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Posts Tagged ‘Mississippi

Mike Huckabee and Haley Barbour: A Tale of Two Souths

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While greeting reporters last week in Washington, Mike Huckabee joked about New Hampshire and his Southern roots.

Huckabee is currently on a book tour to promote his new release, “A Simple Government.” He hits key 2012 states, like Iowa and South Carolina, but not New Hampshire. When asked why there were no New Hampshire stops on his book tour, he told reporters, including Politics Daily’s Walter Shapiro: “Have you ever been to New Hampshire in February? It’s cold up there. My Southern blood isn’t acclimated.”

Spoken like a true Southerner.

Huckabee has built a brand around his folksy, Southern roots that resonates with voters. He duck hunts, jokes about frying squirrel in his dorm room when he was in college and is building a multimillion-dollar beach house in the Redneck Riviera – as the panhandle of Florida is called by middle-class Southerners who vacation there.

As a Republican in a region that has been trending Reagan red since the 1980s, Huckabee could do very well in a 2012 presidential GOP Southern primary. In 2008, Huckabee came in second in the South Carolina Republican primary behind Sen. John McCain despite a lack of solid fundraising.

But Huckabee will certainly have some stiff competition for Southern votes if Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi chooses to run.

To many who do not live in the South, all Southerners may appear as if they are cut from the same Confederate cloth, but that is far from true. Huckabee and Barbour are representative of two different worlds.

Barbour is a product of the stiff, proper old South with a history of plantations, cotton, the Civil War and horrific race relations. He was born into a family with a legacy that can be traced to the state capitol in the early 1880s. Walter Leake, a Barbour ancestor, was the third governor of Mississippi as well as a U.S. senator. His paternal grandfather was a judge who held stock in the local bank and as a lawyer represented railroads. His father, who died when Barbour was 2, was a lawyer. The family was well known in Yazoo City, a town that both thrives on, and is haunted by, its Southern heritage.

Yazoo City didn’t integrate its schools until 1970 – long after Barbour, who attended the University of Mississippi in Oxford, had graduated from high school. The town did not shy away from its connection to the Citizens Council movement, an organization that was founded on the basis of resistance to integration. Barbour, too, hasn’t shied away from the group.

In a December 2010 interview with The Weekly Standard, he said: “You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up North they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”

While Barbour took heat for that comment, many Southerners who grew up in the same time period as Barbour, especially in the Mississippi Delta, understood what he meant. During the Civil Rights movement, the South was a place that operated in black and white.

That South still resonates today with Southerners who attended country clubs that today are still segregated socially, if not legally, by race and private schools founded by wealthy white families.

Barbour, a former powerful lobbyist with a hefty resume filled with Washington connections, is Presbyterian – a religion that is far from fire and brimstone. When Barbour was the chair of the Republican National Committee, many reporters fell under his spell because of “a generous supply of Maker’s Mark in his handy RNC liquor cabinet.” His state of Mississippi has thrived with casino gambling and Barbour, too, has supported it.

If Barbour is a son of the Old South, where politicians prosper because of their ancestry and fraternity connections, Huckabee is the poster child for the emerging South.

Arkansas suffers from an identity crisis. The state never had the grand plantations that were prevalent in Mississippi or a legacy of Confederate millionaires. If anything, Arkansas was as a gateway to the Wild West, a place where those who fled the Civil War landed and stayed either because they ran out of money or feared Indian Territory. Because of that history, Arkansas neither connects whole-heartedly with the proper South or the scrappy West.

Huckabee, like Bill Clinton, grew up in Hope, Arkansas, in a middle-class family. His father was a mechanic and a fireman and his mother was a clerk at a gas company.

When he was governor, he often told a story that resonated with a lot of people who grew up in Arkansas. When he was 8 years old, his father told him, “Son, the governor is coming to dedicate the new lake and make a talk and I’m going to take you down to hear him because you might live your whole life and never see a governor in person,” Huckabee recalls.

“Huckabee has sneered at that Old South mentality,” says Dr. Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College “He has often resented those who are in positions because of their power. It’s very much indicative of the Arkansas experience and those who made their own wealth – the Tysons, Sam Walton.”

A strict Baptist, Huckabee worked his way through college at Ouachita Baptist University by working at a radio station and pastoring a small church. He continued his path in the ministry, preaching at various churches in the South. In the 1980s, he encouraged the all-white Immanuel Baptist Church in Pine Bluff to accept black members. He became the president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

Huckabee doesn’t drink nor did he serve alcohol at events in the governor’s mansion during his term. He and his wife, Janet, renewed their vows in a convenant marriage ceremony while he was governor. And Huckabee is against gambling.

Unlike Barbour who worked for the Richard Nixon campaign in 1968, Huckabee had no legacy in politics – national or local. He built his following from scratch in the early 1990s when he decided to challenge Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers – a brave move for a Republican pastor in a dyed-in-the-wool Democratic state.

