Musgrove Elected Mississippi Governor

By Bob Melvin | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

( - In an historic vote, Mississippi lawmakers on Tuesday elected Democrat Ronnie Musgrove as the state's next governor, ending an eight-year Republican reign.

Musgrove had received 8,300 more votes than Republican Mike Parker in the four-way November statewide general election, but he fell a fraction of a percentage point short of receiving a majority, as required by the Mississippi Constitution. That sent the race for the first time to the state House, which is dominated by Democrats. Musgrove beat Parker 86-36 in the House vote.

Musgrove moves up from lieutenant governor to replace two-term Governor Kirk Fordice, the only GOP governor in Mississippi during the 20th century.

Musgrove was presiding over the Senate when the vote was announced. Senators and guests stood and gave him a standing ovation for several minutes.

"I have to say that, in all my time in the Senate, that was the best point of personal privilege I have ever heard," Musgrove said, with tears in his eyes. He then hugged his wife.

Wire service reports say that Parker said he called Musgrove to congratulate him. Parker added that he believes the constitution needs to be changed so the House would not be allowed to vote in a similar situation.

Musgrove has just one week to prepare for his inauguration, put together his staff and appoint dozens of agency and board heads.

All this comes after a period of turmoil in the state's top office. Fordice, who was prohibited because of term limits from running again, is getting a divorce after 44 years of marriage and has had a very public affair with his childhood sweetheart.

Musgrove, 43, a small-town lawyer, declared himself the winner after the November 2nd election and called on Parker, 50, to concede the race. Parker, a former congressman, refused to do so.

The weeks after the election -- a traditionally busy period of building a new administration and preparing the governor's mansion for a new tenant -- passed with little action. Musgrove and Parker largely withdrew from public view. Neither candidate put together cabinets or chose agency heads, let alone plan an inauguration or an agenda for the legislative session.

The Capitol was packed with spectators for Tuesday's vote. Most people watched the roll call of the House's 86 Democrats, 33 Republicans and three independents in rooms set up with television sets.

"This particular day has captured more attention with my citizen-voters than any other event in the last 20 years," said Democratic representative Billy McCoy.