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Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves speaks at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves speaks at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

PHILADELPHIA – No one spoke of tax cuts from the historic Founders Square pavilion stage during the opening day of the Neshoba County Fair political speakings, but the fact that tax cuts will be an issue during the 2015 legislative session still bubbled to the surface.

After his speech Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, in response to questions from the media, revealed a tax cut might be taken up during the 2015 session.

And hours after Reeves speech, Gov. Phil Bryant, who speaks Thursday at the Fair, unveiled a letter he sent to Reeves and Speaker Phillip Gun earlier this month advocating for the consideration of tax cuts during the 2015 session, which will be an election year.

“I believe it is time for us to provide significant tax relief to our citizens,” Bryant wrote to Gunn and Reeves.

The Republican Reeves was the final speaker Wednesday during the first of two days of Neshoba County Fair political speakings that draws the statewide media and political observers.

Talking to the media behind the Founders Square Pavilion after his speech, Reeves said in recent years the House has proposed pay raises for various state and local officials.

“We think it is time to look at a pay raise for taxpayers,” said Reeves, referring to a possible tax cut.
He did not reveal any other details.

“We have done a lot of work on it, but we are not ready to release any specifics,” said the first-term lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate.

Read more in Thursday’s Daily Journal

news_politics_greenBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – One of the speakers this week at the annual Neshoba County Fair will be unique in that he has no interest in being elected to political office.

Former Gov. William Winter is scheduled to speak at 9:50 a.m. Thursday at the annual event that draws the statewide media and other political observers.

“I am going to talk about what I believe are some important issues in Mississippi, like education, like racial reconciliation, like some of the divisive issues…,” said the 91-year-old Winter, who served as governor from 1980-84. The self-deprecating Winter said, “It’s not something you have not heard from me 100 times before.”

He then added, “I am not going to talk about the U.S. Senate.”

Both U.S. Senate Democratic challenger Travis Childers of Booneville and incumbent Republican Thad Cochran also are scheduled to speak Thursday at the Fair. Cochran was a surviver of a hotly contested Republican Party primary against state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville and faces Childers in the November general election.

Winter said he was contacted by Fair officials, who said they planned to ask all the former governors to speak this year. Winter said he readily accepted the invitation, but no one else apparently did.

In 2005, all of the former governors did speak at the event. Earlier, Winter was a regular at the Fair during a long political career. But he has not run for office since 1984 when he lost a challenge to Cochran, who was at the time running for his second term in the U.S. Senate.

This year Winter said he will urge people to support a proposed ballot initiative that would guarantee an adequate education for Mississippi students.

He also said he will touch on the fact that he believes Neshoba County was where the state’s views on civil rights began to turn around because of “the intense response” to the slaying of three civil rights workers in the county in 1964.

All the statewide elected officials are scheduled to speak either today or Thursday at the Fair’s Founders Square Pavilion. The final speaker will be Gov. Phil Bryant at 10:40 a.m. Thursday.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

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FAIR SPEAKERS

The speaking schedule at the Neshoba County Fair includes:

Today

• 10:20 a.m. – Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney

• 10:30 – Auditor Stacey Pickering

• 10:40 – Attorney General Jim Hood

• 10:50 – Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves

Thursday

• 9:30 a.m. – Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith

• 9:40 – Treasurer Lynn Fitch

• 9:50 – Former Gov. William Winter

• 10:00 – Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann

• 10:10 – House Speaker Philip Gunn

• 10:20 – U.S. Senate candidate Travis Childers

• 10:30 – U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran

• 10:40 – Gov. Phil Bryant

BRYANT

BRYANT

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant placed the blame squarely on President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act for Mississippi’s status as the only state where the number of people without health insurance has increased.

“If statistics show that the ill-conceived and so-called Affordable Care Act is resulting in higher rates of uninsured people in Mississippi, I’d say that’s yet another example of a broken promise from Barack Obama,” said the Republican governor when asked to comment on a study by WalletHub showing the percentage of uninsured in Mississippi has increased 3.34 percentage points to 21.46 percent of the total population.

Legislative Democrats countered that if the governor and others had led the effort to take advantage of the benefits and options offered by the ACA that the state, like the rest of the nation, would have seen a drop in the number of uninsured.

