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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Friday, December 26, 2008

The "Open Primary" Buzz in California

Now that a constitutional amendment for a "top two"/"open primary" for state offices has been introduced in the California assembly, Tom Elias, a columnist and author there, has again weighed in on this issue. As I noted previously, Tom and I had some contact during the campaign for the "open primary" initiative-- Proposition 62-- in 2004.

"... the distinct possibility that by mid-2010 [California voters] will get a crack at another gift, a chance to resume holding open primaries that give moderates in both parties a significant chance at winning high offices."

I think Tom is engaging in some wishful thinking here. The outcome has often been the opposite in Louisiana, which has used its "open primary" since the 1970s. The 1991 runoff for governor, for example, featured a crook and a former Ku Klux Klansman. And, in 1995, now-U. S. senator Mary Landrieu finished third in the governor's race; the runoff was between a white conservative Republican and a black liberal Democrat.

"The possibility that an initiative creating this huge improvement could be on the ballot in June 2010 or sooner got a major boost this fall, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that... 'the next thing is open primaries. ... .'"

I predict that another citizens' initiative will indeed be necessary, as the proposed constitutional amendment will fail in the state assembly.

"Today's system of closed primaries, where registered Democrats can vote only for Democrats and Republicans for Republicans in primary elections..."

In 2008, California's registered independents were able to vote in the Democratic primary for president. And independents had their choice of either the Democratic or the Republican primary for offices other than president. In other words, the Republican presidential primary was the only one which excluded independents.

"... leaders of both major parties hated the so-called 'blanket primary' elections created by the 1996 Proposition 198. That system, which lasted only through two election cycles, saw all candidates [of all parties] listed on every ballot together, with the highest vote-getters in each party matched up in the November [general] election.

"'Should Democrats be allowed to nominate Republicans? No! Should Republicans be allowed to nominate Democrats? No!' went the ballot argument against Proposition 198."

Democrats cannot serve as delegates to Republican nominating conventions, or vice versa. In a 7-2 ruling in 2000, the U. S. Supreme Court agreed with the political parties and struck down California's state-mandated blanket primary (California Democratic Party v. Jones). The state Libertarian and Peace and Freedom parties also joined in this lawsuit, incidentally, so the small parties also disliked the blanket primary.

"[The above] reasoning... is wrong in a state where many districts contain lopsided majorities of one party or the other. For when only party members get to vote in party primaries, the actual majority in a district can be left without representation."

This sounds more like a redistricting issue than a problem with the election system. Again: registered independents in California have their choice of either party's primary in district races; in 2008, independents were only blocked from voting in the Republican presidential primary.

"... the [Supreme Court] justices left alone the longstanding Louisiana [system], which lists all candidates [including independents] together, with the top two vote-getters making the runoff, regardless of party.

"And when Washington state adopted that system early in this decade, the court once again said it's completely constitutional."

There has never been a lawsuit challenging Louisiana's overall system. Washington voters approved the "top two" (a much more accurate term than "open primary") in November 2004, on the same day that 54 percent of California voters rejected Prop. 62. In its March 2008 "top two" ruling, the Supreme Court absolutely did not say that the Washington system is "completely constitutional." The court said that the "top two"-- on its face-- does not violate the political parties' associational rights; the justices also said that, after Washington had used the "top two" once, an "as applied" suit could be brought against it on the associational rights question.

In addition, the parties' suit against the "top two" on other grounds is ongoing, as it is now in federal district court in the Evergreen State.

"[The "top two"/"open primary"] offers all the virtues of the old blanket primary..."

Unlike the blanket primary, the "top two"/"open primary" does not give each party the right to have a candidate in the final election. The "top two" also makes it nearly impossible for independents and small party candidates to reach the runoff and thus to have a chance to be elected.

Voters in the "top two" may indeed choose among all the candidates in the preliminary round, but the price they pay is that they are limited to just two choices in the final, deciding election.[1]

As before, Tom conveniently omits the fact that California voters defeated Prop. 62 in 2004, as it lost in 51 of the state's 58 counties.

