Could Tariffs, Special Election Cause November Surprises?

No surprises in the run-off elections last week with Michael Guest easily defeating Whit Hughes in the 3rd District Republican Primary run-off and David Baria coming back to defeat upstart Howard Sherman handily in the Senate Democratic Primary run-off.

Unless there are some surprises, Guest should cruise to victory and Baria should fall short in majority Republican Mississippi in November.

Oh, but could there be surprises?

The special election to fill the Senate seat relinquished by Thad Cochran could possibly yield surprises. If Chris McDaniel follows his 2014 blueprint, his challenge to newly appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith will be down and dirty. Will that fight bring out GOP voters or hold down turnout? If polls show either candidate with a substantial lead, the other’s voters could stay home. Meanwhile, challenger Mike Espy could attract a surge in Democratic voters. Should these two happen together, surprises could occur.

Don’t bet on it, but surprises could happen if one or more Mississippi relevant issues erupt. One of those issues could be tariffs.

Last week newspaper publisher Wyatt Emmerich wrote eloquently about Trump tariffs costing newspaper jobs.

“In January, the Trump administration imposed a 30% import tariff on Canadian wood products, including newsprint,” Emmerich wrote. “Prices have risen accordingly, costing my newspaper company $300,000 a year.” As a result, Emmerich laid off 60 newspaper carriers and shifted delivery of his three daily newspapers to the U.S. Post Office.

“Fortunately for the survival of my company, we found an option,” said Emmerich. “Thanks to a special postal regulation called Exceptional Dispatch, we will be able to use the U.S. Postal Service to get same day delivery of our three daily newspapers, saving a substantial amount of money and allowing us to leave our editorial staff intact.”

Other newspapers have had to cut editorial staff along with other personnel, he said.

One editorial staff member recently laid off was long-time political reporter Bobby Harrison. Now writing for Mississippi Today, Harrison penned a story last week on the impact of Trump tariffs on agriculture in Mississippi, particularly soybeans.

“Earlier this month, the President announced $50 billion in tariffs on China,” Harrison wrote. “China responded with similar tariffs, primarily on agriculture products. One of the primary agriculture products impacted by Chinese tariffs is soybeans, which is Mississippi’s top exported product.”

“Any trade war between the United States and China will hit hard Mississippi farmer and the Mississippi economy,” he wrote after interviewing North Mississippi farmer Jerry Slocum.

In addition to farmers, Mississippi manufacturers are concerned about tariffs too. The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported two major state manufacturing companies have spoken out against tariffs.

Cooper Tire joined with its industry association to vigorously oppose “the imposition of restrictions on our industry’s ability to import the high-quality steel wire rod needed to make tires in the U.S., as this vital tire component is not produced domestically.”

Toyota Mississippi said, “The administration’s decision to impose substantial steel and aluminum tariffs will adversely impact automakers.”

As tariffs spread to impact jobs and income in Mississippi, voters will likely take heed.

The potential for November election surprises is there. We’ll have to wait and watch to see if that potential is realized.

 

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Electing Champions for Military Assets Important to Mississippi

“The defense authorization act is one of the most consequential bills that Congress considers each year,” wrote Sen. Roger Wicker in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. “I championed several provisions in this year’s bill to advance our defense strategy and support the role that Mississippi plays in our national defense.”

Mississippi bases, guard and reserve units, and defense industries do play important roles in our national defense. These military assets also provide good jobs. Having champions in Washington is absolutely critical to their survival. Mississippi voters should consider this in upcoming elections.

In the 1991, 1993, 1995, and 2005 BRAC rounds, the base closure process, the late Congressman G. V. “Sonny” Montgomery, former Senators Thad Cochran and Trent Lott, former Congressman Gene Taylor and then Congressman Roger Wicker played significant roles in protecting Mississippi assets. More importantly, they continually supported missions, acquisitions, and physical improvements to keep these assets topnotch. Their influence on their respective chamber’s armed services and appropriations committees was invaluable.

