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Civil Conversation #5: Senator John Horhn and Representative Lee Yancey (Pt. 1)

Race, the culture war, and the role of government; a Civil Conversation in Mississippi's Civil Rights Museum

Vicksburg, Mississippi was the last confederate stronghold along the Mississippi River during the Civil War. When the city fell on July 4th, 1863 - the day after Robert E. Lee was defeated at Gettysburg 1,000 miles to the north - it gave the Union full control of the river, splitting the confederacy and turning the tide in the war. One hundred and one years later, the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner would bring intense attention to the struggle for civil rights and turn national opinion toward the Civil Rights Movement. All to say: Mississippi has had a history of finding itself at the center of America’s hard journey to a more perfect union.

Today, the Mississippi legislature is one of the most segregated in the nation. With four or five exceptions (depending on a few vacancies), Republican state legislators are white and Democrats are black. To understand this and what it means, we sat down with Democratic State Senator John Horhn and Republican Representative Lee Yancey for a Civil Conversation in the Civil Rights Museum.

To begin, both men stressed the collegiality of the legislature, with members of both parties often golfing together, having beers together. But they do have their roles to play, as Senator Horhn said; roles cast upon the legislature by today’s hyper partisanship and conflict driven media. Both men also said they’ve had members from the other party come to them to say, “I know this is a bad bill,” but have to support it for the optics.

In reality, around 90% of bills receive strong bipartisan support. But what about that other 10%? Those are the wedge issues. But they’re not necessarily how you might think; the recent national arguments about how slavery is taught or gender affirming care, for example. Democrat John Horhn observes that national Democratic Party is out of step with Mississippians on some social issues. And Republican Lee Yancey fully supports the holistic teaching of America’s racial history and addressing the real legacies of slavery. Rather, the wedge issue really seemed to be one old issue: the role of government.

That doesn’t mean the issue isn’t racially complex. A core legacy of slavery revolves around who has the power to decide that role of government. But still, the conversation was encouraging. Much of the problem nationally is that Democrats and Republicans don’t seem to share a common reality. With Senator Horhn and Representative Yancey, that wasn’t the case. Rather, their disagreements are less about the past than what to do about the future. Given the state of national politics, this simple willingness to look ahead together - rather than looking back to separate pasts - could be another way Mississippi is part of a turning point in America.

Civil Conversations
Americans across the ideological spectrum meet to talk about politics and culture, without the screaming. New episodes twice per month.