It should also be mentioned that nearly two-thirds of Oregon voters last month said "no" to a "top two"/"open primary" ballot measure.


[1] The system proposed by the California constitutional amendment, like the Louisiana system, would not have a runoff when one candidate got 50-plus percent in the first round. In the Washington "top two," in contrast, there is always a runoff, even if someone gets 50-plus percent in the preliminary round.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Texas Fight Over Voter ID

The Texas legislature meets every two years, as the Mississippi legislature did prior to 1970. In 2007, a Republican-sponsored photo voter ID measure easily passed the Texas House but failed in the Senate-- the reverse of what has happened in the Magnolia State. Now a compromise proposal is being discussed for the 2009 Texas legislative session.

"... [Republican] Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was unable to muster the two-thirds vote necessary to move the bill through the Senate, thanks to a solid bloc of 11 Democratic votes against it."

Typically, it was the Democrats who blocked the bill. It was evidently a constitutional amendment, since a two-thirds vote was required (a voter ID bill has not even been able to get a simple majority in the Mississippi House).

"One thing [Dewhurst] is offering is an exemption for senior citizens from the ID requirement or, at least, exempting seniors from having to pay a fee for their IDs.

"Several details, including the cutoff age, apparently have yet to be worked out.

"The bill approved by the House in 2007 would have exempted voters 80 and older from the ID requirement, but that provision was stripped out by the Senate... ."

Mississippi has discussed exempting anyone who was old enough to vote prior to passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. While Texas would charge a fee for a photo ID for those lacking one, Georgia, which already mandates photo voter ID, furnishes the ID free to anyone who needs it; in fact, I don't know of any state that now charges a fee for the ID. It seems to me that a state that charged such a fee would be likely to face a lawsuit, as this might be compared to a poll tax.

"Republicans say photo IDs would guard against voter fraud. Democrats argue that Republicans are trying to intimidate minority voters who are more likely to support Democratic candidates."

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Since their state has no citizens' initiative, Texans will have to depend on the legislature to enact voter ID. Mississippi, on the other hand, does have the initiative, although it's a difficult process.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Step Right Up For "Free" Health Care!

Neal Boortz, the Atlanta-based syndicated radio talk show host, has predicted for some years now that, the next time we have a Democratic president with a Democratic Congress, we'll get "universal health care," aka socialized medicine. I hope he's wrong. Despite its shortcomings, the U. S. health care system is still be best in the world. Do we want the same outfit that runs FEMA, Amtrak, the IRS, and the post office to run our medical care, which is some 1/7 of the U. S. economy? I don't think so.

Today's Clarion-Ledger had a letter on this topic from Dr. Richard Boronow of Brandon, Mississippi. Here are excerpts:

[All systems of government-run health care feature]... an immense bureaucracy, high governmental cost, loss of doctor-patient relationship, waiting lines at clinics, long waits for surgery and for more expensive diagnostic studies like CT scans, and, almost unbelievably, rationing of services.

News reports published in the Canadian press about the crumbling Canadian system, touted by the utopians here as "the model," are simply nowhere to be seen in the U.S. press. And the most vocal Canadian critic, now retired, is actually the architect of the Canadian system who acknowledges its many failures and is calling for privatization! [Note: When the Clinton administration was pushing Hillarycare in 1993, the premier of Nova Scotia, in a speech in Boston, strongly warned against socialized medicine. Click here for an inside look at Canada's system.]

In at least one country that I know of, if a citizen is 65 or older, he or she is considered "too old" for complex procedures like coronary artery by-pass surgery, joint replacements and the like. We Americans will love this, won't we? [Note: Cleveland, Ohio, is known as the hip-replacement capital of southern Ontario, Canada. If the U. S. government takes over our health care system, where will Canadians go for medical care?

