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LLOYD GRAY

LLOYD GRAY

Lt. Ronnie Partlow of the Lee County Sheriff’s Department is a burly, tough-looking guy you wouldn’t want to go up against. But he’s got a soft spot – or better stated, a big heart – for kids in trouble with the law.

He’s director of the Lee County Juvenile Detention Center, and that big heart keeps him from giving up on kids other people consider lost causes.

A big part of the reason is that he knows what most have had to contend with in their young lives, and it’s not an overabundance of positive parental attention. He sees it every day.

He sees it when a mother can’t be bothered to come pick up her child when it’s time for him to leave the detention center, saying she doesn’t have a way to get there. When he takes the child home, he sees two cars in the front and a barbecue going on in the back.

He sees it in the 11-year-old boy who’s angry at everybody and trusting of no one because he’s been sexually abused by the men he trusted in his life. He sees it in the 16-year-old girl they gave a going-away party for at the center who cried through the whole thing because she’d never had a party of any kind, or a birthday cake – ever.

He sees it every time a child asks him, “Why won’t my mama (or my daddy) come get me?”

Says Partlow: “How do you answer that? What do you say?”

He even sees it when he hears somebody say, “All that kid needs is a good butt-whipping.” He remembers watching a mom do just that at the center – in front of everybody – and it wasn’t very long before the kid was back for shoplifting.

“Sometimes a butt-whipping isn’t the answer,” Partlow says. “Sometimes these kids need love.”

That’s what he aims to give them. On Friday he told the Tupelo Kiwanis Club, as he’s telling any civic groups or churches that will hear him, that the smallest things go a long way.

When no one has ever paid any attention to you, or if they did they cursed, belittled or abused you, just listening is a great gift. When you’ve never had a birthday cake, it’s amazing what somebody caring enough to give you one can do to change, at least for a moment, your perspective on the world.

Partlow isn’t naive. He knows the odds that all the kids he deals with on a daily basis will get their lives turned around are slim. But he’s determined that some of them will.

“If all we do is keep them here, then turn them back out without changing them, what’s our purpose?” he asks.

He’s been in his current job since 2010. Not long ago he went to Sheriff Jim Johnson and said he wanted to do something more than just cycle these kids through the system. The sheriff gave him the go-ahead.

He heard about a positive behavior intervention and support program, similar to what some schools have, in Hinds County. He paid a surprise visit there and was impressed.

He’s started it on a limited basis in Lee County, with good results. Kids who behave well during the week may be rewarded with a movie and popcorn over the weekend. Those who don’t miss out.

Some churches have gotten interested and visited the kids, bringing snacks and just talking with them. Partlow would like more involvement. In fact, he’d like to have something to reward the good behavior of kids 365 days a year.

That takes money, time and effort from the community. He’s asking people to help out in the simplest ways – pay for a birthday cake, pick up refreshments, come up with ideas and, yes, money for little rewards.

I don’t usually make pitches in this column. I will for this. Partlow’s office number is 620-1712. Tell him you want to help; he’ll tell you how you can.

This is important work, and if you hear Ronnie Partlow, you’ll know just how important.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.

LLOYD GRAY

LLOYD GRAY

With a little more than two months remaining in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, challenger Chris McDaniel has this to ponder: It’s been 72 years since an incumbent Mississippi senator was voted out of office, and he’d been there only a year.

Wall Doxey, the incumbent in the 1942 election, had won a special election the year before to fill out the unexpired term of Sen. Pat Harrison, who died in office. James O. Eastland – who served a few months as an appointed senator before the special election – came back to defeat Doxey in the next round.

Thus began a 36-year Senate run for the cigar-chomping, Scotch-sipping Delta planter. He has been one of only five men – including John Stennis, Trent Lott, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker – who have represented Mississippi in the U.S. Senate since the late 1940s. Their cumulative record in re-election campaigns is 20 wins and no losses. McDaniel’s re-election target, Cochran, is 5-0 in such races.

McDaniel is banking on this year being different. He’s hoping the idea of the influential veteran insider – for decades Mississippi’s prototypical senator – no longer resonates with the voters. He and his Tea Party supporters and national political action committee bankrollers are counting on a revolt against business-as-usual in Washington – at least among Republican primary voters – to carry the day against representatives of the status quo, even the GOP establishment status quo.