One only has to observe the historic Maine vs. Mississippi political infighting over new Navy contracts at Bath Iron Works (now owned by General Dynamics) and Ingalls Shipbuilding (now owned by Huntington-Ingalls) to understand the importance of strong, effective congressional support. The same holds true for the many other defense industries scattered around the state.

Wicker, as chairman of the Seapower Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, played a key leadership role last year in getting Congress to authorize a multi-year expansion of the Navy’s fleet to 355 ships. This will be a boon to both Mississippi and Maine in the coming years, e.g. the Navy hopes to build 10 new destroyers between the two facilities over the next four years.

With Cochran’s retirement this year and 2nd District Congressman Bennie Thompson’s tendency to cut defense spending, Wicker will be the key player on protecting and growing Mississippi military assets until other congressional leaders can emerge. 4th District Congressman Steven Palazzo spent five years on the House Armed Services Committee before moving two years ago to the important House Appropriations Committee. 1st District Congressman Trent Kelly just completed his 3rd year on the same committee with good subcommittee assignments. New Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith has a key position on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The 3rd District will have a brand new Congressman. Of the two Republicans in the runoff plus the Democratic and Reform nominees, only Whit Hughes has experience with protecting and growing military assets. As Deputy Director at MDA he facilitated the Mississippi Military Communities Council and worked on defense industry recruitment and expansion.

Neither of Hyde-Smith’s major challengers in the November special election to fill Cochran’s seat appears to stack up well regarding military assets. Former Congressman and Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy thinks Mississippi shipyards still produce nuclear vessels (https://espyforsenate.com/statement/); they don’t. State Sen. Chris McDaniel voted “present” on the bond bill in 2017 that increased funds for projects designed to protect Mississippi bases from closure. He voted against a similar bill for Columbus AFB in 2016.

Wicker is right to highlight Mississippi’s important role in national defense. Electing champions who will fight to protect and grow our military assets will not only sustain that role but also provide good jobs to many Mississippians.

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Other States’ Republican Leaders Stand Up to Trump Tariffs

Trump tariffs and retaliatory tariffs are no big deal for Mississippi say key Republican leaders. “Everything will work out,” is their mantra.

Meanwhile, Trump tariffs kicked in June 1st on steel (25%) and aluminum (10%) imports from the European Union, Canada, and Mexico. Mexico imposed retaliatory tariffs on June 5th, Canada will on July 1st, and the EU will later in July. Friday Trump moved to impose 25% tariffs on an array of China exports. China retaliated quickly, including tariffs on soybeans.

“I do not think there will be a trade war,” Sen. Roger Wicker told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, expressing confidence that “the end result will be better opportunities for Mississippi businesses, farmers and consumers.” Rep. Trent Kelly said, “Now is the time for patience and to let the president do his job and negotiate on behalf of the American people.”  Gov. Phil Bryant said, ““President Trump puts American workers and businesses first, and his policies continue to bear that out,” pointing to Mississippi’s low unemployment.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith showed some concern. She told the Meridian Star Trump tariffs could hurt the state in the short term, but believed Trump’s efforts could be beneficial in the long term.

Business leaders aren’t as sanguine about Trump tariffs. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce expressed concern that 2.6 million American jobs could be at risk. The defense industry expressed concern about increased costs for steel and aluminum and the impact on global supply chains and risks to exports. The U.S. Farm Bureau expressed serious concerns to Congressional committees.

Mississippians should be concerned too.

The Daily Journal reported $113 million in goods exported from Mississippi to Canada at risk from tariffs, adding those exports come from nearly 2,200 Mississippi-based companies about 77% of which were small- and medium-sized enterprises with fewer than 500 employees.