Only Texas, according to the study, has a higher rate of uninsured than Mississippi at 24.81 percent, but that rate actually has decreased 1.99 percentage points. Nationally, the rate of uninsured has dropped 3.66 points to 14.22 percent.

WalletHub did not have the pertinent data to determine if the percentage of uninsured residents has dropped in seven states – all with much lower rates of uninsured than Mississippi.

WalletHub, a social media company that does a litany of state rankings on various issues, used data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a national nonprofit that focuses on health issues, and from other sources to reach its conclusions.

Other recent studies, including polls conducted by Gallup, indicate that nationally the number of people with no health insurance has declined significantly.

Bryant and other state leaders in Mississippi have aggressively fought the enactment of the ACA, known as Obamacare. One of those leaders, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves declined comment on the study showing an increase in Mississippi’s uninsured, saying he was not familiar with it.

Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, also an outspoken ACA opponent, when asked whether it is a good thing for fewer people to have health insurance, said, “I don’t know if it is good or not. That is their call to make.” He said a 22-year-old, for example, might choose not to have health insurance.

Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said that expanding Medicaid to cover primarily the working poor, as is allowed under the ACA, would help dramatically reduce the number of uninsured in the state. It is estimated that if Medicaid was expanded that as many as 300,000 Mississippians could gain health care coverage.

Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said, “It is sad how many out there need health care who are not getting it. I hear from them every day. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves for not taking the federal money to expand Medicaid.”

Bryant contends the Medicaid expansion would put an additional burden on the state’s budget. Other studies have suggested a positive economic impact to Medicaid that could reduce that burden.

The WalletHub study indicates that the states that expanded Medicaid saw the biggest drop in the rate of uninsured. About half the states, led by politicians opposing the ACA, opted not to expand Medicaid coverage.

Only three Southern states participated in the Medicaid expansion – Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia. All three experienced some of the biggest drops in the percentage of uninsured residents – 10.74 percent in West Virginia, 8.35 percent in Kentucky and 7.1 percent in Arkansas.

Another option to gain health care coverage under the ACA, Brown pointed out, is the health insurance exchange. Bryant also has opposed that.

“We have not spent any on outreach on the exchange,” Brown said. “If we did, we could have probably signed up another 10,000 there.”

Still, about 63,000 Mississippians did sign up on the federally run exchange.

But Bryant said without expanding Medicaid or aggressively publicizing the exchange, “We are already making tremendous strides in increasing access to health care and health care services.”

He cited the recent move to expand the University of Mississippi Medical School to produce more doctors and the development of “telehealth” to improve access for people in rural areas of the state as initiatives that will make a difference.

“And we continue to strengthen our overall business climate and attract more job opportunities for Mississippians and their families,” the governor said.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

McDANIEL

McDANIEL

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The Mississippi Supreme Court declined Thursday to give a hearing to Chris McDaniel, who lost the June 24 Republican primary runoff to incumbent Thad Cochran.

McDaniel had requested a hearing before the full court after it ruled last week that his campaign could not have access to personal information, such as voters’ dates of birth, during an examination of data from the June 24 election.

Justices David Chandler, James Kitchens and Michael Randolph said they would have granted the hearing.

“Assuring the integrity of the electoral process is a matter of the highest priority and implicates the fundamental rights of all Mississippians,” they wrote in a dissent. “… These issues deserve the full and focused attention of this Court.”

Justices Jess Dickinson and Randy G. Pierce did not participate, meaning the four who chose not to hold a hearing were Chief Justice William Waller Jr., Ann Hannaford Lamar, Leslie King and Josiah Dennis Coleman.

McDaniel, who has been examining election data across the state after losing the June 24 runoff to Cochran by 7,667 votes out of the 392,197 cast statewide, had filed emergency orders against multiple county circuit clerks, claiming he should be given access to the personal information contained in the poll books. Plus, the campaign has argued that circuit clerks should not be allowed to charge his campaign to have the personal information redacted.

After the state’s highest court ruled against his request last week, he sought oral arguments before the entire body.

While McDaniel lost in state court, True the Vote, a Texas-based conservative group that says it is trying to stop voter fraud, is arguing many of the same issues in federal court. A hearing was held Thursday in federal court in Jackson.

McDaniel’s attorneys say the information in the poll books, such as a voter’s birthday, is needed for the planned legal challenge because multiple voters in a county might have the same name.

