Gov. Haley Barbour asked the Mississippi Supreme Court on Wednesday to decide if he was correct in setting a Nov. 4 special election date to fill the seat of Republican Sen. Trent Lott. At issue is the timing of the election. Attorney General Jim Hood had filed a complaint in Hinds County Circuit Court challenging the date, saying Barbour didn't have the authority to set it, and that the election should occur much sooner than this year's general election. Judge Bobby DeLaughter ruled in favor of Hood on Monday.
DeLaughter said Barbour had erred when he set the Nov. 4 election date. Barbour spokesman Pete Smith declined to comment about the case on Wednesday, saying only that the notice of appeal had been filed. Hood couldn't be reached immediately for comment. Lott officially resigned Dec. 18 with five years left in his current six-year term. On Dec. 31, Barbour chose U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., to hold the seat until the special election. Wicker is the only GOP a candidate for the special election. The Democrats are former U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows and former Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. The date of the election is significant because of this year's presidential races, said Joseph Parker, a political science professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. "It establishes an incumbency. If you get it to November, and you get John McCain or (Mike) Huckabee or whoever, Wicker will have the coattail effect," Parker said, referring to GOP presidential candidates.
Hood said in his complaint that state law required that the election be held before March 19. Mississippi law states that after receiving official notice of a Senate vacancy, the governor has 10 days to announce an election to fill the seat. That election must be held within 90 days of the announcement, unless the vacancy occurs during a year when "there shall be held a general state or congressional election." In his ruling, DeLaughter wrote that the Constitution gives the Legislature the power to grant the governor the right to fill the vacancy left by Lott's resignation. But it does not give him the right to set the election. That duty belongs to the Legislature.
DeLaughter said the statute set in place by the Legislature is "plain, clear, and unambiguous," and that the governor's choice of election dates was incorrect.