Mississippi’s $1.1 billion dollar soybean industry would be affected by retaliatory tariffs. More than 110 million bushels were produced in the state in 2017 from 3,274 farms. About half are exported, mostly to China, the European Union, Japan, Mexico and Taiwan. In general, farmers worry that retaliatory tariffs will make the things they grow sell for less and steel and aluminum tariffs will make the things they buy cost more.

Mississippi’s growing tire and automobile sector is at risk from steel tariffs and retaliatory auto tariffs. Even Mississippi’s emerging brewery industry would be impacted, according to Lucas Simmons, president of Lucky Town Brewing Company in Jackson.

Republican leaders from other states are standing up to Trump on tariffs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told fellow Kentuckians, as reported by CNN, “I hope we pull back from the brink here because these tariffs will not be good for the economy.” House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said, “I disagree with this decision.” Others speaking out include House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Sen. Ben Sasse, of Nebraska, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, and Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

You’d think Mississippi Republican leaders would be standing up too, instead of timidly hoping Trump is just bluffing to gain trade concessions.

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Will Negative Issues Make Election Run-offs Interesting?

Low turnout Democratic and Republican primaries last week yielded two surprises. Political novice Howard Sherman was the surprise leader in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. Described by the Clarion-Ledger as the “Los Angeles-native venture capitalist and husband of Emmy Award-winning actress Sela Ward of Meridian,” Sherman will face Mississippi native Baria of Bay St. Louis in the June 26th run-off.

The other surprise was two white guys leading this ticket in a state where black voters dominate statewide Democratic elections. Black state Rep. Omeria Scott of Laurel finished third.

The Third District Republican primary for Congress will also feature a run-off. No surprises here. District Attorney Michael Guest of Brandon led the ticket and will face-off against Madison businessman Whit Hughes.

Turnout should be even lower in the June 26th run-offs unless candidates can spice up what have been tame contests so far. That means playing up policy issue differences, if any, and bringing up negative issues about opponents. So far there have been few major disagreements on policy, but some negative points began to surface.

The knock on Sherman is he only became a Mississippi resident two years ago and he and Sela have supported GOP candidates financially in the past. The knock on long-time Democratic activist Baria appears to be a lack of meaningful accomplishments.

The knock on Guest is that he got wealthy running a company that collects court fines while serving as full-time district attorney for Madison and Rankin counties. Guest claims he has had nothing to do with the company’s day-to-day operations, saying his vice president handled that. However, public filings show his VP to be the same person who serves as office administrator for his DA’s office.

The knock on Hughes is that as Deputy Director of the Mississippi Development Authority he was part of the team led by former Gov. Haley Barbour that made deals to land development projects with GreenTech, Stion and KiOR. All three of these deals went sour, potentially costing the state millions of dollars (collection efforts are still underway).

Whether these or other knocks will stir voter interest and spur turnout remains to be seen.

You can expect Sherman to be asked pointed questions about his real ties and commitment to Mississippi and Baria about why he hasn’t had more impact as a party leader. Whether either candidate will mount negative media blitzes is another question.

Negative media is likely in the GOP runoff given the party’s tendency toward such in recent elections.

Guest will need to answer whether he used his judicial connections as district attorney to get into business with city and county court systems to collect their unpaid fines; and how this occurred while he and his VP were both public employees. Hughes will need to answer how he was involved in the controversial economic development projects and what, if any, concerns he raised at the time.

In the end, whoever wins the Democratic runoff will likely be clobbered by Sen. Roger Wicker, while whoever wins the Republican third district runoff will likely clobber Democratic nominee state Rep. Michael Evans of Preston in November.

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Koch Thought Machine Will Influence Mississippi Elections

When it comes to government, Charles and David Koch want to influence, some say control, the political thoughts of all Americans. Yes, including Mississippians.

The Koch brothers and their super wealthy compatriots are spending billions of dollars to inform, many say indoctrinate, Americans on how to think about government, how to vote, and how to take down contrary elected officials.

