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South Mississippi Living 4/07

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Senate election date is rejected

By SHELIA BYRD
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


RAYMOND -- A Hinds County circuit judge has thrown out a special election date set by the governor to replace retired U.S. Sen. Trent Lott.

Judge Bobby DeLaughter ruled late Monday that Gov. Haley Barbour erred when he set the special election for Nov. 4.

State law requires him to set the election for 90 days after Lott's retirement if it does not fall in the same year as a general election, according to Attorney General Jim Hood. Lott retired Dec. 18, after November's general election.

Hood's complaint said state law required the election to be held before March 19.

Both sides made their arguments in front of DeLaughter on Monday and he issued his ruling around 6 p.m. DeLaughter said he believes the Mississippi Supreme Court will eventually have to rule on the special election date, which Hood had hoped to avoid.

"We hope the governor will choose to follow the court's directive and not appeal the decision, which would only cause further delay to the people's right to vote for our next United States senator," Hood said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Barbour said in a statement that he felt he'd made the appropriate decision about the special election date.

"Nothing in this decision by the Hinds County Circuit Court changes that belief," Barbour said. "As I have said all along, the final decision in this case will be made by the Mississippi Supreme Court, and I look forward to that decision."

DeLaughter wrote in his ruling that the 17th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and state law required him to find in favor of Hood, who represented the state of Mississippi in the complaint against Barbour.

The Constitution gives the Legislature the power to grant the governor the right to fill the vacancy left by Lott's resignation, DeLaughter wrote. 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.

Barbour appointed U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker to replace Lott, who resigned his Senate seat one year into a six-year term.

Wicker will serve until the special election is held. The winner of the election will serve the remainder of Lott's term, which runs through January 2013.

The qualifying deadline to run in the Senate special election was Friday. Wicker was the only Republican to qualify. The two Democratic candidates are former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and former U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows.

Hood asked the judge to declare Barbour's special election date "null and void" during arguments Monday.

"The people have a right to quickly elect the people who represent them," Hood said after the hearing.

Michael Wallace, an attorney representing Barbour, argued that the governor was following the law in scheduling the special election for the same date as this year's general election.

"It's just a disagreement over interpretation," Wallace said.

Wallace asked DeLaughter to dismiss the case, saying the court doesn't have the authority to rule on the issue.

"This is not a case that involves private rights. This is not a case that involves constitutional rights," Wallace said.



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