OPINION: Thoughts on HB370

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Rep. Shanda Yates

By Charlie Braxton

Jackson Advocate Guest Writer

Recently, Representative Shanda Yates introduced a key amendment to the State Legislature – House Bill number 370. HB370 was passed in the 1950s. The bill was created during Mississippi’s Prohibition Era and was aimed at corrupt sheriffs who weren’t enforcing the Prohibition Laws in dry counties. Hence, the reason why the initial law only specified county officials for removal. 

However, Yates wants to amend this antiquated bill to include the removal of duly elected municipal officials from public office with a petition signed by 30% of the electorate and a written statement of no less than 200 words spelling out why the particular officer in question should be removed. The governor would then appoint a three-judge panel to determine whether the petition is valid. Once it is determined, the petition is of merit. Then, according to the website Mississippi Today, the governor can hold a special election allowing voters to once again determine if the city official in question should be removed.

The deeper question is why wait until now to offer this particular amendment to the floor. What’s the real political motivation? And, more importantly, who could it possibly be aimed after?

Now, the idea of challenging election results is certainly not unique to the Magnolia State. Republicans have been looking for ways to legally challenge election results they don’t like since Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in 2020. Yates, a turncoat Democrat, who claims to be an Independent, comes right out of the GOP playbook.

But, in Mississippi, where partisan politics tend to fall along the color line, with the majority of Blacks voting Democrat and whites voting Republican, using GOP tactics to remove elected officials can have racial overtones.

Yates vehemently denies that her amendment was not aimed at Mayor Lumumba or any one else in particular. She claims that she simply wants to provide a legal way for citizens to remove a democratically-elected municipal official for “willful failure or refusal to perform the duties of the office.” Sounds reasonable. But when you probe a little deeper into her motivation, a different scenario appears. According to Mississippi Today, Yates said that she was approached by “a constituent” who asked if there was any legal way to remove a city official. Now, correct me if I am wrong, but doesn’t Rep. Yates and her constituents live in the city of Jackson? So what city official did she think the constituent had in mind when they asked the question? My guess is the mayor. And I’m not the only one who feels that way.

As many others have speculated, Yates’ amendment to HB370 appears to be aimed at Jackson’s Democratic Mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who has been at odds with Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves. Reeves is an ultra-right wing Republican, who was (and perhaps still is) a staunch supporter of Donald Trump. He has also been extremely slow to respond to the mayor’s pleas for financial help to fix the city’s ongoing water crises. It was only after Mayor Lumumba went on national TV to inform the nation about our dire situation that Gov. Reeves stepped in to help.

Several Democratic legislators questioned Yates’ motivation on the House floor. House Democratic Leader Robert Johnson III told Mississippi Today that he believes that Mayor Lumumba is the target of the proposed amendment. “This is about the mayor of Jackson, who has taken on the governor, and to allow the governor to appoint a three-judge panel to remove the mayor of Jackson, just so we’re clear on what’s being proposed.” Hinting that there may be more at stake here than mere politics, he added, “For 60 years, close to 70 years, it was fine not to have municipal officials in this, but after the water crisis and the federal government sending $600 million to the city of Jackson, now this is needed?”

Thankfully, the Democratic leadership was able to force her to table the bill. While I applaud the Democrats in their effort to get the bill tabled, however, I’m not naive enough to think that this bill won’t pop up again and soon, which is why we must be vigilant. We must watch out for this bill like a hawk. And we must call legislators like Miss Yates and let them know that this bill should not be passed under any circumstances.

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OPINION: Thoughts on HB370

By Jackson Advocate News Service
January 23, 2023