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Mississippi Rep ‘Sorry’ for Call to ‘Succeed From the Union’ After Talk With House Speaker

Mississippi House Rep. Price Wallace apologized for saying that Mississippians “need to succeed from the union and form our own country” in response to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ victory. Photo courtesy Rep. Price Wallace

Mississippi House Rep. Price Wallace has apologized after he responded to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ victory with a tweet hearkening back to the state’s Civil War past.

“We need to succeed from the union and form our own country,” Wallace, a Republican who represents Rankin and Simpson counties, wrote on Nov. 7, misspelling “secede.”

After the Mississippi Free Press first reported on the remark Monday, other publications picked the story up, including Law & Crime and The Washington Post. Wallace deleted the tweet yesterday, blocked this reporter and locked his account.

Former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus, a Democrat who seras the state’s leader from 1988 to 1992, and later served as United States Secretary of the Navy under President Barack Obama, weighed in on Wallace’s remark today.

“As a former Governor of Mississippi, we tried this once before: it’s called treason & it was done to protect slavery. Your ideas are as awful as your spelling,” Mabus tweeted.

‘He Deeply Regrets His Comment’

The Mississippi Free Press reached out to Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn for comment yesterday. His office responded this afternoon with a statement.

“We certainly do not condone nor agree with Price’s comment, but I have spoken to Price, and he is very apologetic and remorseful for what he said,” said Gunn, a Republican who earlier this week met with football players at the University of Mississippi to present them with a new state flag, freed of the old one’s Confederate design. “He deeply regrets his comment and as I understand it has issued an apology and a retraction.”

Mississippi House Speaker Gunn, seen here in a 2018 press conference, said in a statement that he spoke to Rep. Price Wallace and that the lawmaker expressed “regret” for his “succeed from the Union” tweet. Photo by Ashton Pittman

Wallace had unlocked his account and tweeted out the apology about an hour earlier. He also sent the apology to this reporter, whom he unblocked, in a direct message on Twitter.

“I truly love the USA and Mississippi and would never support any idea of seceding from the union. I am extremely sorry for my comment. It was inappropriate and in no way represents the will of my constituents or myself,” the representative wrote. “I humbly ask for forgiveness for my poor lack of judgment.”

Wallace Attended Seg Academy

Wallace’s Nov. 7 remark was a response to a tweet thread from former Mississippi House Rep. Robert Foster, a failed 2019 gubernatorial candidate who wrote that the United States is “not a democracy” but “a constitutional republic”—referencing an old John Birch Society talking point meant to cast doubt on the value of majoritarian democracy.

“The point of the slogan isn’t to describe who we are but to claim and co-opt the founding for right-wing politics—to naturalize political inequality and make it the proper order of things,” Jamelle Bouie wrote in a 2019 New York Times column. “What lies behind that quip, in other words, is an impulse against democratic representation. It is part and parcel of the drive to make American government a closed domain for a select, privileged few.”

Wallace, who was born in 1961, graduated from Simpson County Academy, then an all-white segregation academy that white families quickly set up in 1970 to help their children flee from public schools after the U.S. Supreme Court demanded immediate integration in October 1969. 

Schools like Simpson County Academy popped up all over the state in the 1960s and early 1970s, and the families of both former Gov. Phil Bryant and U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith moved their children into the new segregation academies. 

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, seen here seated next to President Donald Trump at a 2018 White House meeting, graduated from a segregation academy, as did former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, left.. Photo courtesy White House

Segregation academies often taught ideologies like those espoused by the John Birch Society alongside Lost Cause mythology, which cast the Civil War not as a southern fight to protect the institution of slavery, but as a noble cause in defense of “state’s rights.”

Like Wallace, other leaders in the state who attended segregation academies during the integration era have a history of controversial remarks or actions that recall Mississippi’s not-so-glorious past. 

In 2018, U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith cast a nationwide furor when she casually mused that, if a supporter invited her to a “public hanging,” she’d be “on the front row”—a comment many understood as a reference to Mississippi’s history of lynching hundreds of Black men during the period between the Civil War and civil rights. 

As governor, Bryant had a knack for race-related comments that stirred controversy, and he yearly declared April as “Confederate Heritage Month” on behalf of the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization, which promotes the Lost Cause myth. His successor, Gov. Tate Reeves, has continued that tradition.

‘Mordor on the Pearl’

Rep. Price Wallace was far from the only Republican to react negatively to Biden’s victory. House Rep. Steve Hopkins, a representative from suburban Southaven in north Mississippi’s DeSoto County, spoke on Nov. 8 at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Jackson, the capital city.

Mississippi House Rep. Steve Hopkins, seen here at a rally against President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, called Jackson “Mordor on the Pearl.” Photo courtesy Rep. Steve Hopkins

“Stop the Steal” refers to Trump’s false claims that the election is being stolen from him; neither Trump nor his lawyers have presented any evidence or made any specific claims to justify that conspiracy theory.

“Speaking at the Stop the Steal rally in Jackson. (Mordor on the Pearl),” Rep. Hopkins tweeted on Nov. 8, comparing the 80% Black city where he works to the lava and orc-infested hellscape in “Lord of the Rings.”

