Blog Takes McDaniel Conservatives to Task

The Mississippi based political blog “Y’all Politics” has taken the “MS Tea Party” and Chris McDaniel’s Conservative Coalition to task:
 
“I’ve said this before, but if the MS Tea Party is serious about doing anything but Facebook Memes and TwitterBombs, they need to have real candidates, raise money, party build and run folks for office. Policy can’t be effected until people in the office make those changes. Whatever their motivations, they totally tanked the once-every-four-year opportunity.
 
“The ‘ultra-conservative’ wing is (sic) still appears to be a loud but numerically small minority in Mississippi and Qualifying Day 2015 certainly proved that point.”
 
The blog emphasizes the lack of a serious “Conservative Coalition” challenge to Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. The coalition is a small group of state senators that coalesced around state senator Chris McDaniel to oppose much of Reeves’ legislative agenda.
 
“There had been a sentiment over the last two months that the remnants of what was the Conservative Coalition in the Senate might provide a challenger to Tate Reeves in an LG primary,” reads the blog (yallpolitics.com). It says many thought McDaniel would run, but when he didn’t the focus turned to state senator Michael Watson of Pascagoula.
 
Apparently, he considered the race, but decided to stay in the senate when Reeve’s former opponent, Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes, endorsed him for re-election.
 
Y’all Politics published this Facebook comment from Watson’s wife:
 
“Hey friends. I tried my best to get Michael in the race. As of last night the girls and I were packing up to drive up to be there when he filed. His friend, Billy Hewes, endorsed Tate today and it knocked the wind out of him. We are used to the rough and tumble world of politics, but that endorsement broke our hearts.”
 
As a result of Watson’s decision, Y’all Politics proclaimed, “For all of the campaign bluster in the McDaniel operation about sitting at the sharp end of 180,000 voters and how the Tea Party was going to topple the ‘establishment’, the Tea Party in a statewide election year was unable to muster one single serious candidate for statewide office. Not one.”
 
Could it be that most in the tea party are satisfied with current leaders?  After all, Republican statewide leaders are all pro-gun, pro-life, anti-tax, anti-spending, anti-regulation, free market, small government, anti-Obama constitutionalists. That matches up pretty good with the ultra-conservative Club for Growth mantra that McDaniel et al mimicked.
 
Intra-party politics aside, what other litmus tests should they have to pass?
 
Perhaps they should have to swear to the dubious “economic freedom” standards devised by a pro-conglomerate, Canadian, libertarian organization, the Fraser Institute (and advocated by an assistant professor at Mississippi State University).
 
Bless our hearts, we need another big money financed, out-of-state group to show us the way.
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Leadership Crumbling along with Highways and Bridges

“Somebody’s going to be killed,” Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall stressed to the Clarion-Ledger, pointing to a study that shows Mississippi has 2,275 structurally deficient bridges. “That’s what’s going to happen.”

The huge tax cut wind howling out of the State Capitol just flicked his spittle back at him.

For several years, Hall has been clamoring about Mississippi’s deteriorating highways and bridges. That’s because studies show approximately 25% of Mississippi’s 29,000 miles of state highways need immediate attention, in addition to the bridge crisis. Since it will take big money and new revenue to fix things, the Legislature doesn’t seem to hear him.

Well, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said legislators are aware of the problem. He said they await results from a study by the Mississippi Economic Council. But, that business-led study won’t issue recommendations until after this Legislature adjourns.

Curiously, legislators already have in hand a current study from their own PEER Committee (report #581 dated January 6, 2014) that says:

“Studies show that the funding available for transportation is not sufficient to meet Mississippi’s highway, road, and bridge needs.”

It gets specific:

“MDOT allocates approximately $150 million annually to pavement projects, but estimates that an estimated $1 billion would be needed to repair pavement to an acceptable condition and $400 million would be needed annually to maintain pavement in good condition.”

“MDOT allocates from $50 million to $80 million annually to bridge projects, but estimates that $2.7 billion would be needed to repair or replace bridges and $200 million annually would enable replacement of all currently deficient bridges in a timely manner and guarantee maintenance and repair of all bridges in the state system.”

Oh, my bad. I get it.

The Legislature doesn’t need a study to learn our transportation infrastructure needs fixing, they need the cover of a business-led study to tell them how to pay for fixing it…after elections are over.