In one country I recently visited... [t]here are no appointments, so get [to the clinic] early because as soon as the day's "quota" of patients have checked in, the doors are closed and locked. And "security" makes sure they are not unlocked.

After-hours care is extremely limited. And the wait for surgery is, on the average, three months.

Congress, without socialization, can do a lot about the cost of "health care" which in reality is "sick care." Health insurance should be tax deductible for all, not just for businesses. Health Savings Accounts should be included. Every and all medically related expense should be tax deductible. That should include office visits to any and all health professionals, any hospital expenses, all costs of professionally recommended drugs, prescription and over the counter, all other health-related expenditures including long term care, etc.

"Wellness" expenditures should be tax deductible also, including smoking cessation programs, weight reduction programs, nutrition courses, membership in fitness centers, etc. ... .

Health insurance should be restructured along the lines of motor vehicle insurance - for major events. ... .

Click here for a post which includes a link to an audio of a warning by Ronald Reagan against socialized medicine. Reagan recorded this some 50 years ago.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Paul Weyrich R.I.P.

by Richard A. Viguerie

Paul Weyrich was the linchpin of the conservative movement. Along with William F. Buckley Jr., Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan, he was one of the persons most responsible for the movement’s successes.
Over decades, he was a founder or co-founder of virtually every major conservative organization. Single-issue groups, PACs, foundations, lobbying groups – you name it, and, chances are, he had a hand in it.

He co-founded the Heritage Foundation, the movement’s first think tank, and served as its first president. He created and chaired the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, which prevented a complete leftwing takeover of the federal government in the 1970s.

He founded the American Legislative Exchange Council, bringing together conservative state legislators from across the country, turning states into laboratories for conservative ideas and nurturing the careers of future governors and members of Congress.

Through the Free Congress Foundation and other organizations, he trained thousands of conservative activists. He worked with Jerry Falwell to create the Moral Majority, and helped bring tens of millions of religious conservatives into politics for the first time and made the GOP, for a time, the nation’s majority party.

In the 1990s, he laid the groundwork for conservative broadcasting with National Empowerment Television and America’s Voice, and he trained activists who played a critical role promoting democracy in the former Soviet Empire.

For decades, it has been at Paul’s Washington offices that social conservatives and their allies gather weekly to discuss politics and policy.

Bill Buckley, who died earlier this year, was the conservative movement’s... Read more>>>>

Oklahoma Case May Affect Mississippi

In 1998, Mississippi's already-difficult initiative process was dealt a body blow when out-of-state petition circulators were outlawed. As the article below notes, the 10th Circuit today became the fourth federal appeals court to strike down such a ban on non-resident circulators. The case that bears watching is Brewer v. Nader, in which the state of Arizona has asked the U. S. Supreme Court to review the 9th Circuit's ruling. It looks as though the courts are going to make it possible to invalidate such bans in Mississippi and other states. ~~ SR


From Ballot Access News:

On December 18, the 10th Circuit struck down Oklahoma’s ban on out-of-state circulators for initiatives. Yes on Term Limits v Savage, no. 07-6233. The decision is here. It is 16 pages long and says that there is no strong evidence that out-of-state circulators are more likely to engage in fraud than in-state circulators. Also it says that if Oklahoma needs to question circulators after the petition has been submitted, the state is free to pass a law saying that circulators must agree to return for questioning.

There are now four circuits that have invalidated bans on out-of-state circulators (the 6th, 7th, 9th and 10th), and only one circuit, the 8th, that has upheld them. Furthermore, the 8th Circuit decision was from North Dakota, a state that has no voter registration, and therefore the 8th Circuit decision can be said not to apply to the other 49 states that do have voter registration.

This decision is good news for Paul Jacob and his associates, who have been in jeopardy of a criminal prosecution for conspiring to bring out-of-state circulators into Oklahoma.