But Attorney General Jim Hood, who submitted a written argument before the Supreme Court claiming McDaniel should not have access to the personal information, said people with the same last name could be distinguished by the individual voter number each registered voter receives.

People affiliated with the McDaniel campaign have indicated for weeks that a challenge is likely. They allege a number of issues, ranging from people who voted in the June 3 Democratic primary ineligibly voting in the June 24 runoff, to voter fraud.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

FRIERSON

FRIERSON

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation with “humongous” problems.

To solve those problems, Frierson said Mississippi’s political leadership must ensure efficiency and effectiveness in their budgeting for state agencies.

Frierson, House Speaker Philip Gunn, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and others said the performance-based budgeting plan it unveiled during a Thursday afternoon news conference will help them be more efficient in their budgeting.

“Taxpayers deserve a strong return on their investment in state government,” Reeves said in preparedremarks provided after the news conference. “Under this plan, we’ll see the results of government programs, and if they aren’t working they will be eliminated to allow for targeted investment in our priorities.”

The strategic plan for performance and budgetary success does not necessarily mean an essential agency like transportation or education will be eliminated, Gunn explained. But after data is gathered and studied over a period of years, it might mean their state sources might need to be spent a different way to try to achieve better results.

Gunn said the key is that there will be a mind-set change from “what is government buying? to what is government accomplishing?”

The state enacted performance-based budgeting measures in the 1990s. But that law, Gunn and others said, did not require agency heads and policymakers to take data over a period of years and analyze it to try to determine what is and is not working.

Reeves said the new method will be more work for agency leaders and policymakers, but ensure better results for the taxpayers.

The 14-member Legislative Budget Committee, which consists of Gunn, Reeves and other legislative leaders, will begin the process of compiling the data when it meets in September to start the process of developing a budget plan for the full Legislature to use as a starting point when it convenes in 2015.

But Reeves and Gunn said it would take multiple years to fully enact the plan. At the beginning the plan will target corrections, transportation, health and education.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com In January, Gov. Phil Bryant, left, and RIMA CEO and President Richardo Vicintin helped break ground for Mississippi Silicon and its new $200 million production facility in Burnsville.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
In January, Gov. Phil Bryant, left, and RIMA CEO and President Richardo Vicintin helped break ground for Mississippi Silicon and its new production facility in Burnsville.

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – A federal lawsuit is asking that construction on Mississippi Silicon’s Burnsville plant be halted because a Brazilian company helping finance the project has allegedly engaged in unfair trade practices.

The complaint was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by Ohio-based Globe Metallurgical Inc., a competitor of the planned Tishomingo County company which has said it will employ 210.

The state is providing $21.5 million for building construction and workforce training, as well as a $3.5 million loan to Tishomingo County for infrastructure improvements.

The 39-page complaint alleges “a series of criminal and otherwise unlawful actions” against Brazilian-based Rima Industrial and Birmingham-based Polymet Alloys and alleges that proceeds from that criminal conduct are being used in part to construct the $200 million Mississippi Silicon plant.

Rima Holdings USA Inc. owns 80 percent of Mississippi Silicon and an affiliate of Rima Industrial.

Gary Matthews, executive director of the Tishomingo County Development Foundation, downplayed the lawsuit and charges by Globe as a competitor “trying to find an excuse to slow the project or stop it.”

Nicole Webb, a spokeswoman for Gov. Phil Bryant, also pointed out that the lawsuit was filed “by a known competitor” and added that there are “clawback” provisions in the agreement with Mississippi Silicon “that protect taxpayers in the event a company violates the terms of its agreement.”

According to the complaint, in the early 1990s Rima was cited for selling silicon in the United States at an “unfairly low” price, placing U.S. producers at a disadvantage. U.S. law prohibits foreign manufacturers from selling various commodities, such as timber and silicon metal, at prices “unfairly” lower than the prices charged by U.S. companies.

After found to be selling at “unfairly low” prices, the U.S. Department of Commerce essentially assessed a fee on Rima silicon sold in the U.S. In the early 2000s, Rima convinced the Commerce Department to revoke the finding.

But the Globe lawsuit alleges that Rima did not inform the Commerce Department that it had a U.S. partner – Polyment – that was selling the Brazilan silicone at the lower prices. Polymet, the lawsuit claims, has less than 10 employees and has connection to Rima in terms of its personnel. The lawsuit says the owners of Polymet cannot be determined because of the privacy laws in the Grand Caymen Islands where it is registered.

