Pick Candidates Willing to Hear “Serious People”

“He is not a serious person,” said Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Who was he speaking of — Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu, or Donald Trump?

Brzezinski is a serious person. The former advisor to Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter and international relations realist played key roles in major international events such as the normalization of relations with China, the second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II), the Camp David Accords that led to the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, and the arming of Afghanistan rebels to fight the Soviet invasion.

Above, Brzezinski could have been speaking of all three, but in this case he was speaking of Netanyahu and his impetuous view of the Iran nuclear agreement.

“I think any intelligent person knows in their gut, if we don’t’ approve it, the consequence might be devastating,” Brzezinski said on Morning Joe.

General Colin Powell is another serious person. He advised Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and served as George W. Bush’s Secretary of State. Also, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he oversaw numerous crises including the Panama invasion and Operation Desert Shield/Storm in Iraq and Kuwait. As a military historian and strategist he advocated military intervention only as a last resort and then only if the operation had specific objectives and would minimize military casualties – now called the Powell Doctrine.


“It’s a pretty good deal,” Powell said of the Iran agreement on Meet the Press. “We have stopped this highway race that they were going down (to build a nuclear bomb) — and I think that’s very, very important.”


Two other serious people recently spoke for the agreement, former Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN) and George Mitchell (D-ME).


Lugar was the long-time chairman/ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Since his retirement he has worked with his foundation, the Lugar Center, on issues such as the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and effective bipartisan governance.


Mitchell was Senate Majority Leader and has been a prominent international envoy playing key roles in peace negotiations in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East. In 2007, Mitchell joined former senator majority leaders Bob Dole (R-KS), Howard Baker (R-TN), and Tom Daschle (D-SD) to form the Bipartisan Policy Center, a non-profit organization that develops politically balanced policies based on “rigorous analysis, reasoned negotiation, and respectful dialogue.”

So, what distinguishes “serious people” from Putin, Netanyahu, and most of our presidential candidates?

Breadth of experience; thoughtful consideration of complex issues, their history, and the long-term strategic consequences of chosen interventions; and the courage to put country ahead of politics and peace ahead of war.

Since most leaders of nations don’t get chosen because they are serious people, it is important for them to hear and consider the views of serious people. That was a main strength of Ronald Reagan.

As you evaluate presidential candidates, try to discern their likelihood of having serious people as advisors… and that they will listen to them.

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Conservative Leadership, Faith Bind Taggart to Kasich

Andy Taggart’s commitment to chair Ohio Governor John Kasich’s presidential campaign in Mississippi should surprise no one. It’s a match made in … well, you’ll see.

Kasich has been described as a “brash, bare-knuckled” leader. Taggart served as chief-of-staff for Mississippi’s beloved brash, bare-knuckled governor, Kirk Fordice.

Kasich has strong credentials as an effective conservative leader (meaning he’s not only conservative but gets things done). He served nine terms in Congress (1983 to 2001), including 18 years on the House Armed Services Committee where he was known as a national security hawk and ally of President Ronald Reagan. He also served six years as chairman of the House Budget Committee where he proved himself as a fiscal hawk, providing key leadership in passing welfare reform and balancing the national budget.

As Ohio’s governor, the small government champion turned an $8 billion shortfall into a $2 billion surplus, cut taxes $5 billion and made Ohio one of the top job-creating states in the nation.

Taggart is also an effective conservative leader. Before helping Fordice drive his conservative agenda as governor, Taggart worked in Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign. He has also served as Executive Director of the Mississippi GOP, Madison County supervisor, and advocate for numerous conservative candidates and causes. Most recently he co-chaired the Task Force on Contracting Procurement in the Mississippi Department of Corrections for Governor Phil Bryant. Taggart has championed business development as past chairman of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership and president and CEO of the Mississippi Technology Alliance.

But, here’s the real tie.

John Kasich is an unapologetic Christian. He unabashedly weaves his faith into his politics. He has written two books about his faith. In one he says, “I drifted away from religion as a young adult. Then I looked up one day, and there was a huge hole in my life where God and religion had been.” He turned back to faith, he said after tragedy struck his family. His parents were killed by a drunken driver.