Meanwhile, legislators have worked on a temporary patch for the bridge problem. The Clarion-Ledger reported the House passed a $400 million bond bill for bridge work. To pay for the bonds, though, they want to use money already committed to road projects in casino counties (part of those casino taxes we approved to help fund education, remember?).

In 1987, another election year, business leaders championed a major, four-lane highway program and higher gas taxes to pay for it. I was a first-term Republican serving in the House with three-term veteran Dick Hall. Despite the bad political timing, we joined other conservative legislators behind the leadership of Rep. John Pennebaker to not only pass the program, but also to override a veto from Gov. Bill Allain.

Legislative and business leaders cringing from gas tax increases in an election year reveals highways and bridges aren’t the only things crumbling.

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Gunn Takes Tax Cut Spotlight

For the past several years Gov. Phil Bryant has pushed hard for the Legislature to adopt a rational budget process called “performance-based budgeting.”

No doubt his realistic approach to budgeting – budgeting includes both revenues and expenses – led the Governor to put forward his reasonable request for a tax cut. He proposed an overall budget that left room to create a state earned income tax credit for working families. The program would help out families earning less than $52,000 a year at a cost to budget revenues of $79 million per year.

“I am encouraged that the Legislature has expressed serious interest in moving toward a more accountable budget system, and I look forward to working closely with House and Senate leaders to develop a plan that is right for Mississippi taxpayers,” said Bryant.

Well, so much for that.

Last week the Mississippi House, spurred on by Speaker Philip Gunn, voted 83 to 32 to whack $1.7 billion a year from future budgets by eliminating state personal income taxes. Upon full implementation that would reduce general fund revenues by 32%.

“I am so proud of the House members who stepped up to support such a transformative income tax cut proposal,” said Gunn.

So, we’ve moved from accountable budgeting of revenues and expenses to transformative tax cuts affecting revenues before any accountable budgeting affecting spending takes place. Welcome to the legislative world of “accountability.”

As you might expect in a world of smoke and mirrors, the House tax cut isn’t quite what the headlines proclaimed.

First, it’s not immediate. It would be phased in over 14 years starting in fiscal year 2017.

Second, the start-up costs through 2021 are relatively small, e.g. a $22 million revenue hit in the first year would provide a modest $50 benefit to taxpayers. The tax plan starts by eliminating the 3% tax bracket on the first $5,000 of income. In 2019 it moves to the 4% bracket on the second $5,000 of income.

Third, meaningful benefits to taxpayers and giant hits to tax revenue would not start until 2022 when elimination of the 5% tax bracket on all income over $10,000 would begin.

If hoped-for “accountable budget” spending cuts or growth in other revenues haven’t wondrously appeared by then, to avoid bankruptcy a future legislature could delay, reduce, or eliminate the bigger tax cuts.

Meanwhile, Gunn and other House members can bask in the spotlight for having “eliminated” the personal income tax.

On a side note, Gunn’s surprising $1.7 billion move stole the tax cut spotlight from both Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. Reeves’ more modest and business-focused $382 million tax cut plan passed the Mississippi Senate last week 38 to 9.

There’s a lot still to play out, but in this one move Gunn became a top dog in Mississippi politics.

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Mississippi’s Thin Racial Veneer

Race persists as a predominant part of Mississippi life.

There are the disparities revealed by objective facts:

Most Republicans are white. Most African-Americans are Democrats. All statewide elected officials are white. Most prison inmates are black. Most wealthy Mississippians, business owners, bank executives, physicians, and plant managers are white. Most poverty-level Mississippians and non-elderly Medicaid recipients are black. Most churches remain segregated. White flight from urban areas has re-segregated many city schools. And so on.

There are the contemporary racial events that hearken to our hateful past:

The sentencing of three, white Rankin County youth for the racially motivated and callous murder of a black Jackson man reminded us that race-based hate still festers in some areas. The race-tinged comments of state representative Gene Alday of Walls (I come from a town where all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call ‘welfare crazy checks.’ They don’t work.) sound like comments still heard in cafes and golf clubs around the state.

Alday did apologize days after his comments caused uproar, saying, “I am deeply sorry for my recent statements and I was wrong to say what I did.”

