By Bill Minor
JACKSON – In 1999, I had written a column titled “Help Wanted: A Real Leader as Mississippi Governor.” Twelve years later, that title is just as pertinent as it was back then.
We’re still at the bottom of almost every economic or quality of life index and at the top of some others like the obesity rate and teenage pregnancy, which reflect serious flaws in our social fabric.
After watching 14 governors come and go in this long benighted state, I’ve observed that some – perhaps many – have been elected to satisfy their own desire for power but have no real intention of trying to solve or ameliorate problems that have made our state the nation’s caboose.
So far, from what I’ve seen of this year’s crop of gubernatorial candidates, none have displayed a vision, a concept of positive leadership, together with a plan for our people of all races to rally behind and pull this state off the bottom.
Boredom was the word friend David Hampton of The Clarion-Ledger had to say after moderating a gubernatorial forum at last weekend’s Mississippi Press Association Convention.
It would be refreshing to hear a Bill Waller lambaste the “Capitol Street Gang” in Jackson – the city’s business elite – he charged was running state government, or a Ray Mabus pledging under him “the state will never be last again.”
We need to realize that the state’s political landscape has changed considerably, putting the Republicans in the driver’s seat. That makes Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, the favorite to keep the job in Republican hands, depending only on his winning the Aug. 2 GOP primary, with Gulf Coast businessman/ contractor Dave Dennis his toughest challenger. A sizable chunk of Gov. Haley Barbour’s forces, among them one of his politically-active nephews, are supporting Dennis.
Of course, you’d never hear Bryant aping Waller’s “Capitol Street Gang” line because he’s too busy hugging business and corporate bosses and swallowing everything the Tea Partiers serve up. At least Dennis had the moxie to tell the Tea Party people he wouldn’t take their pledge to oppose every increase in taxes. Bryant, at the same Tea Party forum, gulped down the whole no-new-taxes cup.
On the Democratic side, the 6-foot- 6 Clarksdale attorney and entrepreneur Bill Luckett offers the party’s best hope, although Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, who is black, is bound to make a good showing.
Of all candidates, Luckett has offered the best (and only) social reform proposal to attack the state’s ailing public education system – installing a pre-kindergarten program.
Mississippi is one of a small number of states that has failed to meet this vital need. Even Marsha Barbour, the governor’s wife, has been a strong advocate of a preschool program.
Trouble is, Luckett has sidestepped the fundamental question of how a preschool program would be financed. It’s noble that he says the program can be started and run by a system of volunteerism and church sponsorship, but that sounds too much of a pipe dream to work.
The question that comes to mind as Republicans seem to have grabbed political power is: where have the Republican moderates like Jack Reed and Gil Carmichael gone? I remember Carmichael infuriating oilman Billy Mounger, the GOP’s top bankroller, by advocating an increase in the oil and gas severance tax which had been untouched since the 1940s.
Now we see Bryant, the GOP’s leading candidate endorse just about every extremist idea that has come from the far-right wing. Included is an initiative to define in Mississippi’s constitution that life begins with conception, a question leading medical authorities nationally have not beenable to define.
Seems mighty incongruous that a state which has the highest rate of infant deaths would be so presumptuous as to make such a conclusion.
Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org.