Taggart is also an unapologetic Christian who fuses his faith into his political and professional activities. Federal Judge Leslie Southwick called him “one of the most faith-filled men I know.” Still, Taggart found his faith strengthened after the tragic death of his son. He and his wife Karen embraced a mission to speak of their tragedy and the need for strong faith to resist. “Satan picked our son,” Taggart told a group at Mississippi College. “His faith was not mature enough.”

In his endorsement of Kasich, Taggart said, Thirty five years ago, I quit my job to try to help elect a new president because I believed the nation needed Ronald Reagan’s leadership. Well, I’m not quitting my job, but I am going to work as hard as I did in those days to help John Kasich win in 2016, because I believe the nation needs his leadership just as badly.”

Leadership tied to faith is what he means.

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Negativity, Factionalism Undercut Trust and Prosperity

A lament posted on Facebook by a retired teacher from Madison County: “I will NOT vote for anyone who can only use negative remarks about their opposition instead of their qualifications for the office. I thought that was the reason for running for a political office. SHOW ME YOUR CREDENTIALS.”

Keeping that in mind, consider this. A friend who teaches entrepreneurship worldwide has conducted a study of the characteristics of nations and their poverty levels. He said his research shows that nations that practice Christian values are more prosperous and have less poverty. His working thesis is that there is greater mutual trust and neighbor-helping-neighbor in such countries.

Paul addressed both of these points in Romans (14:13, 19 ESV): “Let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother….So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

Our founding fathers promoted the concepts in Paul’s message. For example, President George Washington’s unforgettable Farewell Address weaves these concepts throughout.

Washington counseled against “misrepresentations” by “designing men,” saying, “You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.”

Later he said, “And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

So, 219 years after Washington’s message how well have we done?

Misrepresentations abound in politics. Indeed, modern political campaigns are designed to attack opponents’ character, credibility, and credentials. Such messages gain more social and traditional media coverage than positive messages. And, we seem to respond to negativity more than we do to positiveness, e.g., today’s Republican presidential candidates gain more in polls when they go on the attack.

Mounting portions of our population grow up without moral or civic instruction. Those who profess Christian values are in decline and those who practice such values even more so. Indeed, our society tolerates, or perhaps prefers, immorality as indicated by the rise of sexuality and profanity in movies, advertising, and music videos. At the same time, American prosperity is fragmenting, e.g. more people qualify for food stamps than ever before.

We tend to be more divided, more hateful, and less willing to work together or seek mutual benefit than in years past.

The dominance of one faction over another, especially when motivated by revenge, “is a frightful despotism,” warned Washington.

We will only reverse course when we discipline ourselves and sway others to choose local, state, and national leaders willing to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

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Initiative 42 May Be a Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

At forums across the state held by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, proponents stubbornly argue that Initiative 42 is simply about getting the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) fully funded. That’s what their petition said. That’s what their upcoming, expensive advertising campaign is likely to say.

But that’s not what their proposed constitutional amendment says:

“To protect each child’s fundamental right to educational opportunity the State shall provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools. The chancery courts of this State shall have the power to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.”

You don’t see “full funding” or “MAEP.” That’s because the initiative’s masterminds crafted something far more provocative to put in the constitution.

What, pray tell, is an “adequate and efficient system of free public schools?” No such “system” is mentioned in the existing MAEP statute or anywhere state law.

Also, should “the State” fail to, or unacceptably to proponents, establish this “adequate and efficient system,” the initiative will allow a chancery court to do so by “appropriate injunctive relief.” No doubt any rulings would be appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Is their intent to put control of our schools, not just “full funding,” under the courts instead of our elected representatives?

What judges will be constitutionally obligated to order would be wide-ranging based on the wording of the amendment.

By requiring an “adequate” system, the amendment sets the stage for a court to order school districts to offer pre-K education. A growing body of research shows no public school system can provide an “adequate” education without pre-K.

By requiring an “efficient” system, the amendment sets the stage for a court to order consolidation of school districts. While there are numerous efficient school districts, the state school system as a whole is not efficient. Just having two or more school districts in most counties is highly inefficient.