"Open Primary" Introduced In California

The people of every state where there has been a ballot proposition for a "top two"/"open primary" system for all state elections-- or state and congressional elections-- have voted it down, except for Washington state. In this system, to be sure, there are no party primaries, and all candidates, including independents, are listed on a single ballot; the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the runoff. Last month, the voters of Oregon became the latest to reject such a measure.

California voters have turned down a similar proposal twice-- in 1915 and 2004. Now a state assemblyman has introduced a constitutional amendment for an "open primary" for state executive and legislative offices. Under this proposal, there would be no runoff when someone got 50-plus percent in the first round.

The failed Prop. 62-- which lost in 51 of the state's 58 counties in November 2004-- proposed a "top two"/"open primary" for state AND congressional elections. Under this plan, there would have ALWAYS been a runoff, even if one candidate got 50-plus percent in the first round.

"California passed an open primary law in 1996, but it was thrown out by the courts in 2000. This year, the state of Washington had its own open primary law upheld by the [U. S.] Supreme Court, paving the legal way for open primaries in California."

It was a blanket primary that California voters approved in 1996. All candidates of all parties were listed on the same primary ballot, and the top vote-getter from each party proceeded to the general election, where any independent candidates were also listed.

Last March the U. S. Supreme Court said that Washington state's "top two"-- on its face-- does not violate the political parties' associational rights, and the Evergreen State used the "top two" for the first time this year. The parties are, however, challenging the "top two" on other grounds, and that lawsuit is now in U. S. district court in that state.

Typically, the writer of the above-linked piece neglects to mention the defeat of California's Prop. 62 in 2004.

If the constitutional amendment were to pass the state assembly, it would then be placed on the ballot as a referendum. I predict that (1) the amendment will fail in the assembly, and (2) another "top two"/"open primary" initiative will qualify for the ballot, probably in 2010.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bush: I Abandoned Free Market to Save the Free Market

George W. Bush is our biggest-spending president ever... he makes Lyndon Johnson look like a piker, and the liberals should love him for that. In my view, Bush deserves credit for preventing another 9/11 and for putting Roberts and Alito on the Supreme Court. And the fight to save Terry Schiavo's life was well worth the effort. Otherwise, his presidency has been a tremendous net minus for conservatism and the Republican Party.

The sad part is that Ronald Reagan is indirectly responsible for both Bush presidencies, since he made George H. W. Bush his vice president in 1980 (I just recently learned that Nevada senator Paul Laxalt, Reagan's close friend, was very upset over the Bush selection). ~~ SR


From The Northern Virginia Conservative:

Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. THIS is his excuse for bailout madness.

Really, George? Really? REALLY?

He's the worst president since LBJ. Yes, worse than Nixon or even Carter. This man cannot be gone soon enough. He had a united Republican government, with a chance in 2002 to end things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Energy, Commerce, HUD, HHS, Education, Labor, and any other number of unconstitutional expansions of the federal government. He made an abortive attempt to reform Social Security. Beyond that, he dragged us into an unnecessary war in Iraq, spent money like a Democrat, exploded the deficit, devalued the currency, and is now giving out money like candy to his corporate friends, courtesy of Hank Paulson and his robber baron friends from Goldman Sachs. If he'd given half the effort to fiscal conservatism that he did to that Schiavo nonsense, he might at least have been decent.

As it stands, he has been an unmitigated disaster for conservatism, and for America. Thanks for nothing, Jorge. At least we stopped your immigration amnesty. I bet your corporate friends are still pissed at that.

"Open Primaries" In South Carolina

This year's municipal elections in Florence, South Carolina, provided a good example of what I discussed in my October 25 letter in The Clarion-Ledger.

South Carolina evidently gives each municipality the option of having nonpartisan elections (popularly called "open primaries" in Mississippi). Florence is one of only eight municipalities that still holds party primaries in the Palmetto State.

In the June party primaries, there was no candidate for mayor in the Republican primary. Thus the people who chose a Republican ballot could not vote for mayor; these voters included two incumbent city councilmen.