There are the attitudes that continue to emphasize race:

There are white people who gripe about having to continually apologize for the past and make sure all their statements are politically correct. There are black people tired of what they see as unending discriminatory practices and their friends and colleagues being treated as second class citizens.

There are the politicians, white and black, who use race to promote themselves. There are the hate-based web sites and blogs that support them.

There are the political code words that convey racial messages without saying so explicitly.

And yet, our Mississippi has changed for the better. Though, some may point to all the above and say all we have done is paste a thin veneer of political correctness over innate racism.

Consider what federal judge Carlton Reeves, himself a successful African-American, said when he sentenced the Rankin County youth. “Mississippi has a tortured past, and it has struggled mightily to reinvent itself and become a New Mississippi.” He continued, “Mississippi has a present and a future. That present and future has promise.”

Promise, indeed.

Mississippi today has more African-American elected officials than any other state. Growth rates for black businesses have been triple those for whites. The growth in college graduation rates for African-Americans has been substantially higher than for whites.

And, then, there are our younger Mississippians, most of whom (the Rankin County youth cited above notwithstanding) appear to care far less about race than their parents and grandparents.

Perhaps, Mississippi only has a thin veneer covering its racial leanings. But, then, they say civilization is just a thin veneer over barbarism. Both need continual thickening.

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The Impersonator Grabs the Spotlight

Uh oh, former state senator Tim Johnson and Republican Party Chairman Joe Nosef have turned the public spotlight on an ugly thing politicians like to keep under the rug.

Johnson is a successful impersonator, mostly of Elvis Presley. Nosef suggests Johnson also impersonated being a Republican. Over a 20-year period Johnson was elected as a City of Madison alderman, state senator, and Madison County supervisor – all as a Republican. Then, on February 4th, Johnson transfigured himself, announcing he will run for lieutenant governor as a Democrat.

“I guess this begs the question of whether he’s really been a Republican all these years or just a Republican impersonator,” Nosef told the Associated Press.

Say it ain’t so, Joe! There are politicians who impersonate their commitment to party, platform, or issues!?!

But wait.  What about all those state senators and representatives and city and county officials who converted from Democrat to Republican over the last several years?  Were they impersonating Democrats before they changed?  Or, are they now impersonating Republicans?

Has Johnson really changed? Or is he now impersonating a Democrat?

All this gets to that ugly thing – politicians who are willing to say and do whatever it takes to get elected, stay elected, and move up in power. The issue changes, they change. The electorate shifts, they shift. The opportunity to win requires a change, they change.

This is the down and dirty side of politics they don’t want spotlighted.

So, how is a voter to know if a politician is real or just an impersonator?

It’s hard.  Look at NBC news anchor Brian Williams.  He worked so hard impersonating a journalist with high integrity that his prime time show came to dominate other broadcasts. Then his untruths were outed and he was too (at least for six months). How was a general viewer to know Williams was an impersonator?

Fact is, voters should take all politicians (and TV journalists) with a grain of salt. After all, how many times have you seen them proven to be impersonators? Think and you can name several who were outed for impersonating moral leadership while secretly committing immoral acts, impersonating truth-telling when later found to be lying through their teeth, or impersonating honesty while later indicted for thievery.

This is not to say that all politicians’ changes are due to ugly things. Johnson suggests that conservative Republicans, driven to the right by Tea Party activism, left behind moderate Republicans, in effect pushing them out of the party or into the Democratic Party. Johnson will have to prove this based on his prior record, but it could be true.

Still and all, it would be enlightening if Johnson were to adopt the moniker Nosef has given him and run a Schwarzenegger-esque campaign as his real self, “the impersonator.”

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Mississippi Sports Heritage Second to None

“Stories worth remembering and savoring … again and again,” said Robin Roberts, co-host of Good Morning America.

Indeed.

Stories remembered and savored in the telling by Rick Cleveland in his book “Mississippi’s Greatest Athletes.”

Do you know the story of Roy and Commodore Cochran? “Cousins of Sen. Thad Cochran, both were track and field gold medalists, Commodore in 1924 and Roy 24 years later,” wrote Cleveland. Roy won two gold medals in the 1948 Olympics.

Or the early story of legendary Delta State baseball coach Boo Ferris? “In 1946, he won 13 straight games at Fenway Park. That is still a major league record,” wrote Cleveland.