After this story published, Hopkins sent a tweet to the reporter, saying that he and other colleagues nicknamed the Mississippi Capitol Building in Jackson “Mordor on the Pearl,” not the City of Jackson.

“That was not what it was intended to mean so I deleted it. I apologize if it offended anyone. … I should have been more clear,” the representative wrote.

“I appreciate you bringing it to my attention. I can see how it could have been taken the wrong way. The rally was on the Capitol grounds and I should have been more clear,” continued Hopkins, who said he was not yet aware of this reporter’s attempts to reach him for comment this earlier today.

A Google search shows only one other instance of “Mordor on the Pearl,” seen in a post from The Mississippi Conservative Facebook page on July 25.

“Capital city of Landmass is Mordor on the Pearl formally known as Jackson,” reads the post.

“Landmass” is a nickname for Mississippi making fun of national media’s propensity to referring to the land “between New Orleans and Mobile” when reporting on Gulf hurricanes. It is not clear who runs the Mississippi Conservative Facebook page or if they are affiliated with Rep. Wallace.

Hopkins, like Wallace, holds positions on multiple committees and serves as the vice chair of the House Military Affairs Committee.

Wallace Holds Multiple Committee Roles

Wallace is the vice chair of the House Forestry Committee and serves on several other committees, including the House Apportionment and Elections Committee, where he has the power to help decide whether or not legislation makes it to the House floor. That means he could determine the fate of bills intended to expand voting access or intended to restrict it.

Speaker Gunn is in charge of committee appointments, but he has not signaled any plans to rescind Wallace’s appointments. 

In January, Gunn appointed Mississippi House Rep. Karl Oliver to serve as the vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. That appointment came two years after the speaker condemned Oliver, a representative from Winona in Montgomery County, for a Facebook post saying state leaders in Louisiana “should be LYNCHED!” for removing Confederate monuments in New Orleans. Oliver apologized for that comment soon after he made it in 2017.

House Rep. Doug McLeod, who represents parts of George and Stone counties, lost seven of his eight committee roles last year after allegations of domestic violence last year, including his position as the vice chair of the House Workforce Development Committee. 

A court found McLeod not guilty after his wife testified that he had not hit her and he won re-election while running unopposed. Still, Gunn only granted him one of his committee appointments: his position as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. 

Under House rules, legislators who have served for less than four years are guaranteed two of their top seven preferences for committee seats, or three or their first seven preferences—unless they serve on either the House Ways and Means Committee or Appropriations Committee. Oliver first took office in 2017.

Wallace, who first won office in 2018, is on neither of those two committees, meaning that unless that changed, Gunn would still have to let him keep at least two of his current assignments.

‘A Testament to Our Great Nation’

Not all Republican members of the Mississippi House of Representatives have reacted negatively to the 2020 election.

House Rep. Jansen Owen, a Republican who represents parts of Lamar and Pearl River counties, paid special attention to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as she gave her victory speech on Saturday night.

After President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ victory, two Mississippi House Republicans, Jansen Owen and Kent McCarty, noted the historic nature of Harris’ ascent. Photo courtesy Joe Biden campaign.

“There’s a woman standing on a stage tonight as the Vice President-elect of our United States of America. Regardless of one’s political ideology, this moment stands as a testament to our great nation: anything is possible in these United States. God Bless OUR America,” Owen tweeted.

It earned a like from fellow Rep. Kent McCarty, a Lamar County Republican who, like Owen, is a young freshman in the Legislature who first won election last year.

Former Rep. Foster, who gave up his house seat when he launched his failed bid for the GOP nomination for governor in 2019, took umbrage at Owen’s tweet—and McCarty’s liking of it.

Mississippi House Rep. Kent McCarty, a Lamar County Republican, said he hoped everyone could “acknowledge the historical significance of the daughter of immigrants becoming the VP of the United States.” Photo courtesy Kent McCarty.

“Why don’t you two RINOs be men enough to admit you voted for Kamala? You two will have a lot of explaining to do in your next elections if you try and run as Republicans again,” tweeted Foster, a businessman who runs a family agritourism business in DeSoto County. “You should both just go ahead and switch parties.”

Foster infamously refused to allow Larrison Campbell, a woman reporter then at Mississippi Today, to join him for a campaign “ride-along” reporting trip during his 2019 campaign—even though he allowed a male reporter to do so. He specifically cited her gender, saying, “My Truck My Rules.”

McCarty reacted to Foster’s tweet, writing that he hoped “that all of us, regardless of party, can acknowledge the historical significance of the daughter of immigrants becoming the VP of the United States,” referring to Harris’ Jamaican and Indian heritage.

“Only in America would that be possible. I’m not sure why that’s controversial. But yeah… get those retweets, Robert,” McCarty tweeted.

Owen also responded to the Saturday-night criticism, with the freshman representative noting that he has a “very conservative” voting record.

“I live in a world where one can debate public policy and still be friends. You don’t—and that’s why you’re on your Christmas tree farm and not Governor of Mississippi. Bye now,” McCarty wrote to Foster.

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