in the Confederacy or supported slavery or segregation should not have a place of honor in the U.S. Capitol.”

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In the past, Mississippi’s Republican members of Congress said they believe it should be up to the states to decide the monuments representing them in the U.S. Capitol.

“I would be opposed to the federal government ordering or dictating Mississippi to remove those statues,” Guest has said in the past.

Mississippi’s two U.S. senators, Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, both Republicans, have made similar comments.

Wicker told WJTV last summer, “It would be a mistake for Congress to remove statues placed in the U.S. Capitol by Mississippi or any state. In my view, such an overreach would be counterproductive to the healthy conversations on race happening across the country. Under federal law, state governments are solely responsible for selecting and replacing the statues that represent their states.”

Other southern states, such as Arkansas and Florida, are taking steps to remove from the U.S. Capitol monuments tied to slavery or the discrimination of African Americans.

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Will Gunn run? Speaker signaling 2023 challenge of Gov. Tate Reeves

He’s been crisscrossing the state for months meeting with local leaders. He’s on track to have $1 million in his campaign coffer this year. He’s taking jabs at Gov. Tate Reeves at every opportunity.

Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn sure shows all the signs of someone strongly considering a gubernatorial run in 2023.

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It hasn’t gone unnoticed. A potential internecine GOP battle between Gunn and Reeves has become the buzz of the summer among Mississippi politicos. They appear to be split between calling it a fool’s errand or a golden opportunity to oust an incumbent known more for creating enemies and strong-arming campaign donors than pushing policy and building consensus.

Asked directly about whether he would run in 2023, Gunn told Mississippi Today: “My focus is doing a good job as speaker of the House. I’m traveling the state talking about what we are trying to accomplish legislatively. I do not know what the future holds.”

Note he did not say he isn’t considering a run.

Modern history shows unseating an incumbent governor — especially a Republican — in a primary is a difficult task and a rare occurrence nationwide. The governor in Mississippi is de facto head of the state party, and by custom picks their own party chairman, which Reeves has done. Big money campaign donors are typically reluctant to switch horses midstream.

Gunn, 58, is said to be receiving encouragement to run from many powerful quarters, but so far, those quarters are hesitant to say so publicly. Several declined to speak on the record with Mississippi Today about a possible Gunn challenge.

Reeves, 47, should have every tailwind as the incumbent. But over two terms as lieutenant governor and half a term as governor, Reeves has shown a penchant for hacking people off, even fellow Republican leaders and his own loyalists. He himself has chalked this up to, “I know how to say no to my friends.”

Political acrimony between Gunn and Reeves goes back to early in their first terms as speaker and lieutenant governor, respectively. It reached perhaps a fever pitch in last year’s fight over control of spending of federal COVID-19 relief spending. Gunn accused Reeves of “cheap theatrics and false personal attacks.” Reeves warned that “people will die” because the Legislature wouldn’t let him control the money.

READ MORE: ‘Punch in the face, stab in the back’: Legislature overrides Gov. Reeves’ veto of education funding bill

If Gunn were to make a gubernatorial run, he’d have to get cracking early. Despite three terms as House speaker — the third-longest run in state history — Gunn lacks name recognition. The speaker is typically not a household name despite the power they wield at the Capitol.

But as many politicos say, one can buy name recognition with enough campaign cash and media. That would bring Gunn’s first clear-and-present challenge: to raise $3 million to $4 million for a serious primary challenge against an incumbent known for his fundraising prowess.

Gunn would have to be fundraising now — and it appears he is — in order to make a gubernatorial run even a possibility. He would need to make his personal decision by the end of this year or early 2022 to begin quietly convincing movers and shakers who want a change to back him. He would likely need to make a public announcement and begin public campaigning by late summer or early fall of 2022 to build momentum and name recognition.

Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. knows these political considerations intimately. Waller challenged Reeves in the 2019 Republican primary for governor and lost by just eight points in a runoff. In an interview with Mississippi Today, Waller pointed out that Mississippi continues to struggle with poverty, population loss, crumbling infrastructure, lack of economic growth and health and education issues.

“I think the people of Mississippi are ready for a new look, new leadership,” Waller said, acknowledging “there’s certainly some smoke in the air” about Gunn running.

“I think (Gunn) has a lot of attractive features,” Waller said. “He’s young and aggressive… I think he’s been an effective speaker, and he certainly has an eye to addressing some of the problems the state has experienced, an eye to trying to improve the state versus the experience we’ve had with Reeves in the position of lieutenant governor and governor.”

Waller continued: “I don’t know many things that (Reeves) wants to do except defeat Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi… I hope people look at the issues… We’ve got problems.”

When asked if he would run for governor again himself in 2023, Waller said, “I am considering it, but we are undecided.” Asked about the timing of announcing his challenge of Reeves in 2019, Waller said he made a mistake in his last run of waiting too late to get into the race — about six months before the primary — and would not make that mistake again if he runs again. […]