In the Democratic primary, the young challenger defeated the 13-year incumbent mayor, Frank Willis-- by one vote. Willis and his supporters contend that, if the city had nonpartisan elections, he would have been re-elected.

"There was... an ordinance passed by Florence City Council [in October] that several council members think would have saved Willis’ job had it been approved by voters via referendum before the primary.

"Council approved an ordinance that calls for a referendum to change city elections to non-partisan."

Stephen Wukela, who beat Willis in the Democratic primary, opposes the referendum and wants to stick with the party primary system.

"Supporters of the ordinance said elected city officials deal mainly with basic infrastructure needs that have nothing to do with partisan politics.

"'I think most of the people on this council see this as not about power,' Frank Willis said, 'but as about the citizens of Florence being able to vote for whoever they want to vote for.'"

Following the June party primaries, a former Democratic mayor entered the mayoral race as an independent (this, of course, would be impossible in Mississippi, since independents here have the same qualifying deadline as party candidates). The Democrat Wukela was elected on November 4.

Since South Carolina is covered by the federal Voting Rights Act, Florence must get approval for the referendum from the Department of Justice. The special election may be held sometime in the first quarter of 2009.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Cigarette Tax And Miss Daisy

The last two paragraphs of the "Notes & Quotes" column in the Perspective section of today's Clarion-Ledger contain misinformation.

"Clarksdale attorney Bill Luckett and Jackson public relations consultant Rory Reardon are pushing an initiative and referendum proposal to raise the state's cigarette taxes to 59.5 cents in the next statewide general election."

What Luckett and Reardon are promoting is an initiative, through which citizens initiate legislation by placing a proposal directly on the ballot. Almost anything that can be enacted as a statutory law can alternatively be written into the state constitution, and Mississippi's difficult initiative process is for constitutional amendments only.

In contrast, when a measure is referred from the legislature to the ballot, that is a referendum. Some states have a process whereby, once the legislature has passed a bill, citizens may petition to have that measure put on the ballot, so that the voters may either approve or reject it (in other words, citizens have veto power over acts of the legislature). Mississippi does not have that type of referendum.

The Luckett/Reardon initiative would set the state cigarette tax at half the average tax of the 50 states, recalculated once a year. That average today is $1.19 per pack, half of which is indeed 59.5 cents. If and when the initiative becomes law, however, who knows what the national average will be?

"... actor Morgan Freeman, winner of the Academy Award for such popular films as Driving Miss Daisy, Kiss the Girls, Shawshank Redemption, Seven, and others."

The only Academy Award Freeman has won was for Best Supporting Actor in "Million Dollar Baby." He was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor in "Street Smart" and for Best Actor in "Driving Miss Daisy" and "The Shawshank Redemption."

The late Jessica Tandy won the Best Actress Oscar at age 80 for "Driving Miss Daisy." In my view, Freeman should have won the Best Actor award for his performance in that feature ("I'm tryin' to drive you to the sto'!").

Friday, December 05, 2008

Runoffs in Georgia and Other States

On December 2, Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss won Georgia's runoff for U. S. senator over the Democrat Jim Martin. There was also a runoff for one of the five public service commission posts, which was won by the Republican despite his Democratic opponent being endorsed by the Libertarian also-ran. The turnout on December 2 was a little over half of what it was on November 4.

Georgia is the only state that has runoff general elections in addition to party primaries. Today the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had a piece calling for the abolition of the runoff general election.

"The runoff law was adopted in Georgia and other states throughout the South around the time of the Voting Rights Act, when white politicians feared blacks would rally behind a single candidate..."

No other Southern state has had runoff general elections, and the adoption of Georgia's provision had nothing to do with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It is instead a by-product of the 1966 election of the Democrat Lester Maddox as governor, when Republican congressman Bo Callaway got more votes than Maddox but less then 50 percent. Georgia law then specified that, in that circumstance, the House of Representatives would decide the race, and the heavily Democratic House elected Maddox.