Plus, the lawsuit says that Rima, its chief executive officer, Ricardo Vicintin, and other members of the Vicintin family are under indictment in Brazil for various charges related in part to the use of legally protected Brazilian forests for coal to operate their plants, including potentially Mississippi Silicon.

Rima and Vicintin faces charges going back to 2010 related “to environmental crime, false statements, money laundering and tax evasion” in Brazil, according to the complaint filed by Globe in the D.C. court.

Vicintin attended the groundbreaking of Mississippi Silicon in January with the governor. Speaking on behalf of Bryant, Webb said, “Neither our office nor MDA (Mississippi Development Authority) has any prior knowledge of any charges pertaining to the company, its parent company, or any of its executives.”

The lawsuit seeks not only to halt construction of Mississippi Silicon, but also to receive monetary damages.

Keith Turner, a Jackson attorney with Watkins & Eager, representing Mississippi Silicon, said Globe has tried at various steps in the process to stop the construction of the Tishomingo County facility, including trying to challenge the awarding of environmental permits for construction.

He said the lawsuit was “another example of Globe’s continuing effort to try to stop a potential competitor.”

David Tuten, president and CEO of Mississippi Silicon, said Wednesday he was not familiar with the allegations made against his company or Rima by Globe. He said work is continuing on the plant that is scheduled to be in operation in late July 2015.

It will produce silicon metal for a variety of industries in the U.S. and Canada including aluminum, automotive and chemical. Some materials also could go to Japan and South Korea.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

BOBBY HARRISON

BOBBY HARRISON

For years – literally decades – Thad Cochran has been one of Mississippi’s most favored, if not favorite, politician.

Hardly any Mississippian – regardless of race, political affiliation, socioeconomic condition, religion or residency – had anything bad to say about Cochran, who was elected to the U.S. House in 1972 and to the U.S. Senate in 1978.

Even his 1984 campaign, which no doubt was his toughest until this year, was a civil affair. After all, both Cochran and his 1984 Democratic opponent, former Gov. William Winter, have through the years been about as civil as two politicians could be.

In August 2006, a Survey USA poll listed Cochran’s favorability rating at 66 percent and 28 percent negatives. I don’t even get ratings like that in my own home.

Cochran probably does not get favorability ratings like that now after the bruising Republican primary and runoff against second-term state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville, a Tea Party favorite.

In a recent poll by Public Policy Polling, known as PPP, 47 percent of the voters approved of the job Cochran was doing while 37 percent disapproved – a dramatic drop from the earlier Survey USA numbers.

It should be pointed out that Cochran still has a 16-point lead in the poll against his November general election opponent – Democrat Travis Childers of Booneville, a former member of the U.S. House. But Cochran garnered only 40 percent support against Childers – a surprisingly low number for a six-term incumbent. And while Mississippi has strong Republican tendencies, it is unusual for a Democrat to get less than 40 percent of the vote in statewide elections.

It should not be surprising that Cochran’s approval rating has dropped. After all, he was hammered hard by McDaniel for not being conservative enough. McDaniel actually led the first primary, but could not garner the majority needed to avoid the runoff.

In the runoff, Cochran did something unusual. He moved to the center and courted Democratic voters to help him defeat McDaniel. While the number of Democrats lured to vote for him in the Republican runoff has been exaggerated by some, there is no question that in an election where Cochran won by less than 2 percentage points they made a difference.

But since that election, McDaniel and his supporters have not gone away. They have accused Cochran and his supporters of everything from relying on Democrats to win a Republican primary, to race baiting to actual voter fraud.

The PPP poll showed that at the current time Cochran actually has higher approval rating with Democrats than Republicans. But it is reasonable to expect most of those Democrats will return to Childers in November.

If that is the case, it does present some interesting dynamics for the Cochran campaign.

Does he run back to the right in the general election and does he attack Childers for being beholden to President Barack Obama and Washington liberals? That line of attack is a common one by Mississippi Republicans against Democrats. But will it work for Cochran when that is essentially what McDaniel accused Cochran of doing, and Cochran responded by courting Democratic voters to help him win the Republican primary?

