Mississippi's new-style politicians reflect progress in South
Atlanta — Plentiful examples of what for many Americans portrays the old South - from graceful lawns and tree-shaded, antebellum mansions to bare dirt yards and tin-roofed shacks - are still to be seen, especially in states like Mississippi.
But while some changes, such as new industries, hotels, and office buildings, are obvious, beneath the surface lie other, perhaps even more significant, changes.
Now, from Mississippi's Democratic primary Tuesday, come the latest indications of the continued changes under way - in this case, in political thinking:
* For the second time in four years, a woman, former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Gandy, will be in a primary runoff. She lost in the last runoff to incumbent Gov. William Winter.
* Governmental reform is again an issue, as it has been in the past several elections. The other winner in the primary, Attorney General Bill Allain, has fought to whittle down the overpowering influence of the state Legislature (as compared to the governor's power) and has battled with utility companies. He promises more of the same.
* Education and jobs have become the top issues of the day. The days of less substantive issues are now well gone.
* Racial issues - in the negative sense - remain almost unheard, as they have for about a decade. In the positive sense, with more than 35 percent of the state voters black, their votes are playing an increasingly important role and are being eagerly sought.
The winner of the Aug. 23 runoff faces Republican Leon Bramlett, a wealthy planter, whose election would be considered an upset in a state heavily Democratic.
There is another welcome change from some campaigns of the past: the solid quality of the candidates, according to persons familiar with the state's political history.
''We (Mississippians) are not going to lose, no matter who wins,'' says John Emmerich, a newspaper owner and publisher in Greenwood, Miss.
''In the past, frequently the bad ones (candidates) were in the lead.'' Not now, he says.
The administration of former Gov. Cliff Finch (1976-80) ended in disgrace, with several key aides indicted for criminal conduct in office. Since then several have pleaded, or been found, guilty. By most accounts, incumbent William Winter (limited by law to one term) is widely recognized, both within the state and beyond, as a man of high principles who is compassionate and fair without regard to race, and effective.
His educational reform package provides for kindergarten, more help in teaching students to read, and additional standards for teachers. But more help is needed. The state is seeking more outside industry for badly needed jobs. Idleness, unemployment, and poverty are unwelcome parts of daily life in many places in the state today.
Voters' desire for further progress is seen in the losses or close races of several longtime incumbents in the runoff for the state Legislature, says Mary Coleman, assistant political science professor at Jackson State University.
Just how far voters wish to push for further change may be seen in the runoff results. Miss Gandy is viewed by many as a ''status quo'' politician who is competent, experienced, and honest. Mr. Allain is seen more as a reformer.
Miss Gandy received less black support than Allain in the primary. Blacks will ''never forget'' she worked some 40 years ago for an openly racist governor and US senator, Theodore Bilbo, says Leonard McClellan, senior attorney with the Northern Mississippi Rural Legal Services. But ''the old Gandy'' is no more, says syndicated columnist and political analyst Bill Minor, in Jackson.