Governor’s race takes unusual turn

By CHARLIE SMITH,

Mississippi politics may have a sketchy track record about producing good public policy, but at least you can say it always makes for entertaining theater.

The latest act in that long-running saga came last week in the race for governor.

State Rep. Robert Foster got into a tussle with a Jackson news outlet over not allowing a female reporter to cover his campaign unless escorted by a male colleague. Larrison Campbell of Mississippi Today requested to follow the candidate and report about it, something the online news outlet had sent another reporter to do for his opponents in the Republican primary.

His campaign first said they couldn’t risk opposition groups taking pictures of Campbell near Foster and use it to falsely insinuate an affair. Foster then said he and his wife agreed to the “Billy Graham rule” of not spending time alone with a member of the opposite sex. That’s generated attention from national news outlets to someone who previously had been little known.

The thought up until now has been that Foster might draw enough votes in the August 6 primary to force a runoff on August 27 between Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. That’s because Foster is from the densely populated and heavily conservative Memphis suburbs in DeSoto County that carry much weight in Republican primaries. Foster has also campaigned hard, and many people at events we’ve been at have come away impressed with the message from the 36-year-old small business owner, which includes eliminating the state income tax and raising the sales and gas taxes. Yet he wasn’t seen as a legitimate contender on his own.

All the attention on him recently could change that.

First, it’s paranoid to think opposition groups would be so scheming as to take a picture of Foster with a female reporter in the background at a campaign event and use it to insinuate an affair. Frankly, he’s not been enough of a threat in that race to even merit consideration of such duplicity.

Second, in the 21st century, it’s backward and an embarrassment to flatly prevent a woman from doing a job that you would gladly allow a man to do. Trust us from experience, few, if any, reporters are going to try to seduce a candidate they’re covering. It should also be noted that Campbell is gay, according to an essay she wrote for Architectural Digest last year. Her interests in Foster would surely be purely professional.

Rather than backing away from the sexism, though, Foster has used it to stoke support from the right.

“The liberal media is in an uproar over the fact that I choose not to be alone with another woman. They can't believe, that even in 2019, someone still values their relationship and their wife and upholds their Christian Faith,” a campaign email said.

He’s making himself out to be a martyr when he’s really only a victim of his own sexism. Yet the fact that the controversy has been a boost to his campaign says all you need to know about the sorry state of affairs in Mississippi and national politics. The last thing this state needs is another conservative demagogue who places blame for his own failings on alleged liberal media conspiracies. Foster should apologize and move on rather than cynically trying to profit from his boorishness.

Charlie Smith is editor and publisher of the Columbian-Progress in Columbia.

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Evelyn Sanders Forkin, 86, died on Tuesday, December 10, 2019.

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1. He drove a blue ‘77 Chevy Nova in high school. 2. He played on Jackson Prep’s 1985 and 1986 state championship basketball teams.