Plus, there is another element. Most would agree that the Republican primary between Cochran and McDaniel was contentious and often the attacks became personal. Some would say they still are even after the election is over.

Now, Cochran supporters can say the campaign was personal and contentious because of McDaniel. But that is not the perception of McDaniel voters, who represent a significant segment of the Republican base.

Because of this, Cochran for the first time in his long and iconic political career is perceived by some as being a negative campaigner. He has had the luxury in the past because of the good will he has built through the years of not having to engage to any extent in negative campaigning.

He has not had to get his hands dirty. The perception is that with the aid of former Gov. Haley Barbour and his nephews – Henry and Austin – who are working to help Cochran win re-election, he got his hands dirty in the Republican primary. Will he again in November?

Thad Cochran has been and is viewed as a heavy favorite to win re-election to a seventh term in the U.S. Senate.

But there is no doubt the bruising and unusual nature of the Republican primary and the attacks that continue from fellow Republicans have created some interesting dynamics. Childers is able to sit back and watch Cochran be hammered as an electoral thief, and he can rightfully say he has nothing to do with those charges.

The question is can Childers give people a reason to vote for him during a time frame when some doubts have been created with some of the electorate about Cochran? Childers has a limited amount of time, during this vulnerable period for Cochran, to establish himself as a legitimate candidate – one to be taken seriously.

Bobby Harrison is Capitol Bureau reporter for the Daily Journal in Jackson. Contact him at (601) 946-9931 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.

other_state_newsBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Insurance premiums could skyrocket as much as 95 percent for about 60,000 Mississippians if a court ruling striking down a key provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act stands.

“It would be devastating for Mississippi working families,” said Roy Mitchell, executive director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program of a ruling released Tuesday by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

By a 2-1 margin, the Washington, D.C., court found that the Affordable Care Act was written in such a manner that people who sign up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, could not receive federal subsidies to help pay for their insurance if their state did not create its own health insurance exchange.

The law’s supporters contend the reference to state exchanges was a language glitch and that it was the clear intent of Congress to allow subsidies for insurance obtained on either state or federally run exchanges.

The Obama administration will seek a hearing before the full 11-member D.C. Court of Appeals, which observers said because of its makeup would likely be inclined to overturn the ruling that could make insurance unaffordable for as many as 5 million people nationally, including the more than 60,000 in Mississippi. In the meantime, the subsidies remain in effect.

Indeed, also on Tuesday, another federal circuit court – this one based in Virginia – issued a contradictory ruling, saying people in states that rely on the federal exchange instead of a state exchange are eligible for the subsidies.

Only 15 states established their own health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act. People in those states would not lose their federal subsidies to help purchase health insurance even if the ruling of the D.C. court stands.

In many Republican-led states, the political leadership opted not to create their own exchange because they did not want to participate in helping enact the ACA. Other states opted not to start their own exchange because they saw no need to duplicate what the federal government already was doing.

In Mississippi, Republican Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney supported establishing an exchange because he reasoned he could mold it to fit state needs better than federal officials. But Republican Gov. Phil Bryant blocked the establishment of the exchange, saying he did not want to do anything to help the ACA succeed.

Despite opposition from Bryant and much of the rest of the state’s Republican leadership, about 63,000 Mississippians still have obtained health insurance through the exchange, according to various sources. Mitchell, of the state Health Advocacy Program, said about 90 percent of those people received federal subsides because of their income level. He said many received “substantial subsidies.”

Chaney pointed out Tuesday that the enforcement of the ruling of the D.C. court was delayed by the judges for 45 days and that he believes it would be appealed before then. Still, he said the ruling creates “uncertainty.”

Asked if he would try again to create a state-based exchange to dispel that uncertainty, he said, “not with statewide elected officials being in conflict” on the issue.

Bryant indicated Tuesday he still opposes a statewide exchange even if it means 60,000 Mississippians could face higher premiums.

Nicole Webb, a spokeswoman for the governor, said, “Today is just another example of how deeply flawed this law is, and he remains opposed to signing Mississippi taxpayers on to what many have rightfully described as a train wreck.”

A study by Avalere Health, an independent health care consulting firm, estimated premiums would increase 76 percent nationwide for people who receive their insurance on the federal exchange if the D.C. court ruling stands. In Mississippi, Avalere concluded the premiums would increase between 80 and 95 percent, making it difficult for many people who work at jobs where their employers provide no health insurance to retain their health care coverage.