Circa 1993, Georgia's legislature lowered the threshold for avoiding a runoff general election from 50-plus percent to 45 percent.

"That 45 percent threshold stood until Republicans gained control of the General Assembly in 2004 and pushed it back to a required majority of 50 percent plus one."

"All but eight states decide elections based simply on which candidate gets the most votes."

The article is evidently referring here to the runoff (or second) primary. Mississippi was the first to adopt this device, and some eleven states now use it, all of them in the South except for Kentucky and Oklahoma. In the early 1900s, after states began requiring parties to hold primaries, almost all elections in the South were decided in the Democratic primary; thus a second primary was needed to ensure that no one was elected with a small plurality of the vote.

"There may be valid reasons for holding on to a runoff system in local elections, especially those that are nonpartisan and tend to attract more crowded fields."

It sounds like at least part of Georgia's localities use nonpartisan elections, in which there are no party primaries, and all candidates run in the same election (these are popularly called "open primaries" in Mississippi). In such elections, it's a good idea to have runoffs when no candidate gets 50-plus percent in the first round.

The Mississippi Constitution, ratified in 1890, says that, in order to be elected to a statewide office, a candidate must (1) get 50-plus percent of the vote, AND (2) carry at least 62 of the 122 districts in the state House of Representatives. Otherwise, the House chooses between the top two vote-getters the following January.

This provision was adopted mainly to prevent blacks from getting elected. Ironically, most blacks in the legislature opposed the last bill that would have abolished the provision.

The only other state with a similar requirement is Vermont. When no candidate for a statewide office gets 50-plus percent, the decision is made by a joint session of both houses of the legislature.

Even in the states which do not mandate 50-plus percent for winning a general election, most officials are indeed elected with more than 50 percent.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Another Mayor Johnson For Jackson

I don't know Daren Bourns, but I can tell from reading his blog posts that he and I are on the same wave length. Today The Clarion-Ledger ran his post handicapping next year's race for mayor of Jackson (one thing I noticed was that the paper is quite liberal in changing what he writes when transferring it to the print edition). Bourns commends former police Chief Robert Johnson, a possible mayoral candidate.

I am also an admirer of Robert Johnson's. The turning point for me with incumbent Mayor Frank Melton was when he attacked Johnson and blamed him for the current crime problem in the capital city.

Former Police Chief Robert Johnson was the best police chief [amen!] among a [cabal] of 50 or so passing through a revolving door. ... Based on the possible [mayoral] candidates so far, he is the best of the lot.

You may recall that Robert Johnson was appointed chief by former Mayor Kane Ditto. Harvey Johnson took office as mayor in July 1997, and it took him some nine months to determine that Robert Johnson was allegedly "not a team player" and to fire him.

Many of us made a mistake three years ago [in voting for Frank Melton for mayor]. I will not make that mistake over three months from now.

The party primaries will be held on the first Tuesday in May, and any necessary runoff primaries will occur two weeks later. The general election will be on the first Tuesday in June.

I would like [Robert] Johnson to tell me his views on certain issues...

Bourns then lists nine issues that concern him. One of these is the need for a "comprehensive plan for bolstering the police force." Who better for accomplishing this and fighting crime than a successful former police chief?

Robert Johnson is very articulate and has a lot of sincerity. If he decides to take the plunge into elective politics, however, I suggest that he needs to start smiling more (but, PLEASE, not as much as Harvey Johnson!).

While we're on the subject: Why the hell do we need party primaries in municipal elections? Is there a Republican method of fixing potholes? Or a Democratic method of cleaning out ditches? We could give the voters greater choice by changing to nonpartisan municipal elections, popularly called "open primaries." This would also save the taxpayers money and relieve the candidates of the aggravation and expense of-- potentially-- conducting three campaigns.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Secret Santa Lands In Mississippi's Capital City

December 21 will be the tenth anniversary of Secret Santa's visit to Jackson. He, of course, was the native of Calhoun County, Mississippi, who had a gigantic heart of pure gold. He would swoop into a community and pass out $100 bills to needy people-- one bill to some, multiples to others.

