And, so it begins.
The budget crisis, Census-driven redistricting, ballot initiatives, and statewide elections make this one of the more dramatic political years in recent history.
The legislative session will set the stage. Campaign promising and advertising will highlight Act One, with August primary elections dominating Act Two and November general elections concluding Act Three. Special scenes may feature redistricting lawsuits and Voting Rights Act complaints.
You might ask will any of this have real impact on the challenges Mississippi faces?
Well, a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and State Treasurer will be elected since incumbents are vacating those positions. Haley Barbour can’t run for re-election. Phil Bryant is giving up his post as Lieutenant Governor to run for Governor. And Tate Reeves will soon announce he is giving up his post as State Treasurer to run for Lieutenant Governor.
The three ballot initiatives to amend the state Constitution have to pass through the Legislature. Legislators can propose alternatives that would appear on the November ballot along with originals, giving voters a choice. So far there has been no indication that alternatives will be proposed.
The controversial voter ID initiative would be law now but for the unexplained actions by Republican Senators Merle Flowers, Billy Hewes, Joey Fillingane and Chris McDaniel to kill a compromise bill favored by fellow Republicans. Now, Fillingane is a leader of the ballot initiative.
The “personhood” initiative is a popular pro-life proposal, but contains one dubious segment that gives “personhood” status to clones. That segment should, but may not, get careful scrutiny.
The ballot initiative sponsored by outgoing Farm Bureau president David Waide would limit taking land through eminent domain and, economic developers say, hamper job creation.
These may well pass, but none will have much real impact on Mississippi’s challenges. Their impact will be mostly political.
Likewise, redistricting will have significant political impact but do little to address Mississippi’s challenges.
That leaves the legislative session to look at for accomplishments with real impact. It’s too early to tell what will happen, but keep an eye on S.B. 2024 introduced by Sen. Billy Hewes. This bill would implement school district reorganization and cost cutting recommended by the Governor’s Commission on Mississippi Educational Structure by limiting counties to one school district and one school board. (Rep. Bill Denny introduced a similar bill in the House, H.B. 234.)
Hewes is Senate Pro Tem and a candidate for Lieutenant Governor. It’s highly unusual for major candidates, during an election year, to take on controversial legislation with real impact.
It will be worth watching to see if Hewes, and any others, get curtain calls for persevering support of such measures.
If so, this year’s drama could turn into real performance.