For the first time this legislative session, the Mississippi senate has 52 members now that Democrat Bob Dearing of Natchez is officially serving as the Senator for District 37. Dearing was declared the winner of the November election by a vote of the full Senate.
For nearly an hour yesterday evening, the Mississippi Senate took up it first real debate of the 2016 session. Senate Resolution 7 drafted by the Special Committee to Resolve Election Contests recommended that the Senate seat Democrat Bob Dearing as the Senator from District 37.
The five-member committee made the recommendation after listening to three days of arguments and testimony from lawyers representing Dearing and his challenger, former Republican Senator Melanie Sojourner.
Speaking to the Senate, Committee Chair, Republican Senator Terry Burton of Newton says the panel used its best judgment in making the decision.
“When we convened the committee the first day, we assumed the responsibility as fact finders,” Burton says. “We assumed that responsibility as very, very serious. We wanted to make sure we got it right, followed the law and the intent of the law, and tried to maintain the integrity of an individual's vote.”
But the committee’s decision was met with some resistance. Republican Senator Chris McDaniel of Ellisville, arguing on behalf of Sojourner; pushed for an amendment for a new election in District 37. By questioning the bias of the committee, McDaniel sparked a tense moment between Burton and himself.
“For you to sit in judgment of us, and tell us that we knew what we’re going to do when we got there is just down-right wrong,” says Burton.
“I’m just asking questions, I’m not judging,” McDaniel says.
“You said it in an accusatory way, sir, and I refuse to stand here and let you drag me into your pit of iniquity. It’s not going to happen with me.”
There is still one election challenge that remains. The House of Representatives will likely make that decision by the end of the week.