Governor Bryant Is No Fool

Most politicians know Mr. Pot should think twice before calling Mr. Kettle names.

Oh, they can enthusiastically besmirch each other’s policies and positions, but name calling besmirches the namer more than the named.

So it was in Rep. Steve Holland’s hand written note last week to Gov. Phil Bryant. “I think you’re a fool to turn your back on the working poor,” read the note. Holland’s intent may have been to lambast the Governor’s positions on Medicaid expansion and needs of the working poor, but his words attacked the Governor, not his positions.

The Governor is no fool. He is a well-liked, charismatic, adept politician who takes positions congruent with his record and campaign promises. We are free to disagree with his positions and call his Medicaid position foolish, but it is disingenuous and malicious to call the Governor a fool.

Holland’s note came after the Governor published an op-ed piece defending his Medicaid position. Not many days earlier, Holland wrote an op-ed piece defending PERS, the state retirement system. I think Steve’s position bordered on foolish, but that doesn’t make him a fool. Quite the opposite, he is one of our most opinionated, entertaining, and dedicated legislators. You always know where Steve stands, whether you agree with him or not.

Right now, he should stand up and apologize to the Governor.

Holland’s piece on PERS dealt with the proposal of the PERS Study Commission and Sen. Nancy Collins to add independent members with financial know-how to the PERS Board. As it stands, PERS Board members are people who get, or will get, money from PERS, an apparent conflict of interest.

Holland says this is as it should be. “How many Mississippians, if given a proper choice, would wish to have politicians in charge of their money and their financial future? Does it not seem both fair and equitable for PERS members to elect their own Board of Trustees?”

Holland’s foolish position is that PERS’ money belongs to PERS members so they should control it. Not so. PERS is a publicly funded, state guaranteed, state-owned retirement plan. That’s why taxpayers, not PERS members, have had to bail out PERS since 2006. In 2012 alone, state taxpayers through local and state governments had to ante-up $228 million over and above regular contributions to cover PERS’ shortfalls.

The recommendation to add board members with financial know-how was to try and help the board make better, less risky financial decisions, not politicize the board as Holland argues. Indeed, elected members would still have a majority.

Better PERS decisions would have allowed state and local governments to keep that $228 million bail-out, hold down taxes, and/or fund needed programs…including the Medicaid expansion Holland wants and the Governor says we can’t afford.

No fooling.

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