The sprawling, sophisticated Koch network ranges from its grassroots army, Americans for Prosperity founded by David Koch in 2004, to its funding arm, Freedom Partners founded in 2011 that funnels money Koch network ventures, to its affiliated conservative think tanks like the Cato Institute, Fraser Institute, and Heritage Foundation, to its higher education ventures funded by various Koch family charities, to its like-minded coalition of billionaires who pump hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns across the country.

And that’s not all. Indeed, the pervasiveness of the Koch thought machine across America is mind boggling, some say frightening, even reaching deep into Mississippi politics.

A foundation Charles Koch created (now defunct) spent millions over decades to fund groups advocating the Koch agenda, including conservative state-based think tanks affiliated with the national State Policy Network, e.g., the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. The Koch network has continued funding the State Policy Network and its affiliated American Legislative Exchange Council of which Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn is a board member. School choice advocate Empower Mississippi is the latest link in this network.

The Charles Koch Foundation has spent millions to push Koch thinking onto college campuses, including Mississippi State University. In 2015 the university announced formation of its Institute for Market Studies to be funded with nearly $2.5 million of Koch money over six years. Since then, MSU associate professor Claudia Williamson, co-director of the Institute, has been an active voice for economic policies aligned with Koch thinking.

The Mississippi chapter of Americans for Prosperity has risen in power to dominate thinking on many legislative issues. The chapter has strongly touted Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves for promoting its agenda. It is expected to play a dominant role in next year’s legislative elections.

As they infiltrate American politics, the Koch brothers, owners of the second largest private company in America, have used populist themes to pursue extremist policies beneficial to their vast business interests. Many of these anti-government policies, such as sweeping deregulation and big tax cuts, harken back to David Koch’s 1980 run for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket. Among other issues, the party platform called for abolition of the FBI, Securities and Exchange Commission, and Department of Energy and the end of Social Security and all personal and corporate income taxes.

“Average Americans are realizing that they are being cheated a fair shot at building a better life,” wrote David Koch in a fundraising letter last month for Americans for Prosperity. He, again, pitched “economic freedom and opportunity” as the alternative.

This siren call of personal freedom lures many while shrewdly obscuring the real goal – freedom for corporate titans to do as they please.

Yes, the deliberate, relentless Koch brothers have deeply rooted their thought machine into American politics. Its machinations will greatly influence Mississippi state politics and elections next year.

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Wrong School Fixes Will Keep Our Children Shamefully Behind

Emerging initiative “Empower Mississippi” is right that many children do not “flourish” in Mississippi public schools. But the fix it wants is wrong. Just as the fix proposed by the “Better Schools, Better Jobs” initiative was wrong.

Neither creating a new entitlement program in the guise of school choice nor making Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) funding mandatory will help our children flourish in school.

Given all the conservatives jumping on the Empower Mississippi bandwagon, you would think it provides a conservative fix. Nope. Instead it would give parents an entitlement to tax dollars (not a conservative thing at all). It would let them take money away from public schools to spend on private schools, home schooling, tutoring, or any educational activities they might prefer. The rhetoric declares this would allow students to “flourish.” Perhaps some would, but mostly this would simply transfer public funds to private schools where many students really don’t flourish academically. It would also erode education for students left behind at schools losing funds.

Given all the liberals who jumped on the Better Schools, Better Jobs bandwagon, you would think it would have provided a liberal fix. Nope. Oh, it would have liberally thrown more money at schools, but would have done nothing to fix what’s broken. If money alone were the solution, some of our D rated school districts would be A+ districts.

For a high poverty state like Mississippi, the fix lies elsewhere.

Why do you suppose Kentucky, which has an 18.5% poverty rate just below Mississippi’s 20.8% rate, has a better high school graduation rate (88.6% to 82.3%) and far higher 8th grade reading and math proficiencies than Mississippi (36.1% and 27.7% to 20.0% and 21.8% respectively)?

School choice? Nope, though a similar initiative has popped up there. Per pupil spending? Not really, Kentucky spends $10,945 compared to Mississippi’s $9,885.

