By Bill Minor
JACKSON – For several years, Republicans have been the dogs who chased the fire truck (in this case control of the Legislature). Now that they’ve caught it, will they know what to do with it?
Many GOPers who will hold a legislative majority in January have neither legislative experience nor a practical concept of governance. That raises the question: Can they govern or will they advance an agenda to impose their ideology on state law books rather than deal with the state’s many gut problems, chief among them poverty, health care and education?
Dozens of bills Republicans have sponsored come out of the extreme edge of viability, obviously with Tea Party origins (fortunately none passed). This “can’t do” doctrine strikes me as a throwback to prohibition days when rabid “drys” outlawed strong drink. We all remember what a travesty that became.
Though Republican revolutionists wouldn’t admit it, they have no one in their ranks to measure up to a number of Democratic veterans who were swept out of office – Democrats who wrote laws that produced some of the state’s giant programs. Were it not for Natchez’s Bob Dearing, we wouldn’t have had a casino gaming industry which since 1992 has put millions of dollars into state coffers.
Or if it had not been for battling Billy McCoy (sometime fisticuffs to make his point) leading the fight in 1987 to install and fund a long-sought four-lane corridor program of state highways, Mississippi very likely wouldn’t have the excellent system that now crisscrosses the state.
Not gone – but certainly now with a target on his back – is Democratic Rep. Cecil Brown of Jackson, acknowledged as the Legislature’s best fiscal authority, who is looked upon as the savior of public education in these dire economic times. Will the Repubs utilize his invaluable talents or cast him on the ash-heap?
Recently as guest of our discussion group, Brown brought along several dozen wacko bills Republicans (including some expected leaders) have proposed. Here’s a few samples: Require testing of Medicaid recipients for illegal drug use. (Who’s going to pay the bill for 400,000 tests?); all rules or regulations adopted by state agencies must get legislative approval before becoming effective; no athletic or extracurricular organization may travel beyond 25 miles from the school district; public school districts must provide transportation for private schools; a 20 percent cut in public broadcasting funds for each of five years; enact “covenant” marriage (whatever that is) as a legal form of marriage; phase out income tax for corporations.
Ever hear of ALEC? That’s short for American Legislative Exchange Council, a high-sounding group bought and paid-for by the billionaire Koch brothers, who among other right-wing causes, create “model” bills that are handed to legislators who come to expense-paid seminars in Western resorts. That’s where the Mississippi initiative requiring a government-issued photo I.D. to vote came from. According to their resumes, a number of Mississippi Republican legislative incumbents belong to ALEC.
McCoy as House speaker came under heavy criticism because he didn’t name any Republicans to chair committees. Wonder why? Four years ago, Haley Barbour went after him big time, recruiting and funding a Republican candidate in an attempt to unseat McCoy in his district. Failing there, Barbour collected pledges from GOP members to cripple McCoy at every turn. The rough-hewn hill country farmer responded in kind.
Columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org.