By Bill Minor
JACKSON – Trust us … we’re now in charge and we know best.
That message is what we heard from Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves as he and his fellow GOPers set about dismantling the state Personnel Board, stripping state employees of job security for two years.
The Personnel Board is the closest thing Mississippi has to civil service like the federal government. But back in 1980 when the Personnel Board was enacted to give state workers some protection against dismissal without cause, it was considered a major step forward.
Not until the Haley Barbour crowd arrived in the early 2000s had any administration tried to tinker with the employee protections.
Now the current batch under absolute Republican control has marched in with messianic zeal as though they’re God-sent to clean up the mess Democrats have made of state government for decades. Streamlining government – that’s what we’re about, says the Reeves hatchet squad.
No spoils system, insists Reeves. If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck … well, you know the rest.
“I think the people have elected people (that’s us) who are not going to make hiring decisions based on the spoils system,” commented Reeves. He added, however, he’s willing to entertain the idea of abolishing the Personnel Board entirely.
How about that from a guy who was elected campaigning as the “taxpayer’s watchdog?” Lot of watch-dogging he did as the designated fiscal guardian on the Public Employees’ Retirement System Board the past eight years. The system’s trust fund lost value and paid exorbitant fees to private agents who bought or sold the system’s holdings.
Evidently Republican lawmakers here were moved to strike some blow at state employees’ job security when they watched well-publicized actions by governors of Wisconsin and Ohio to strip unionized state workers of collective bargaining rights. No worry here: Mississippi since the 1960s has had an anti-union “right to work” provision in its constitution.
Barbour in 2004 did a number on working people in Mississippi by abolishing the three-member State Employment Security Commission for administering the federally-mandated unemployment trust fund. He replaced it with a department under a single governor-appointed director.
This “trust us” theme Reeves and his gang sing as they march lockstep through the Mississippi Legislature brings back unpleasant memories of when George W. Bush, Dick Chaney, Don Rumsfeld (and don’t forget, Paul Wolfowitz and Karl Rove) took charge on Capitol Hill in 2001.
As we now know so well, they made a holy mess of the place, invading religiously split Iraq, a nation posing no security threat to America that we had backed and armed only a few years earlier in its war with neighboring Iran. The Bush-Cheney-Rummy-Wolfie cabal not only blatantly lied to the American people about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction but were wildly wrong on how long the U.S. would be involved in their blundering venture. A trillion dollars (of borrowed money) from the U.S. treasury and 4,500 dead Americans later we would know.
What we don’t need down here in this poor, struggling state is for similar self-appointed saviors to rip out governmental programs that have worked for years just to stamp their own brand on them.
Columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org.