But after months of active campaigning, McDaniel’s goal remains a long shot. Cochran has made many friends and few enemies over the years, and that certainly helps his re-election prospects for a seventh term. As important, however, is Mississippians’ historic comfort with long-term incumbents.

In Mississippi, congressional incumbency – in the House as well as the Senate – used to be a virtual guarantee of a lifetime job. With rare exceptions, the only time a new person would get elected to Congress would be when a seat opened by retirement or resignation.

That changed in 2010. Two congressional incumbents – one a long-timer, another finishing his first full term – lost their seats to challengers. But Gene Taylor in the coastal 4th District, a 21-year-veteran, and Travis Childers in Northeast Mississippi’s 1st District, who’d been in the House two and a half years, were Democrats in Republican districts. The voters’ association of the two with national Democrats in Congress and the White House, in spite of the fact that both often defied the party leadership, made their defeat in the first Obama administration mid-term election predictable – at least in hindsight.

Still, Alan Nunnelee in the 1st and Steven Palazzo in the 4th did what no House challenger had done since 1964 in Mississippi by defeating an incumbent in a race where redrawing of districts to pit incumbents against one another or create a black majority district had not played a role.

This year’s elections – and not just for the Senate – will test whether that was an aberration. While Nunnelee will cruise to re-election against nominal Democratic and third-party opposition, Taylor, the 21-year congressional veteran, is challenging Palazzo for his old seat, this time as a Republican. If Palazzo can clear this hurdle, he may join the ranks of the congressmen-for-life who have dominated Mississippi politics.

That brings us back to Cochran and McDaniel. Thad Cochran, who served six years in the House before election to the Senate, has been in Washington for 44 years. Not only has Chris McDaniel never served in Washington, some of his campaign statements indicate he’s not familiar with policy details in the nation’s capital.

Some might find that refreshing, others unsettling. The Cochran campaign refrain focuses on the latter. So far there doesn’t seem to be a groundswell in the direction of the challenger over the long-revered incumbent. In a state that doesn’t cotton much to change of any kind, McDaniel’s window of opportunity to break that 20-0 streak by changing the dynamics of this campaign won’t last much longer.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.

LLOYD GRAY

LLOYD GRAY

If you’re a baby boomer, think back to your childhood. You probably spent a lot of time playing outside, even wandering around the neighborhood. You were allowed to roam a bit, as long as your parents – or mostly, your mother – knew you were somewhere in the vicinity.

Your parents didn’t see it as their responsibility to keep you entertained. That was your job, and you made the best of it. You were expected to report in every now and then, and to show up when called for meals.

You were involved in a few non-school activities organized and supervised by adults – maybe Little League or piano lessons – but for the most part you lived your free time, which was most of your time, in a culture created, organized and run by children.

If you lived within a reasonable distance, you likely walked or rode your bike to and from school at least some of the time, as well as other places, such as friends’ houses. If you lived in a small town, a rite of passage may have been the first time you were allowed to walk or bike downtown. Your parents saw these excursions not as hazard-filled risks but as a means for you to develop competence, independence and self-confidence.

Your parents rarely, if ever, did homework with or for you. They might answer a question you asked, but they’d just as likely encourage you to go look it up or figure it out yourself.

Now, think about your own children. Did they have quite the same freedom? Likely not. Did they have more adult organization, supervision and helicopter parenting than you? Likely so.

And your grandchildren, if you have them? That’s a whole different world.

When was the last time you saw a group of kids out in the neighborhood at dusk on a summer evening playing some sort of kid-organized game in which they made the rules and settled the disputes?

The disappearance of the old culture of childhood as a time of independent exploration and unstructured time free of adult-driven imperatives is owed to many factors, but two are most prominent. The first is our contemporary society’s fear of risk – any risk – for children that translates into an obsession with safety not supported by data. The second is the middle- and upper-class anxiety-filled transformation of parenting into product development – molding a child not simply to be a decent human being who is capable of making his or her way in the world, but to competitive perfection.

At least that’s the view of Hanna Rosin, who in a provocative cover article in the current edition of The Atlantic magazine titled “Hey! Parents, Leave Those Kids Alone” points to new research that overprotective parents who manage all aspects of their kids’ lives will actually produce “more fearful and less creative” adults.