Other studies already have pointed out Mississippi is the only state where the percentage of uninsured people is increasing. Mississippi leaders opted not to participate in another provision in the ACA, expanding Medicaid for the working poor. As many as 300,000 Mississippians could have obtained coverage through that provision.

According to WalletHub, a social media company that allows people to shop for “smarter financial decisions” and does a litany of state rankings on various issues, Mississippi now has the nation’s second highest level of uninsured people at 21.6 percent of its population.

Of the D.C. court ruling, Bryant said, “As I have long said, I believe the IRS violated the law when it authorized massive taxpayer funded subsidies in the 36 states that declined to establish Obamacare exchanges, thereby triggering unwarranted taxes and mandates on both individuals and employers. Today’s ruling is another step in dismantling Obamacare and returning the control of individual health care to the people.”

Asked about the possibility of Mississippians losing insurance they got through the Obamacare exchanges, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said, “The question of what happens to Mississippians and thousands across the country affected by today’s ruling lies at the feet of President Obama and Democratic Congressional leadership. The flaws in Obamacare are endless.”

Mitchell said of the reaction of state leaders to the ruling and the prospect of people losing health care, “We continue to be at the bottom in so many health care indicators because our elected leaders work hard at it.”

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

COCHRAN

COCHRAN

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – When Thad Cochran last spoke at the Neshoba County Fair in 1997, he had to dispel rumors that he would be a candidate for governor in 1999.

“I really think it is my duty to the people of Mississippi and to the people of the U.S. Senate to continue my service in the Senate,” he told fairgoers on a hot August day in 1997, echoing similar comments he made at the 1996 fair.

After the speech, when surrounded by members of the media, he made it clear he would not be a candidate for governor in 1999. In a playful interview with the media, the then-59-year-old Cochran did not rule out a future run for governor – citing then-West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood, who was first elected at age 34 and years later re-elected at age 74.

Borrowing from a Beatles tune, Cochran said, “If you still need me and love me when I am 74, check back with me then.”

Cochran, now 76, is scheduled to speak for the first time since 1997 at the historic Neshoba County Fair political speakings on July 31. There will be no speculation about the six-term incumbent U.S. senator running for governor.

CHILDERS

CHILDERS

He is running for re-election to the U.S. Senate and the Pontotoc County native who now calls Oxford home has been involved in the most fierce campaign of his political career that started in 1972 when he was elected to the U.S. House representing the Jackson area and southwest Mississippi.

Cochran defeated previously little-known state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Tea Party favorite, in a bare-knuckled Republican primary. McDaniel received the most votes in the first primary on June 3, but not the majority needed to avoid a runoff. In the June 24 runoff, Cochran won by 7,667 votes out of the 392,197 cast statewide.

Since the loss, the McDaniel campaign has alleged instances of fraud and voter irregularities on the part of the Cochran campaign and its supporters and has indicated it plans to file a legal challenge to the results.

The Cochran campaign, which admits it has been preoccupied by what it says are baseless allegations by McDaniel, has said it’s turning its focus to the November general election against Democrat Travis Childers of Booneville, a former U.S. House member.

Campaign spokesman Jordan Russell said, “Sen. Cochran is looking forward to kicking off the fall campaign at the Fair and sharing his conservative message with the people of Mississippi.”

The Cochran seat was never thought to be a factor this November when the Republicans strive to pick up six seats to capture that new majority.

And most still believe the seat is safe for Republicans. But there is at least a little lingering doubt caused by the hard feelings created by the bruising primary where McDaniel supporters say the election was stolen from them.

Childers wants debates

Up to this point, Childers, who will speak just before Cochran on July 31 at the Neshoba County Fair, has run a relatively low-key campaign. He won the Democratic primary with ease against token opposition and has been overshadowed by the McDaniel-Cochran feud.

“Their race really became about personalities,” Childers said recently. “I don’t know why. But it should always be about issues. I look forward to explaining my position on the issues … and quite frankly we should be debating issues and not talking about personalities.”

Childers promises that if elected he will avoid the partisan bickering that has engulfed Washington, and “will work with anybody who has a good idea.”

Childers has suggested four debates between him and Cochran – one in each congressional district.