Huckabee, a conservative populist, could resonate in 2012 among tea party supporters who have never dabbled in politics. He doesn’t shy away from his religion or the belief that the separation of church and state is impossible. He understands grassroots mobilizing, thanks to his church background and will be able to energize the religious-right base.

But Barbour brings something much more powerful to the table. His years of political wheeling and dealing and moneyed contacts are legendary — a plus in a crowded primary where money will make or break a candidate.

If Huckabee and Barbour choose to run, their campaigns will be a contrast of two Souths — the emerging one of self-made success with church at its center and the fading glory of the old Confederacy with legacy and ancestry at its core.

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Written by suziparker1313

March 10, 2011 at 4:07 am

Constance McMillen’s South: Land of Sex and Sin

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“What’s happened to the Bible Belt?”

That question was written on a poster plastered on Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Miss., after Constance McMillen, a lesbian high school student, wanted to take her girlfriend to the spring prom.

This weekend, Constance will attend the Second Chance Prom. Its purpose is to create a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and allies, “where everyone feels comfortable being themselves.”

This is a huge event for several reasons. But the main one: it’s out in the open in Tupelo, Miss. – home of the American Family Association, which is one of the country’s largest pro-family groups touting “traditional family values.”

Most things like a gay prom with celebrity musicians and supporters in the small-town South aren’t so in your face, even in the 21st century. So is the South changing? Hmmm, no.

The Bible Belt — for better or worse — is alive and well with all of its secret sexuality bubbling just under the surface. Just ask Mark Sanford or John Edwards about their double lives. Constance just happens to be a real rarity in the rural South. She knows where she stands sexually. She’s a lesbian. She had wanted to take her girlfriend to a spring dance. She prefers wearing a tuxedo. So what?

When parents held a private invitation-only prom, it was indicative of the slippery slope to other private, naughty places that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” Southern society knows all too well. Southerners enjoy denying it. In fact, they are well trained to act shocked when someone like Constance bucks the system. My WomanUp colleague Francis Tobin noted this recently and called Constance a hero for daring to face the fire.

The South is a perpetual place of contradictions.

Right now, somewhere in the South, people are still undoubtedly praying for the souls of Constance and all the other kids attending this weekend’s shindig. They’ll be put on prayer lists so that God can help her see the wrongs of her ways. Right after saying “Amen,” some of those very people may be organizing the whips and handcuffs that they bring out on Saturday nights at underground bondage clubs around the South.

When I was a senior in a small, conservative Arkansas town, I took my gay guy friend to prom. I didn’t have a boyfriend and I didn’t want to go with some boy who probably would have pawed my black tulle skirt all night. While I didn’t know that Brian was gay, I had my suspicions. We had a nice Chinese dinner and danced all night to bad ’80s music. The next year, my best friend didn’t have a date either. She took Brian, too.

Of course, none of us shouted to the heavens that Brian was gay. We cruised through the crepe paper and still joke that the first sentence of my memoir should be “My prom date was gay.” Brian went away to the North for college, came out of the closet and fell in love with boys.

But what if we had decided to be blatant about it? Chances are that 20 years ago in a town as conservative as that one, we may have been ridden out on a rail. We certainly wouldn’t have had Constance’s national support. For all the attention Constance’s sexuality received in a flash, the South still has a long way to go to come to terms with its views on sexuality. Being gay is nothing compared to other fetishes people are forced to hide in the South.

Take swinging.

Last year, I attended a swingers’ convention in Hot Springs, Ark. — the town where Bill Clinton attended high school — and interviewed several swingers. While the convention was advertised on the Internet, there was one aspect of the convention that was secret. The event was an integrated swingers’ convention. Black men could hook up with white women — a taboo that still exists even when there is a biracial president in the White House. (No white men with black women at this confab, curiously).

People not from the South think that San Francisco and New York occupy sex’s cutting edge. Hardly.

There are porn shoots in the middle of deer-hunting woods, bondage clubs hidden in children’s dance studios and big beautiful women (BBWs) meeting truck drivers behind 18-wheelers.

A lot of sex shops may not exist in the South, but Southerners know how to make do. They make their own St. Andrew crosses in their garages and can wield a whip better than Indiana Jones. I know cops who are crossdressers, businessmen who are having flirtations with 16-year-olds, Republicans with foot fetishes, doctors’ wives who are closeted lesbians and PTA moms posing nude for amateur porn.

Constance did something simple. She asked her small school if she could bring her girlfriend to a dance. She was rejected and she fought back with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. She will likely graduate high school and leave the South.

Warning: For all of the progressive pomp and circumstance of this weekend, it only takes an event like the gay prom to gin up regressive legislators.

It’s already illegal to sell sex toys in some Southern states. Arkansas has a law that states that a person cannot be nude in the presence of any person of the opposite sex who is not their spouse. But, then again, this is a region where dry counties still exist and alcohol often can’t be sold on Sunday.

What’s next? A ban on tuxedo sales to women?

Written by suziparker1313

March 2, 2011 at 6:34 pm