Alaska to Carolina, super Saturday caucuses next; Mississippi: Appearances may be politically deceiving
Jackson, Miss. — The tulip trees are in bloom in this capital city on the Pearl River. Now, briefly, this one-time plantation state that William Faulkner loved to write about pops up as one of the next check points in the long-distance run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Regardless of the winner in Saturday's caucuses in Mississippi, say several political analysts here, President Reagan has a good chance of winning in November, as he did (barely) in 1980.
But as the surviving Democratic candidates grab for the 25 delegates to be chosen in the caucuses, held in Mississippi fire stations, schools, and courthouses, they would do well to get a good briefing from their staffs.
Why? Because more of the old Mississippi lingers on in political life than one would assume judging solely from the almost total disappearance of the racial rhetoric that once plagued most campaigns in this state.
''The race issue is no longer predominant,'' says state Treasurer Bill Cole, from his office across the street from the ornate state capital.
A glance at some of the new and old issues in Mississippi today, according to a variety of political analysts and politicians interviewed here, finds these:
New. A growing black vote, but still much less than it could be, due to low black turnouts.
New. A stronger Republican Party, but one whose growth just may have stalled.
New. The possibility that another black exodus from Mississippi may be building as jobs disappear. It happened once, primarily because of the attraction of Northern industrial cities.
New. Black candidates increasingly challenging other black candidates for public office.
New. Few instances of racial campaigning, although most blacks continue to vote for blacks and most whites for whites.
New. Educational reform legislation, but uncertain funding for it.
On the other hand:
Old. A continuation of gerrymandered legislative districts.
Old. A continued weak governorship and a strong Legislature unwilling to give up some of its power, even under prodding by the state Supreme Court.
Old. Persistent voter-registration barriers, which work most heavily against poor blacks and whites.
Old. Continued deep and widespread poverty.
Old. Continued deep conservatism.
Old. Old-fashioned ways of running state government.
''State government is a $3 billion (a year) business, and too many people want to continue to run it as a mom-and-pop business,'' says state Treasurer Cole.
He criticizes the state Legislature for zealously refusing to share more state budgetmaking power with the governor. And he notes that most laws for running the state were passed more than half a century ago.
Mississippi's state finances are ''precarious,'' unemployment is high, and jobs are dwindling with the completion of several major construction projects in the state, he adds.
If too many jobs dry up, blacks may again begin migrating out of the state in large numbers, says Millsaps College political scientist John Quincy Adams. ''What are those kids in Holmes County (a very poor county) going to do?'' he asks.
He says Mississippi spends on its people a greater share of the per capita income of its citizens than do many states. The problem is, the income isn't very high to begin with.
On the voting front, there has been some progress. Democratic Party activists , for example, no longer try to minimize black participation in the presidential caucuses by trying to ''hide'' the location of them, Professor Adams says.
But state Rep. Robert Clark says it is still ''easier to buy a license to kill a rabbit than exercise your franchise.'' Mississippi should allow voters to register at numerous places closer to home instead of requiring them to go to their county courthouse and to their city hall, a practice which hurts the rural poor, he says.
And Mary Coleman, an assistant professor of political science at Jackson State University, says ''the state is clearly gerrymandered in favor of incumbents.'' Most of the incumbents in this state are white males.
As for voting trends, her polls note that some of the most conservative voters in the state are those aged 18 to 25 and those 55 and over. And voter turnout is lowest in the poorer counties with high black populations, she says.
A lingering problem is poverty.
In Madison County, just north of here, federal nutritional programs have helped greatly, says Clyde L. Mock, executive director of a regional family health center in Canton.
But he says many poor blacks suffer from stress, which he attributes in part to the trials of being poor.