In late 2006, after operating anonymously for years, and facing the cancer that would shortly end his life, he finally revealed that he was Larry Stewart, a businessman from Lee's Summit, Missouri. He encouraged others to continue his legacy, and it lives on today.

Click here for The Clarion-Ledger's December 21, 1998, article on Secret Santa. Below is Tony Plohetski's piece from The Clarion-Ledger of December 22, 1998, "Spirits soar as Secret Santa hands out lots of $100 bills."

Rent, clothes, car repair, bus ride home, all from Santa's bag

Skipper Hendrix, one of the city's estimated 3,700 homeless, will get to take a $59 bus ride to his Missouri home to see the four children and two grandchildren he hasn't seen in years.

Emma Lewis will have enough to pay her $375-a-month rent next month and still have enough left over to buy her two teenage daughters new clothes.

Plavise Patterson will be able to fix her wrecked car.

And it's all thanks to a man they don't even know.

The three each received hundreds of dollars Monday morning from a stranger who placed crisp $100 bills in their hands, said "Merry Christmas"-- and then dashed away.

"I want to go home real bad," said Hendrix, 57, whose family lives in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. "I know it will be cold up there, but, oh well."

The kind stranger calls himself "Secret Santa," but has also been dubbed by some as "Santa Cash, the Human Automatic Teller Machine." The north Mississippi [Calhoun County] native began his tradition of doling out large volumes of cash in 1979 after becoming a cable industry millionaire. He usually hands the cash out near his current Kansas City, Missouri, home but chose his native state this year to give away $25,000.

"There will be people here in Jackson for years to come who will say, 'out of nowhere came this guy to help us over a hump,'" Secret Santa said before beginning his expedition. "It helps restore some of the faith in humanity that there is still kindness out there."

Secret Santa did his good deed wearing a gray cap, a red flannel shirt and white over-alls-- an attempt to disguise his identity. He insists on being unnamed in the newspaper, and he quickly bids farewell to his recipients, leaving them baffled, confused, and sometimes emotional. He does it, he says, before they have a chance to realize what happened and ask questions.

Secret Santa's gift comes with no strings attached, but he does ask a small favor. "The only thing I ask is that some day they may have an opportunity to help someone, and I ask that they do it."

Why Jackson? "Jackson is not unlike a lot of urban areas," Secret Santa said. "There's always a need, and you can cover a lot of people. I wanted to come back to Mississippi."

Secret Santa invited a Clarion-Ledger reporter and photographer to participate in his daylong trip through the city's disadvantaged areas, where he gave away $25,000 to about 150 people. Some received as much as $500, while others walked away with $100.

Secret Santa was also accompanied by a uniformed Jackson police officer and two gun-toting agents from Security Support Services in Jackson. The group traveled at least 40 miles throughout the city Monday.

"We were very impressed he wanted to do it, and after meeting the man, I'm even more impressed," said Charlie Saums, president of Security Support Services.

The chiming of cash registers and quiet shopping at the Salvation Army Thrift Store was replaced with joyous shouts from 15 customers Monday morning.

Secret Santa entered the store, and quickly moved from one shopper to the other. All received $100.

The gift took all by surprise. The store was filled with cries of "Oh, my Lord," and the question of disbelief, "Is this real?"

The customers rushed to the center of the store, each discussing how they'd spend their money.

Patterson, 36, of Jackson began to sob as she stared at her cash. She said she'd recently been plagued with financial burdens like having her car wrecked, and she was forced out of her home by her landlord in October. It's a daily struggle to feed and clothe her 11-year-old son, Aundreus.

"When you put God first, things like this happen," Patterson said. "I'm going to spend it on whatever I want. It's a gift."

