Thursday, January 7, 2016

Casting lots with loaded dice

With the legislature reconvening in Jackson this week, we will finally get an answer to one of the biggest question marks of the 2015 cycle, as the House will decide whether to seat incumbent Rep. Bo Eaton or his Republican challenger Mark Tullos. In case you haven't been keeping up with state house races or high-stakes games of pick-up sticks, we wanted to give you a quick timeline of events leading up to this decision.

November 4 : The morning after the election, it appeared that Tullos had bested Eaton by the slimmest of margins. Six votes separated the Republican from Eaton, and it looked like the longtime representative was going to be another casualty in a not-so-great night for Democratic incumbents.

November 12: "It ain't over 'til it's over." The week after the election, Smith County finished counting the remaining affidavit ballots; of the twelve that were counted, three went to Tullos and nine went to Eaton, bringing the two candidates to a tie at 4,589 votes each. In much the same manner the Apostles chose who would succeed Judas Iscariot, state law dictates that in the case of a tie, the election "shall be determined by lot."

(Side note: If we have to use a Biblical example for determining the race, I would much rather go with the Solomon route: we say we're going to cut the district in half and give each candidate one piece, and whoever objects is obviously the true representative.)

Tullos was quoted as saying, "I'm not going to agree to a coin flip. I don't want to bet my future on the flip of a coin." Luckily for Tullos, it would not be a coin flip that determined his future; instead, the candidates would draw straws to determine the winner.

November 20: Much like King Arthur pulling the sword from the stone, Bo Eaton pulled the long, green straw from the bag and officially won the seat in a ceremony overseen by both Governor Phil Bryant and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. Tullos was in attendance. The law--as weird as it was--had been followed, and the race was over.

November 21: Never mind. Tullos was fine with drawing straws until he lost; I guess he didn't realize how close it would be to a coin toss. Since the House of Representatives has the authority to seat its own members, a committee appointed by Speaker Philip Gunn would decide the winner.

The law had been followed every step of the way, and Bryant and Hosemann both signed off on it. Surely, the panel would be fair and listen to both sides before making an informed, non-partisan decision. Right?

This image was added to the official roster of the Mississippi House of Representatives before the session began but was taken down because, you know, he hasn't actually won yet. For now, Bo Eaton is still officially the representative of House District 79. If this is any indication of Gunn and Co.'s plans, though, it is unlikely he'll be in the legislature for long. 

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