Cleveland tells their stories plus those of greats like Bailey Howell, Charlie Conerly, and Willye B. White. Then there’s Brett Favre, Jerry Rice, Peggie Gillom, and on and on.

“When you read through the pages of this book, you will see what I am talking about when I say that Mississippi’s sports heritage is second to none,” wrote Archie Manning in the forward to the book.

Where do all these stories come from? Some from Cleveland’s 40 years as a writer covering Mississippi sports, but most from the one place that gathers, preserves, cherishes, and re-tells the stories of Mississippi’s greatest athletes – the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

Robin Roberts made her comments at the close of the 1995 film she narrated for the museum.

“We need a new film,” said Cleveland, the decorated sports writer and author who took over as executive director of the museum in 2012 following the death of Michael Rubenstein.

“It is also outdated,” he said of the 20-year-old production. “Mississippians have won three NFL MVPs, three Super Bowl MVPs, and numerous Olympic medals in those two decades.”

On the day I dropped by to pick up two autographed copies of his book, I watched the old film and must agree it’s time for a new, high-def, updated version. Cleveland was meeting with officials from the Mississippi Film Office about a new film. The projected cost is $250,000, a lot but nothing compared to our priceless sports heritage. The museum, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, has begun fund-raising for the film (go to msfame.com).

Before I left, Cleveland took me by a video kiosk and punched up Shorty McWilliams, “the SEC’s only four-time all-SEC back in the league’s history.” You can see “Shorty Mac” telling the story of his first game at LSU’s Tiger Stadium:

“Unbeknownst to me, they rolled Mike the Tiger’s cage right up behind me. I didn’t know he was there, and that 500-pound tiger roared.” Go see the rest of the story at the museum, or read it in Rick’s book.

And help the museum continue to gather, preserve, cherish, and re-tell the stories or our greatest athletes.

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Keep Schools Free from Preventable Diseases

Health science saves lives, particularly in Mississippi.

Since scientific research by Dr. Jonas Salk produced the polio vaccine in the mid-1950s, vaccines developed by health scientists have brought seven major human diseases under some control – smallpox, diphtheria, tetanus, yellow fever, whooping cough, polio, and measles. Unfortunately, hepatitis B is not yet one of them.

Mississippi can stand proud.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that for 2013-14, Mississippi had the largest percentage of kindergartners in public and private schools who have been vaccinated against diseases,” the Associated Press reported.

Mississippi’s success results primarily from a law that prohibits children from entering school until they get vaccinations prescribed by the state health officer. The state adopted this law to protect citizens, especially children, from “vaccine preventable diseases” – polio, hepatitis B, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, and chicken pox.

Comes now a group calling itself “Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights” wanting Mississippi to stand down when it comes to vaccinations. They want the law changed to allow for “conscientious objections” so their children can attend school without vaccinations.

Bless their hearts. They must not understand the awful history of contagious diseases before vaccinations.

But, are they so blind they cannot see that health science is a gift from God to ease pain, suffering, and needless death?

In 1952, prior to Salk vaccine availability, a polio epidemic in the U.S. left 3,145 dead and 21,269 paralyzed – mostly children. With the vaccine, polio had been virtually wiped out in America. It has now seen resurgence in areas allowed to refuse vaccines.

How many children, besides theirs, are they willing to put at risk?

In 2010, ten infants in California died from a whooping cough epidemic. Health officials researched the cause of the outbreak and found vaccine refusal among family members to be a key factor in the deaths.

Almost 100,000 new Americans get infected with hepatitis B each year. About 5,000 die from the disease and its complications. In areas of the world where vaccination rates are low, deaths are in the hundreds of thousands.

Do they know it just takes one?

In 2005, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, one unvaccinated 17-year-old girl returned to Indiana from a church mission Romania where she unknowingly contracted the measles. That led to the largest documented measles epidemic in the U.S. since 1996. A similar measles epidemic recently started at Disneyland.

Surely no responsible leader would willingly open school doors to contagious disease. We have enough issues for our health scientists to deal with as it is. And this is one we have under control.

Pray most legislators and our governor understand that public safety is a proper function of state government, and that includes keeping our schools free from preventable diseases.

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