At a time when parents are spending more time than ever with their children – even though most mothers now work outside the home – children on the whole are less well-adjusted than before. And the fears we have for children’s safety – that the world is a much more dangerous place than it used to be for children – simply aren’t supported by the data, whether it’s abductions by strangers or accidental injuries or deaths. Rosin blames this perception on a few highly publicized cases that are in fact exceedingly rare.

She’s not calling for abandoning rational risk-reduction for children, or for not providing the kind of oversight that’s the job of any responsible parent. But in prohibiting – or even in not encouraging – elements of the freer childhoods of the past, we are in fact stunting the development of strong, secure, happy adults. And in rushing children from one scheduled, organized “enrichment” experience to the next, we deprive them of potentially the most enriching, creative moments of all in crafting their own worlds of creativity and imagination.

As one who often roamed the woods behind my house, rode my bike to school, played pick-up wiffle ball all day long in summer with no adult in sight, then capped off the evening after supper with a neighborhood game of Kick the Can, it sounds right to me.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.

LLOYD GRAY

LLOYD GRAY

OK, it’s a bit corny. But give it its due: “Center of Positivity” – the new Tupelo promotional theme from the Convention and Visitors Bureau – captures an important community trait that has distinguished Tupelo through the years.

Maybe we know it as the “Tupelo spirit,” or as the can-do attitude that has made a big difference in what this community has been able to accomplish. Mindset and attitude aren’t everything, but without a healthy belief in your own capacity for progress, no community will ever achieve its full potential.

Historically, as success built upon success, the attitude evolved, “We can do that – this is Tupelo, after all.” I’ve lived in communities where the attitude is more like, “This is (fill in the blank), for heaven’s sake. We can’t do that.”

The contrast in those attitudes directly affects how a community responds to challenges.

Tupelo has some big challenges right now. But then it always has. What propelled the community to meet past challenges was, first of all, a belief that it could.

“Positivity” can have its downside, as in being mistaken for a complacent satisfaction with the status quo. The late Gov. Kirk Fordice’s proclamation, “Only positive Mississippi spoken here,” comes to mind as a slogan that suggested pointing out problems was verboten.

Some degree of complacency has contributed to a festering of problems – such as erosion of neighborhoods and loss of middle-class families to surrounding areas – that took far too long for Tupelo to acknowledge and confront.

Tupelo’s historic “positivity” has not been in proclaiming that all is well, coasting on our accolades and resting comfortably. In its best moments, Tupelo has said, no, all is not well, or will not be well, if we don’t get busy meeting whatever the unfolding challenge might be.

A can-do attitude is not about denying problems, but confronting them – turning them, as the saying goes, into opportunities. The CVB video for the new campaign offers some specific examples from Tupelo’s recent and not-so-recent past.

It remains to be seen what the new “Center of Positivity” campaign does or doesn’t do for Tupelo’s external image, but it can be an internal reminder for the community’s citizens and elected leadership of a heritage that needs reaffirmation.

Since details of the 2010 Census showing stalled growth in Tupelo publicly confirmed what had been evident for more than a decade, city leaders for the first time acknowledged the urgency of action. But the major proposals put forward in the aftermath of that recognition were, for the most part, met with a wave of “negativity” – resistance that didn’t include suggested alternative courses of action. It was as if that “can-do” attitude had turned into a “don’t-do” anything that rocks the boat.

Fortunately, the momentum for citywide neighborhood redevelopment initiatives is slowly picking up, and competing ideas are on the table. “Positivity” doesn’t mean that everyone will agree on how to proceed, but it should mean that a consensus will emerge and a plan will be put into action. Stalemate and inaction in the face of challenge are the antithesis of Tupelo’s heritage.

Luckily, we have the very recent example of Tupelo’s refusal to accept that decline in its public school system was inevitable. The community rose up both to hold its schools accountable and to reinforce their centrality to the city’s future quality of life, and the turnaround in school performance has been swift and certain. That wouldn’t have happened in a community without Tupelo’s legacy of continuous self-improvement.

How true Tupelo remains to that heritage – that “positivity,” if that’s what you want to call it – will tell the tale of the city’s future.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.

Lloyd Gray MugWhat an interesting political year 2014 is shaping up to be.

No big story in the 1st Congressional District, where Alan Nunnelee gets a free pass in the primary and no major opposition in the general election. But even that development is interesting in itself, considering that Nunnelee hasn’t been a tea party favorite and has had to fend off Republican primary challengers in the last two elections who tried to position themselves to his right.