He said that suggestion is “not overreaching and not too hard on anybody.”

Cochran refused to debate McDaniel and has not agreed to any debates with Childers.

But in less than two weeks, Cochran and Childers will make their cases before fairgoers and the statewide media in back-to-back speeches under the historic tin-roofed Founders Square pavilion.

Last time out

Much will be different from the last time Cochran spoke at the Fair. In 1997, he was viewed as a possible gubernatorial candidate for two reasons – he had lost a bid in 1996 against then-fellow Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott for Senate majority leader and many Republicans feared they had no other candidate to compete with the Democrats’ top tier candidates, then Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Attorney General Mike Moore.

At the time, Cochran said no thanks, but jokingly and perhaps prophetically told voters to call him if they still needed and loved him when he is 74.

A now 76-year-old Cochran is hoping voters do and is going back to the Neshoba County Fair political speakings to make his case.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.

news_politics_greenBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The state Supreme Court has denied the emergency request of Chris McDaniel, the losing candidate in the June 24 Republican runoff for U.S. Senate, that the Harrison County Circuit Clerk’s office be ordered to give his campaign access to election poll books, including the dates of birth of registered voters.

McDaniel, who is examining election data across the state after losing the June 24 runoff to incumbent Thad Cochran by 7,667 votes out of the 392,197 cast statewide, has filed emergency orders against multiple county circuit clerks, claiming he should be given access to the personal information contained on the poll books. Plus, the campaign has argued that circuit clerks should not be allowed to charge his campaign to have the personal information redacted.

“A candidate for office in Mississippi should not have to raise $100,000 to verify an election was carried out legally,” McDaniel said, referring to the cost of the redaction.

Earlier this week the McDaniel campaign asked the Supreme Court to rule on the court challenge against the Harrison County circuit clerk. Presumably the ruling in that case will affect clerks statewide.

On Thursday, the state’s highest court ruled that poll books are not part of the ballot box data that the candidate does have access to. Also, personal information must be redacted before being made available to the public in accordance with the Mississippi Public Records Act.

The issue has become a focal point in the effort of McDaniel to complete a review of election results in all 82 counties. Mitch Tyner, a Jackson attorney representing McDaniel, has indicated that the campaign will file a legal challenge to the outcome of the June 24 runoff. The campaign claims Cochran’s margin of victory was garnered through questionable, fraudulent and ineligible voters – such as people who had voted in the June 3 Democratic primary, making them ineligible to participate in the Republican runoff.

McDaniel’s attorneys say personal information in the poll books, such as a voter’s birthday, is needed for the planned legal challenge because multiple voters in a county might have the same name.

But Attorney General Jim Hood, who submitted a written argument before the Supreme Court claiming McDaniel should not have access to the personal information, said people with the same last name could be distinguished by the individual voter number each registered voter receives.

“Viewing or copying a voter’s date of birth is simply not necessary for any conceivable purpose in formulating an election challenge,” the attorney general’s argument before the Supreme Court stated.

The attorney general also argued that making such information available to be public is particularly dangerous because of the growing problem of identity theft.

Justice Josiah D. Coleman of Oxford wrote the opinion. None of the nine members dissented, though, Justices David Chandler of Ackerman Michael Randolph of Hattiesburg and James W. Kitchens of Rankin County said they could not render a judgement without additional information and recommended the Court take steps to gather that information. Justices Jess Dickinson and Randy G. Pierce, both of whom represent the Gulf Coast, did not participate.

Tyner said the McDaniel campaign will request that the full court hear in person from the parties involved to provide the additional information the three justices said they needed.

McDaniel said, “We are confident the full panel of justices will do the right thing, and we remain undeterred in our efforts to gain access to the election records in the counties where we have not been granted access to records thus far.”

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who oversees elections, called the McDaniel lawsuit “a waste of time and taxpayer money. Voters have a right to have their personal information protected.”

When the McDaniel campaign examined election data in Lee County, Circuit Clerk Joyce Loftin said she covered up the birthdays with pieces of cardboard and the campaign workers did not raise objections.

A similar lawsuit has been filed in federal court by Texas-based True the Vote, a conservative group that looks for instances of voter fraud.

The Cochran campaign, which has said there were few instances of questionable ballots, said it is focusing on the November general election and not any potential challenge of the June 24 results by the McDaniel campaign.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com