"I've got a sick sister and I'm going to get her a gown or a robe," said the thrift store's cashier, Eleanor Cable. "It's a blessing from the Lord, and may the Lord bless him and keep him to do good for someone else."

The next stop: Mike's Wash and Save Coin Laundry on Bailey Aveue [which runs from downtown into northwest Jackson], where Charlie Mae Boone became the proud owner of $100.

Boone works at Hudspeth Mental Retardation Center as a recreational officer and said she plans to use the money to buy shoes for her mother, a diabetic whose feet regularly swell beyond her shoe size.

"It's just a blessing," said Boone with an ear-to-ear grin, "and I thank God. What else can you say?"

Donnell and Roshaun Garrett were washing clothes for their mother when Secret Santa dropped $100 in their palms.

The children, ages 11 and 12, said they'd never held a $100 bill-- much less owned one.

"I might go to the mall and buy my mom something for Christmas," Donnell Garrett said.

While Secret Santa did several one-stop droppings, he also visited several needy homes like Lewis' on Hillside Drive off McDowell Road [in south Jackson]. Several recipients were in parking lots like Evelyn Perkins, 58, who said she was "just at the right place at the right time" sitting outside Wash Stop at 1062 Raymond Road [in south Jackson] waiting for her clothes to dry.

Secret Santa doled out $200 to Ray Smith of Baton Rouge as he was working on a vehicle outside a Jitney Jungle [a grocery supermarket] parking lot.

Lewis, who received $500, is a cafeteria worker and frequently relies on help from her older sons to pay rent on the house where she and her two daughters live.

"I was trying to cook, and he just knocked on the door and asked if I rent here," Lewis, 52, said. "I thought he may be the guy who owns the house. Then I got nervous and asked who he was, and he said, 'Santa Claus' and gave me the money."

Shouts erupted from Lewis' house.

"We're so excited we can't think," Lewis said. "There really is a Santa Claus."

For more on Secret Santa, click here, here, here, here, and here.

More Interplay Between Jim and Me

Jim Riley and I had another exchange at Ballot Access News, a portion of which follows. He is a strong advocate of a Louisiana-style "top two" (or "open primary")[1], and we had been discussing the possibility of a state using the "top two" in the presidential election, which no state currently does. We were talking about the role of the parties' national conventions when he changed the subject somewhat.

Jim: I would eliminate public funding, and remove any purported right of those conventions to nominate candidates for State offices.

Steve: I agree on the public funding, since it empowers government to take a citizen’s money by force and give it to a candidate whom that citizen does not support. I favor no limits on private contributions… and immediate disclosure on the Internet.

I assume you mean STATE conventions nominating for state offices. Among the few states that still use conventions, primaries are used in some circumstances and conventions in others. I sometimes think it was a mistake to replace conventions with party primaries, but primaries are here to stay, and the convention will continue to be a nominating option where the state approves it.

[Jim comments that a state has no business financing the activities-- such as primaries-- of political parties, since they are private organizations.]

Steve:: In 1995, a federal appeals court said that, when the state requires parties to nominate by primary, the state must pay for those primaries (Republican Party v. Faulkner County, Arkansas). If a state stopped requiring and paying for primaries, the parties would be very unlikely to nominate by primary, because of the expense. Then the voters would raise hell; so, as a practical matter, states will continue mandating and funding party primaries.

In every state– except Washington– where a “top two” (or “open primary”) measure has been on the ballot for state and/or congressional offices, the voters have rejected it. Most recently, nearly two-thirds of Oregonians defeated that terrible idea.

I’d like to see some state try this: have one big election, with all the candidates on the same ballot, on the first Tuesday in November, and use instant runoff voting (IRV). Citizens would only have to vote once, and officials would always be elected with 50-plus percent of the vote (the parties, of course, would still be free to endorse candidates in advance of the election).


[1] All candidates, including independents, run in the same election. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, proceed to the runoff.