The latest twist to the 2014 campaign season was a long-anticipated announcement from the man Nunnelee ousted from Congress in 2010, Democrat Travis Childers. The former Prentiss County chancery clerk on Friday officially jumped into the U.S. Senate race.

It was already a closely watched battle that’s a microcosm of Republican divisions nationally with the tea party-blessed challenge of longtime Sen. Thad Cochran by state Sen. Chris McDaniel. Democrats likely would not have mounted a serious campaign if only Cochran were running, but the idea of McDaniel upsetting the incumbent and having a clear path to the Senate got Childers and other Dems pondering the possibilities.

It’s still a longshot these days for a Democrat to win a statewide race. Only twice has that happened in the last 10 years – both by Attorney General Jim Hood.

Childers’ win in the 2008 special 1st District congressional election to replace Roger Wicker after Wicker’s appointment to the Senate was a surprise in a solid Republican district. Though there were extenuating circumstances – including a weak Republican nominee – Childers as a small-town populist demonstrated the ability to draw votes that Democrats in Mississippi hadn’t gotten for a while, especially in congressional elections.

But in spite of Childers’ Blue Dog conservative Democrat bonafides, his association with the Democratic congressional leadership turned out to be too big a burden to bear in the 2010 Republican surge.

So what are his chances in a statewide race? Against McDaniel, not insurmountable. Against Cochran, pretty slim.

So that raises the question: Will Childers mount a full-blown, no-holds-barred campaign if Cochran is the nominee? Some speculate he won’t, though he’s given no such indication.

It also suggests the possibility that some hard-core Democrats might vote in the Republican primary for McDaniel in hopes that the candidate they perceive as more vulnerable to Childers wins. But somebody will have to vote in the Democratic primary, where Childers will face Bill Marcy of Vicksburg, who’s run the last two times for Congress in the 2nd District as a Republican.

And then there’s the question of the potential impact of a Democratic primary on Cochran’s chances, since without a primary or a serious Democratic challenger some Dems may have voted in the GOP primary for Cochran out of fear of McDaniel’s cut-federal-spending-to-the-bone impact on Mississippi or out of general respect for Cochran.

It’s all enough to make a politico’s head spin and political conspiracy theorists unleash their imaginations. But the bottom line is that Childers must have looked at some polls and campaign financing prospects that at least convinced him he might have a chance.

Meanwhile, way down south in the coastal 4th District they have a donnybrook coming. Gene Taylor, who was a lone-wolf Democrat during his two-plus decades in Congress before Steven Palazzo upset him in 2010, is trying to regain the seat as a Republican, the party he almost always voted with anyway.

What could have been a ho-hum political year now looks intriguing on several fronts, with different philosophies and styles on display. If we can avoid distortions, half-truths and personal attacks in this campaign season – especially those pedaled by super PAC advertising – these races could be important political and philosophical debates. Unfortunately, that’s a big “if.”

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.

LLOYD GRAY

LLOYD GRAY

Abraham Lincoln and George Washington used to stare down at every school child from the walls of every grade-school classroom in America. Last time I checked, they weren’t as ubiquitous – and certainly not studied or hallowed as much.

They’ve even combined their birthdays into Monday’s bland “Presidents’ Day.” Once Feb. 12 was Lincoln’s birthday, Feb. 22 was Washington’s, and everybody knew it. Probably not many schoolkids – or anybody else for that matter – could name those dates now.

It’s as if in our overly egalitarian modern-day mindset we decided that elevating great national leaders, even if it did involve cheesy “I cannot tell a lie, I chopped down that cherry tree” mythology, is somehow elitist or worse. But we need those national icons, and these two should be right at the top.

An every five-year survey of presidential historians has consistently ranked Franklin D. Roosevelt as the greatest president and Washington and Lincoln right behind. This is based on a variety of characteristics, not least of which is the success they had in achieving their objectives.

Roosevelt belongs in the pantheon of the great presidents, no doubt. But above Washington and Lincoln?

Without George Washington, the American system as we know it today might not exist. That was due in part to the simple fact that he was the first president and didn’t mess it all up. But we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of setting the ship on a steady course and having the leadership characteristics to unite a still widely fragmented collection of largely independent states. Not to mention that Washington rejected the entreaties of some who wanted to make him a king and walked away after two terms.

