By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
PHILADELPHIA – Gov. Phil Bryant told Neshoba County fairgoers Thursday the state’s economy is improving despite Mississippi having the nation’s highest June unemployment rate at 7.9 percent.
The first-term Republican governor said sometimes when the economy is improving, as it is in Mississippi, more people who had left the workforce might opt to seek employment, driving up the unemployment rate.
Still, Bryant told a large and Republican-friendly crowd that more work needs to be done to improve the state’s economy.
Bryant said, “I’ve said I want every Mississippian who wants a job to have one. I’ve changed that. I want you to have a job even if you don’t want one.”
Bryant was the final speaker on the last of two days of political speakings that drew the state’s media and political observers to the Fair’s Founders Square. On Thursday, a mild and overcast day, people packed into the wooden pews, stood on the edges of the pavilion and on the first porches of the nearby cabins to listen to Bryant and a litany of other speakers.
The Republican governor, defending his administration from the fact that Mississippi significantly trails the national unemployment rate of 6.1 percent, told the crowd that for the fourth consecutive year, the state has received an Area Development Magazine Silver Shovel Award for “excellence in economic development.”
“We’ve experienced great success in our economic growth, and we’re going to double down on economic development and job creation,” he said. “Workforce training and improving public education will continue to be critical to our efforts.”
The governor told the crowd he called Texas Gov. Rick Perry to offer Mississippi’s National Guard members to help patrol the Texas border with Mexico where thousands of children from Central America have crossed into the United States in recent months. Later, speaking to the media, Bryant said he called Perry only because others had suggested publicly that Mississippi provide help and he had “no realistic anticipation” that Perry would accept an offer from Mississippi, and he did not.
All the speakers Thursday were Republican with the exception of former Gov. William Winter, who was invited by organizers to speak. The Democrat, who served as governor from 1980-84, praised the progress the state has made in terms of racial reconciliation and education, but said more still needs to be done.
“I think we have a right to be proud of all of the progress that this state has made in those particular areas,” he said. “We have come farther, I would argue, than any other state. But we still have a long way to go, largely, because we started so far back.”
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, used his time to urge healing in the Republican Party after the bruising party primary election between six-term incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and his challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville. McDaniel supporters, some of whom were at the Fair to protest when Cochran spoke Thursday, have accused the Cochran campaign of using unethical and perhaps illegal tactics to win the election. The Cochran campaign has denied those accusations and said McDaniel should show proof of the allegations, or for the good of the party, stop making such charges.
Gunn called the division “the 800-pound gorilla under the pavilion and nobody wants to talk about it.” He said the division could halt the Party’s momentum unless the two sides heal.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann touted how smoothly the state’s first election under voter identification requirements occurred in June. He said, unlike in other states, there had been no lawsuits filed in Mississippi to try to halt the enactment of voter ID requirements.
Treasurer Lynn Fitch spoke of the need to provide training to teens on personal financial literacy and announced an initiative by her office to tackle the issue. Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith said an agreement has been worked out with the state Department of Education for Mississippi farmers to sell produce directly to local schools. She said this helped the farmers financially while providing healthy, fresh food to students.