By requiring “the State,” not the Legislature, to implement its provisions, the amendment eliminates from the constitution the Legislature’s responsibility to pass laws and appropriations for the benefit of public schools. This is a peculiar change. Currently, all duties and responsibilities in the constitution are assigned specifically to the executive, judicial, or legislative branch of government. What do the masterminds really intend by this change?

“Initiative 42 is only about fully funding MAEP,” they will get proponents to say.

But the wily amendment the masterminds crafted is so broad, so undefined in state law, and so susceptible to judges’ preferences that reasonable people should be concerned that it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Are Initiative 42 supporters being misled by their masterminds?

Ask why they didn’t draft simple language saying “fully fund MAEP,” why they divorce the Legislature from school funding and oversight, what they really mean by the words “adequate and efficient system,” and why they give the courts authority over much more than full funding.

Don’t be deceived like Aesop’s sheep.

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Legislature Beating MAEP Proponents in Court

Legislature 2, MAEP proponents 0.

That’s the score as judges bat around lawsuits surrounding efforts to get the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) fully funded.

Last week the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that nobody had standing to appeal Attorney General Jim Hood’s ballot title for Initiative 42A, the Legislature’s alternative to the citizen-sponsored Initiative 42. Proponents of Initiative 42, hoping to mandate full funding for MAEP, had gotten Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd to rewrite the title.

So, the 42A title goes back Hood’s language, “Should the Legislature provide for the establishment and support of effective free public schools without judicial enforcement?”

This will be on the November ballot along with the 42 title, “Should the State be required to provide for the support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools?” Missing from this title, but included in the underlying amendment, is a provision that gives chancery courts authority to enforce the amendment.

Last month Hinds County Chancery Judge William Singletary ruled former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and allies were incorrect in believing state law already requires the Legislature to fully fund MAEP. He threw out their lawsuit based on Section 37-151-6 (MS Code, 1972), “Effective with fiscal year 2007, the Legislature shall fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP).”

Essentially, Singletary, a former legislator himself, ruled “shall” in this case doesn’t mean “shall.”

“While this Court agrees with Plaintiff that the term ‘shall’ generally denotes a mandate, our Mississippi courts have allowed for exceptions to this mandatory interpretation of ‘shall’ where it ‘is necessary to carry out the purpose of the legislature, effect justice, secure public or private rights, or avoid absurdity.”

Singletary based his ruling on another statute that reads, “In any year in which the MAEP is not fully funded,” the Legislature will decide how to allocate funds. He ruled this statute took precedence over the other.

The legal language in question comes from Senate Bill 2604, authored in 2006 by then Sen. Mike Chaney (now Insurance Commissioner). It sets forth three sections in a row regarding MAEP funding. The first is the “shall fully fund” paragraph. The second is a lengthy paragraph detailing how much the Legislature “shall” appropriate in fiscal years 2007, 2008, and 2009 “if sufficient funds are not available to fully fund” MAEP. The third section, the one Singletary relied upon, simply tells how to allocate funds in years MAEP is not fully funded.

One logical reading of these sections, that keeps them from contradicting each other, is the Legislature intended to fully fund MAEP, but provided for phase-in funding over four years, and the allocation paragraph simply references those specific phase-in years.

Musgrove is asking Singletary to reconsider his ruling, so the 2 – 0 score could change.

Of course the real contest is in the hands of voters. If they pass Initiative 42, giving courts oversight of school funding, there will be lots more for judges to bat around.

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Bryant Serious about Public Contracting Reforms

Gov. Phil Bryant continues to take seriously the reform of public contracting in Mississippi.

Last November, Bryant, responding to the contract scandal that erupted from the arrest of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps, established a special task force to conduct a comprehensive review of the Mississippi Department of Corrections’ (MDOC) contracting and procurement processes.

In December, the five-member task force, led by Andy Taggart and Judge Robert Gibbs, submitted initial findings and recommendations to the Governor, who promptly transmitted them to the Legislature.

Representative Jerry Turner of Baldwyn incorporated many recommendations into tough legislation to revamp state contracting and procurement laws. Senator Nancy Collins of Tupelo and her colleagues weakened Turner’s bill, but still adopted significant reforms.