Sixty years later, Lincoln held together the nation Washington had forged. Not without horrendously bloody division, of course, but without Honest Abe’s determination to preserve the Union – “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” – there would be no United States of America today. And Lincoln’s insistence that the nation couldn’t any longer tolerate the contradiction of its creeds and the people it held in bondage represented the greatest milestone in the long journey to make those creeds a living reality.

That these two men were the two most important presidents who must fundamentally shaped this nation seems self-evident, as Thomas Jefferson – another of the greats – described the truths on which the country was founded.

Franklin Roosevelt? He, too, came along at a critical time in the nation’s history. Conservatives see him as the original author of big government, and that is true as far as it goes. But I’d posit this: In an overarching sense, Roosevelt himself was a conservative in the most fundamental sense of the word. A very strong argument can be made that Roosevelt “conserved” capitalism in America.

How could this man, who railed against corporate greed and the wealthy “frozen in the ice of their own indifference,” and who led the institution of a regulatory structure never before seen in America, be the conservator of capitalism? Because the nation in the Depression was as close to a revolution as it ever had been since the Civil War or would be again. By softening the harsher elements of capitalism with things like wage and hour laws, Social Security and public works employment when private sector jobs were scarce, FDR may actually have saved our economic system from an all-out assault by popular demagogues who would have taken it who-knows-where.

And of course Roosevelt was in the process of dragging a reluctant nation into World War II when Pearl Harbor made it a done deal. That resulted in America’s post-war emergence as the world’s preeminent power.

So, yes, Roosevelt belongs near the top. But Washington and Lincoln deserve the highest rungs.

Tomorrow’s their day. Too bad they have to share it.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.

LLOYD GRAY

LLOYD GRAY

Fifty years ago this morning, a lot of teens and pre-teens were even more fidgety than usual in church, if they made it there at all.

That night – Feb. 9, 1964 – the Beatles were to make their first of three consecutive Sunday night appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. It’s difficult to describe for anyone not alive at the time the fever-pitch intensity of the buildup to that moment.

In the pre-Internet days, America had never actually seen the Beatles perform, except maybe briefly in a network news clip. But their domination of the radio airwaves in the weeks leading up to their trip to the U.S. and the “Beatlemania” that had gripped this side of the Atlantic ensured that the audience would be huge, and that American pop culture would never be the same.

That’s not to shortchange Elvis. After all, it was John Lennon who said, “Nothing really affected me until Elvis.” Tupelo’s native son certainly changed the music and cultural landscape and in many ways made possible the advent of the Beatles – and the eclipsing of his pop preeminence. Just eight years before, a rising Elvis had skyrocketed to even greater fame after appearing on Ed Sullivan.

But the Beatles were a juggernaut – and a marketing phenomenon – never seen before or since.

That night 50 years ago their Sullivan show appearance was seen by 73 million Americans, a record at the time. That compares to 111.5 million who watched the most-viewed Super Bowl of all time last weekend.

But here’s the catch: In 1964, there were 192 million people in America. In 2014, there are 317 million. So with 38 percent of the country watching the Beatles that night and 35 percent for last Sunday’s game, the Beatles still drew a higher percentage of the country than the most-watched Super Bowl ever – and staged a much better show.

Like so many, the first time I heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the radio I knew this was something different, something big. And I was just in elementary school, a year or so into listening to Top 40 AM radio primarily because I shared a room with a teenage brother.

There was something immediately captivating about that sound, with its raucous, driving beat, its great harmonies and its sheer joyous energy. And like most everyone else my age, I wanted to know as much as I could about these “mopheads.”

My brother and I were the fans. My older sister, sandwiched between us, was a horse-loving tomboy not yet acclimated to the demands of pop culture. She wanted to watch Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color that night – on our one black-and-white TV – which was, not coincidentally, the start of a three-part series on “The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh.” Our mother brokered a compromise: We’d watch the Beatles that night, our sister would get Disney the next week, and we’d decide about Round 3 later.

Probably like you, if you are of a certain age, I remember that night and that show vividly – Ed Sullivan, with his strangely awkward countenance, shouting over the screams of teenage girls, “Ladies and gentlemen … the Beat-els!” The closeups of John, Paul, George and Ringo in their Edwardian suits. The smiles, the winks, Paul’s bobbing head and of course, the incredible music.

From that day forward, we grew our hair a little longer – as long as our parents would let us – and many of us longed to play guitar in a band. A few actually cranked up in garages here and there.

