In the Thursday, March 28, 1996, edition, the editors of The W

AUTHOR: SALTER

In the Thursday, March 28, 1996, edition, the editors of The Wall Street Journal recounted in an editorial a Mississippi political happening that they likened in the headline to a mugging.

And the “Mississippi Mugging” headline was accurate in describing what The Journal was undertaking a political mugging of Mississippi House Speaker Tim Ford of Tupelo.

In their zeal to continue to function as the chief pimp of the term limits movement in this country, the editors of The Journal did a hatchet job on Ford the likes of which have never been seen in this state.

The editorial called Ford “the most autocratic legislative leader in the country.”

That characterization of Ford is without foundation or merit and is offered, one would suspect, because Ford dared to oppose the flawed term limits bill pushed by the financial newspaper as a cure-all for government ills.

The most inflammatory lines of the editorial attack on Ford was as follows: “House Speaker Tim Ford has been dubbed The Sun King’ for his exercise of absolute power over legislators. He has been known to storm into meetings, take over from the chairman and force through legislation . . .”

“He and his allies were furious last year when the state’s new law allowing voters to put initiatives on the ballot was used to propose term limits on legislators and a slew of local officials. Taking advantage of defects in its wording, Speaker Ford and the Mississippi Farm Bureau used scare tactics to narrowly defeat the initiative. But they also resolved to make certain such an initiative would never make it to the ballot again.”

The Journal editorial dealt with House Bill 472 a measure that would have brought more responsibility to the existing initiative law in this state. Ford backed the bill. Gov. Kirk Fordice vetoed, but it was overriden.

Fordice used the existing initiative measure on behalf of his failed PRIME education initiatives when he hired paid solicitors to gain voter signatures on petitions to place the PRIME policies on the ballot. Despite the paid solicitors, Fordice fell short of the needed signatures to proceed.

Another group that used paid solicitors for initiative petition signatures was Mississippi Term Limits a group successful in getting a term limits initiative, Initiative 4, on the November 1995 general election ballot in this state. The initiative failed by eight percentage points 54 percent to 46 percent. It was a margin of some 61,000 votes by which Mississippians rejected the notion of limiting the terms of public officials under a confusing, poorly-written term limits proposal.

House Bill 472 will only allow registered Mississippi voters to gather initiative petition signatures instead of allowing hired guns from out of state to come here to manipulate Mississippi’s political affairs. Gov. Fordice ought to like that feature, since he pays so much lip service to giving power back to the states and back to the people. He apparently didn’t see it that way.

HB 472 will also disallow petition organizers the practice of being paid by the signature or by the page. Backers of the bill say that prohibition removes some of the temptation for signature gatherers to mislead the voters or falsify records as a means of chasing a larger paycheck.

The bottom line here is whether Mississippians should have control of the initiative process or as in the case of term limits, out-of-state organizations and groups should be allowed to use their money and political muscle to manipulate Mississippi politics from distant locations.

Almost 55 percent of Mississippi voters said “no” to term limits in 1995 despite a well-financed pro-term limits campaign that received a substantial amount of funding from out of state.

Despite The Wall Street Journal’s whining, Mississippi didn’t narrowly defeat term limits the measure was soundly defeated.

That’s why the newspaper attacked Speaker Ford. The Wall Street Journal and other powerful voices on the national political horizon want to be able to use out-of-state money and muscle to enact term limits and other pet legislative agendas here through the initiative process without oversight from Mississippi government.

The New York newspaper whined about the disenfranchisement of Mississippi voters in regard to HB 472. Where was The Wall Street Journal a few weeks back during the “motor voter” fight in this state? Nowhere.

The initiative process was enacted in Mississippi to allow Mississippi voters to bypass the Legislature when the Legislature refused to act not to allow well-financed special interests from the left or right to manipulate Mississippi politics with hired guns.

Speaker Ford deserves some credit for standing up for those principles at least some credit here at home.

Proponents of term limits don’t care about Mississippi’s status as the poorest state in the union. They resent the gains Mississippi has made through the seniority system on Capitol Hill and they want small, rural states literally “limited” through adoption of term limits.

That way the power in Congress will fall to those states with the largest number of congressmen. States like, say, New York for example you know, New York, where The Wall Street Journal is based.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist and editor of the Scott County Times in Forest.

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