One key task force recommendation and reform adopted by the Legislature was to revamp the membership of the Personal Service Contract Review Board (PSCRB). The intent was to take review of contracts like those abused by Epps away from active state bureaucrats and put oversight under individuals with professional private sector contracting experience or with equivalent public sector experience but no longer active in state government.

Turner’s bill called for the Governor and the Lt. Governor to appoint two members each. The revamped PSCRB was to take charge July 1, 2014.

In June, Gov. Bryant appointed Bill Moran, a retired FMC Technologies site manager, and Rita Wray, a health care consultant and former deputy director of the Department of Finance and Administration.

Lt. Gov. Reeves has not made his appointments. In early July his office said he was “carefully considering his appointments….This is an important board that needs quality individuals to oversee how taxpayers’ money is spent.” Friday his office said he would make appointments by the end of August.

Meanwhile, the short-handed board held its first meeting in July. The lack of a complete board poses a problem because of a peculiar requirement injected into PSCRB operations by the Turner:

“Any contract submitted to the Personal Service Contract Review Board for review and approval shall be presumed to be approved if the Personal Service Contract Review Board does not object to the contract within thirty (30) days of the agency’s submission of the contract.”

Should the short-handed PSCRB be unable to meet due to lack of a quorum, any number of contracts could slip through without official review because of the 30 day loophole.

The task force issued its final recommendations to Governor Bryant on June 26. They called for the 30 day rule to be changed along with additional reforms.

The Governor followed through last week on two additional reforms, issuing executive orders requiring MDOC to professionalize its purchasing office and requiring agencies to improve transparency by posting online an analysis describing why a personal or professional services contract was awarded.

Stamping out cronyism and corruption in public contracting will take a serious, sustained, all-in approach from the Governor and the Legislature.


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Frierson Takes Hard Looks at Tax Breaks and Initiative 42

You’ve got to admire Herb Frierson. There aren’t many straight shooters in Mississippi politics anymore.

Back in 2013, the House Appropriations Committee chairman called the increasing number of tax breaks coming out of the Republican legislature a big problem, noting the legislature had no way to determine the cumulative impact of such cuts over time.

As reported in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, the legislature passed numerous tax breaks over a four-year period, including tax credits related to business inventories, sales tax breaks for developers building malls (which they were likely to build anyway), and a sales tax holiday for the purchase of hunting equipment.

Two weeks ago, Journal political writer Bobby Harrison reported, Legislative Budget Committee Director Debbie Rubisoff provided a look at the impact of these cuts when she addressed Frierson’s committee:

“The early projection is for state revenue to grow by 3.4% during fiscal year 2017 (July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017). But because of previous tax breaks passed by the Legislature, 2.2% of that projected growth, or an estimated $126 million, will no longer be in the revenue stream.”

In other words, because of the tax breaks, projected net revenue growth will be just 1.2%. And, according to a chart Rubisoff provided, that $126 million deduction will swell to at least $315 million as the inventory tax benefit and others get fully implemented.

“When I said there are consequences,” Frierson said, “these are the consequences.”

Rubisoff’s information comes as revenue collections for the just ended 2015 fiscal year were reported to be up 2.4%. The legislature has budgeted a 3% revenue increase for this fiscal year. But, with the tax breaks Rubisoff described kicking in and Mississippi’s economy showing sluggish growth, actual revenue growth could come in noticeably lower.

Needless to say, none of this suggests the huge tax cuts proposed earlier this year – eliminating the personal income tax or the business franchise tax – make any fiscal sense at all.

Nor does it provide the means to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, another concern Frierson addressed.

If voters approve Initiative 42 this fall, “my recommendation would be that we fully fund it next year,” Frierson told the Clarion-Ledger. “So we need a plan for cuts.” (Despite what proponents say, Initiative 42 makes no provisions to phase-in funding.)

Given the state’s unsettled revenue status, Frierson has directed agency heads to provide his committee information about how they would cut their budgets or raise fees to cover cuts of up to 7.8% in fiscal year 2017. (The Department of Education and Medicaid were excluded.)

While most politicians are campaigning on big tax cuts or big new spending on education, Frierson has taken a more sober approach. No doubt the Poplarville Republican is taking arrows from both sides for his hard looks at tax breaks and Initiative 42, but it’s refreshing to see at least one state leader takes the funding of state government seriously.

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