My mother, right about so many things, was wrong about the Beatles, whose music she predicted wouldn’t last. She lived to see it become my children’s favorite, and there’s no end in sight.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.

LLOYD GRAY

LLOYD GRAY

A lot of hand-wringing goes on these days about the academic performance of American students. We’re in the middle of the pack internationally, at best, behind most major industrial nations and even trailing places like Poland, Vietnam, Slovenia and Estonia.

Mississippi, of course, is well behind the rest of the nation. So we’re doubly challenged.

Yet sometimes you have to wonder whether we really understand what it will take to do better.

The Mississippi Legislature won’t fund K-12 education to the level that the law requires, but it’s happy to mess around with school calendars at the behest of tourism interests and parents who want a longer stretch of school-free summer in August. And now the chairman of the House Education Committee proposes to cut back the required number of school days by a full week.

What is going on here?

The most obvious difference between educationally high-performing nations and the U.S. is time spent in the classroom. We go to school significantly fewer days and those days are shorter than our toughest international competition.

In our country, the highest performing charter schools – which many of our legislators believe are a key ingredient to educational improvement in Mississippi – have lengthened the school day to provide more instructional time.

Schoolchildren in Mississippi need to be in school more, not less. Yet our policymakers are seriously contemplating knocking five days off the calendar.

The rationale is that there are days just before holidays and after state tests where little gets done in the classroom. If this is true, and it probably is in some cases, the answer surely is not just to throw those days away, but to be more vigilant about ensuring that they are used for educational purposes.

That we’d even talk about reducing the number of school days speaks to a larger cultural issue. We might as well acknowledge that Americans generally aren’t as willing to make the sacrifices other countries are to improve our student performance.

We see longer school days and extended calendars – or heaven forbid, year-round schooling – as burdensome inconveniences that get in the way of more important things like sports, other outside activities, family vacations or various forms of electronic entertainment.

We say that we want our children to get the best education possible, but then we push back if there’s too much homework or projects are too challenging or our kids are asked to really think about, analyze and apply what they are taught.

And while there are parents who complain to a teacher or principal that their child isn’t graded hard enough, isn’t asked to do enough, isn’t sufficiently challenged, they are much rarer than those who will protest that too much is being asked or that their child is being treated unfairly.

This cuts across all socioeconomic categories. The sense of entitlement that has seeped so much into our broader culture affects our attitudes toward school. We want our children to achieve, but we don’t want them to have to work too hard to get there.

Children in Finland, Japan, South Korea or any other country that significantly outperforms us aren’t smarter than American kids. Their families and their schools just expect more of them, and get it.

In a recent speech on this same theme, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan noted the cultural divide and said parents are where the reversal of our educational performance begins.

“Parents have the power to challenge educational complacency here at home,” Duncan said. “Parents have the power to ask more of their leaders – and to ask more of their kids.”

A good way to start would be to tell legislators that cutting back on school days is not something a state serious about education ought to do.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.

LLOYD GRAY

LLOYD GRAY

Monday is, of course, a national holiday in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In Mississippi it is also a state holiday that includes recognition of the birthday of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

To many, it’s an incomprehensible juxtaposition, but so is much of Mississippi and Southern history.

Most people see no commonality or connection between King and Lee. Yet if the two men were to meet, I suspect they would understand and appreciate each other more than we might imagine.

The surface contradictions are obvious. Lee was an icon of the Confederacy, which was committed to maintaining slavery. King sought to make the federal government live up to the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 14th Amendment, a promise that had been neglected since Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

Lee was a warrior, King an apostle of nonviolence. The flag under which Lee fought was often waved in the faces of King and his followers a century later in defiance of their demands for full citizenship.

So on what common ground could the two possibly meet?

For starters, both were Southerners. More than that, they loved the South – not out of blindness to its flaws but because it was so much a part of who they were.

They both possessed an unusually strong sense of duty. Each answered its call, reluctantly, when the alternative would have been easier. Neither had planned for the role that would mark them in history.

King had before him a comfortable, secure career as a church pastor when he was talked into leading the Montgomery bus boycott because, being new to town, he was the only one who could pull all the factions together. Lee, already offered the Union command but unwilling to lift a sword against his neighbors, could have retreated into quiet retirement at his country estate as the Civil War loomed. Instead, he saw it as his duty to defend his native Virginia and accepted the command of its army.

