EDITORIAL/Principle over pragmatism
Wirt Adams Yerger, Jr., the father of the modern Mississippi Republican Party, a man who chose principle over power and pragmatism, died last week leaving a big void but not without a lasting legacy. He was 92.
At Mr. Yerger’s insistence, the first Mississippi Republican Party platform did not include a plank supporting segregation, which went against the status quo segregationist Democrat Party of the day.
Ronald Reagan, on October 27, 1964, delivered the speech “A Time For Choosing” on television to support the presidential campaign of Republican Barry Goldwater.
A decision was made by conservatives supporting Goldwater to air it in its entirety again — nationally on ABC – the Sunday before the election. Goldwater lost; but many credit what has become known simply as “The Speech” as launching Reagan into national politics.
The man who decided to air “The Speech” and who raised the money to put it on national television was Wirt A. Yerger, Jr., of Jackson, Mississippi, a humble and soft-spoken man but a firm and convincing leader who could work the phones and sway opinion.
During the Eisenhower Administration, inspired by the classical conservative movement of those like William F. Buckley, Jr., anti-communism, and a rejection of the Mississippi status-quo of the time, Mr. Yerger launched the first Young Republicans organization in Mississippi and focused his leadership there into the creation of The Mississippi Republican Party of which he served as chairman from 1956 until 1966.
Under his leadership, Republicans won their first local offices, legislative seats, and congressional seat since Reconstruction.
Party leadership considered him the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Jim Eastland in 1966. At the press conference where many expected him to announce, he not only declined to run, but rather announced his resignation as chairman.
In his book, “A Courageous Cause,” Mr. Yerger reflected on his decade as chairman, saying he’d stood on principle, including a belief in smaller government, low taxes, and a strong defense. “I had fought racism, Communism, and big government. I had applied my principles in the political realm. In the end, a man standing on solid principles will remain but all politics is temporal. Because I always had made decisions based on principle, I had endured even the toughest times during my leadership of the state Republican Party, and I had even enjoyed them.”
After retiring from party leadership, Mr. Yerger refocused his professional work on his family’s insurance company, Ross & Yerger, Inc. But he never gave up his passion for conservatism and continued to invest time and money on national and state conservative organizations including The Leadership Institute, a training ground for conservative operatives that grew out of the Goldwater campaign.
In 2009, the Mississippi Republican Party honored Mr. Yerger as Chairman Emeritus. It had been 43 years since he resigned as chairman at which time he desired a two-party state dominated by the Republican Party.
He had said at his resignation: “The conservative cause in this nation will rise or fall with the Republican Party and the same is true in Mississippi. I believe that it will be victorious because of the inherent love of individual freedom and the free enterprise system which we all value.”
Mr. Yerger watched the party he founded become the dominant party in the state. From the days when Democrats derisively remarked there were so few Republicans they could all meet in a phone booth, the party grew to capture both U.S. Senate seats, all but one congressional seats, the Governor’s Mansion and all other statewide elected officials, and a super-majority in both chambers of the state Legislature.
Today, the Mississippi Republican Party still uses the sturdy metal desk Mr. Yerger used as chairman, and continues to use the same phone number he reserved in 1956.
Conservatives can be victorious because of the inherent love of individual freedom and the free enterprise system which we all value.
He ended his May 2009 speech with these words: “The best advice I give to you is always choose principles over pragmatism and power. Standing on principles is not easy, you get tired and discouraged, but the satisfaction of accomplishing all you can for a better nation is worth it all.”
We need more conservatives in the Republican Party like Mr. Yerger who choose principle over pragmatism and power. Standing on principle is not easy, indeed.
One can get tired and discouraged in politics, but in the end, our cities and counties, our state and our nation are better when we stand on solid principles and particularly for what is right and wrong and true and then and only then is the fight worth it all.