Unlike Mississippi, however, Kentucky is committed to early childhood education, particularly for at-risk children. In Kentucky, preschool programs are available for all four-year-old children whose family income is no more than 160% of poverty and all three and four-year-old children with developmental challenges.

“Studies show that children who attend high quality early learning environments have better math, language and social skills,” according to Kentucky’s Department of Education.

That’s the stuff that helps children to flourish. That’s the stuff that will attract good teachers back to struggling schools and make weak schools stronger. That’s what Mississippi’s conservative, liberal, and just regular folks should pursue together as our education fix.

Regrettably, that’s not where the big money action is in Mississippi. Empower Mississippi is building a $400,000 war chest to buy political support during the 2019 elections; it contributed roughly $300,000 to candidates in 2015 according to the Clarion-Ledger. Better Schools, Better Jobs spent over $5 million to support their constitutional amendment vote in 2015.

Dr. Cathy Grace, who has spent most of a lifetime championing early childhood education efforts in Mississippi, says, “True conservative leadership across the country has recognized the value in early childhood education.”  She added that Mississippi has designed a high quality voluntary program, but, legislative funding for it “is shamefully behind.”

Pursuing the wrong fixes for our schools will keep our children shamefully behind too.

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Wanna Bet on Who’s Not Gonna Run in 2019?

Not gonna run in 2019 season is upon us.

Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs started it. He announced early this month he is not gonna run for Lt. Governor or any other statewide office next year.

While Petal Mayor Hal Marx says he is running for Governor and former Nettleton Mayor and now Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley might run for Lt. Governor, the expected avalanche of not gonna run for statewide office announcements from other mayors, supervisors, and aldermen has yet to drop. It could happen any day now.

Meanwhile, the cascade of statewide elected officials who are not gonna, or probably not gonna, run for re-election is well underway. Two, of course, are term-limited and cannot seek re-election, Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. State Treasurer Lynn Fitch and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann have announced they will not run for re-election. Attorney General Jim Hood probably will not. State Auditor Stacey Pickering and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney have not announced their intentions, but blogger Wayne Weidie has predicted they will not seek re-election while Jackson Jambalaya blogger Kingfish thinks Chaney is running. Then, there is newly appointed Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson who is expected to run.

It’s not that all these politicians are ready to fade away, of course. Reeves and Hood are expected to run for Governor, Hosemann for Lt. Governor, and Fitch has announced she will run for Attorney General.

Half of our current statewide officials are former state legislators – Bryant, Pickering, Chaney, and Gipson. As incumbents seek other offices, the expectation is state legislators will rush to fill the void, I mean open positions. So far the number rushing in outnumber non-legislators by just two to one. State Representative Mark Baker of Brandon has announced a run for Attorney General and State Representative Jay Hughes of Oxford has announced a run for Lt. Governor. Ridgeland attorney and businessman David McRae has announced he will run for State Treasurer.

Still and all, a vast majority of state legislators are expected to join Flaggs, other mayors, supervisors, and aldermen in announcing they are not gonna run for statewide office.

Perhaps, the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision making sports betting legal in states besides Nevada will influence their decisions. Because of sneaky legislation passed last year, Bible Belt Mississippi could be the first additional state to take bets. As reported by Mississippi Today, when the Legislature passed a bill to legalize fantasy sports betting, sponsors “slipped in language that would legalize sports betting in Mississippi casinos if the federal ban were lifted.” Most legislators and state officials denied knowing the language had been slipped in, but state officials immediately started preparing to open sports betting in our casinos. The state even took an official position in court in favor of lifting the ban.

This sneaky way to expand gambling may not go over well with voters. So the 92 House members and 46 state senators who voted for it could face consequences. Among those mentioned above at risk include Reeves who allowed the bill through the Senate, Hood who represented the state in court, and Baker and Hughes who voted for it.

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