Both men valued some principles above life itself, and were ready to die for them, as King did. For King, it was racial justice and reconciliation. For Lee, it was duty, honor and country, which he defined as Virginia.

On both men were pinned the hopes of legions in a time of great tumult in the South. Both represented the best qualities of leadership, civility and, yes, Christian charity that the South in all its complexities and paradoxes has produced since blacks and whites, Africans and Europeans, settled and built it together.

Most important, both men sought healing and reconciliation. Neither ever became bitter toward his foes.

King knew hate was a destroyer, of the hater more than the hated. He preached against returning fire with fire, and the only weapon he advocated was relentless love for the enemy. Lee, in the few years he lived after the war, sought to heal its deep wounds and reunite the country.

The story is told of Lee’s gesture in church one Sunday when a black man visited and went to the altar for communion. No one in the congregation followed. Lee, a few pews back, got up and walked to the altar and knelt beside the man. Imagine the power of that moment. It may not seem like much to us now, but it must have spoken volumes to those people then.

Finally, both King and Lee were men of unique strength of character. Both had their shortcomings, their human frailties. But their inner moral compass and their gifts of leadership lifted them up as beacons for their times.

They wouldn’t discount the great divide between them and their understanding – shaped by the culture of their times – of what constitutes a just and equitable world. But somehow, I suspect, they would find a way to build a bridge across it.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com. This is adapted from an earlier column.

LLOYD GRAY

LLOYD GRAY

Municipal officials were in Jackson last week on what will likely be a fruitless pursuit. They want the Legislature to allow voters in their cities to levy a special sales tax of up to 1 percent on themselves to pay for infrastructure improvements, if 60 percent approve.

This is an eminently reasonable proposition. There is really no compelling argument against letting a super-majority of citizens in a community determine for themselves the level of taxation they are willing to shoulder to pay for specific projects, especially when it comes to repairing crumbling streets, water and sewer and other critical components of city life.

But rationality has never ruled the legislative world. This legislation will probably go nowhere in the 2014 session.

The reason is simple: People who live near but outside municipalities don’t want to have to pay a tax they don’t get to vote on. And legislators will respond to pressure not to raise their taxes, however indirectly.

At first glance, this position might appear to have some validity. “Taxation without representation” is an easy rallying cry.

But while “using services without paying for them” doesn’t have quite as good a ring to it, it certainly applies.

Each day, cities in Mississippi swell in population as people from outside their borders come to work, play and shop. They use city streets and other services, adding to their wear and tear, but the cost of building and maintaining them rests largely with city residents themselves.

Yes, a portion of the sales tax on purchases by non-city residents is sent back to cities to help with their budgets. But that same level of tax would be paid by the non-city residents outside the municipal borders anyway.

Yes, people from outside a city pay tourism taxes levied by municipalities, and in the occasional case of something like Tupelo’s quarter-cent water supply tax, they actual help directly fund some of the services they use when in the city. But for the most part, people who work in or visit a city carry little of the load of paying for its services.

In the case of larger cities like Tupelo, the regional economy is heavily dependent on a healthy hub. Is it really too much to ask those who benefit when a city’s roads, bridges, drainage and water-sewer systems are in good shape to help pay for them – at a much lower proportion than city residents who must also pay property taxes?

Of course, one could say to other cities clamoring for the opportunity to place a special tax before the voters that they should follow Tupelo’s lead and levy a special property tax for infrastructure, as Tupelo has done for 23 years with the Major Thoroughfare Program. Tupelo voters first approved the 10-mill tax in 1991, which comes up for renewal every five years, and they’ve liked the results so much that they’ve overwhelmingly renewed it four times since.

No one outside the city objects to that tax, since no one outside the city has to pay it.

Yet better roads to get around town to jobs or out to the mall to shop are a direct benefit to non-Tupelo residents.

It’s no guarantee, of course, that voters in any given city would opt to pay more to meet pressing needs. In just the last year, both Saltillo and Corinth voters have rejected property tax increases for road programs similar in approach to Tupelo’s. A sales tax probably would have met the same fate.

But if city officials can make a convincing case and voters agree, why shouldn’t they be able to determine how and what to pay for on their own?

Mississippi legislators don’t look kindly toward federal intrusiveness into state decisions. Why not be consistent and say to municipal governments that we won’t stand in your way if this is what your voters want to do?

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.