BILL MINOR: Wicker quickly becomes invested in the party of 'No'

JACKSON – Roger Wicker, virtually handed a U.S. Senate seat wrapped in a Christmas package in December, 2007, has quickly become a loyal member of the “No” party – otherwise the Republican Party – voting down the line against any bill backed by President Obama.
Especially if it has a scent of taxes, even a revenue measure slightly raising taxes of people with incomes over $200,000 to extend health care coverage for more than 30 million Americans having no health insurance. Obama accomplished a goal of universal health care that has eluded other presidents for 70 years.
One important benefit for Mississippians under the Health Care Reform Act is that 325,000 of them will be eligible to get on Medicaid rolls. Perhaps Wicker prefers to protect corporations and persons with high incomes rather than expand health care coverage in the nation’s poorest state, which he represents.
While he is a faithful anti-tax drum-beater in Congress, that was not his story when he was a member of the Mississippi Legislature in the 1990s.
As a Republican state senator, Wicker voted FOR the 1992 state sales tax increase from 6 to 7 cents on the dollar, including groceries. It made Mississippi’s tax on food the highest in the nation and put a heavier burden on the 20 percent of the population in the lowest income tax bracket.
When he voted for the sales tax hike, he not only broke ranks with the state Republican Party, but also he kicked the shins of Kirk Fordice, the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Wicker’s vote and that of three other GOP members of the Senate gave the sales tax measure the necessary three-fifths vote needed for passage. (That was the last major tax increase in 28 years.)
Then when Fordice vetoed the bill, Wicker voted to override his action, helping to provide the necessary two-thirds vote needed to overturn a gubernatorial veto.
An effort to cut the sales tax on groceries by half was waged in the latter 1990s by Dick Molpus, the Democratic Secretary of State who ran for governor in 1995. Ironically, the grocery tax cut was opposed by Fordice.
When Arkansas reduced its sales tax on groceries in 2007, Mississippi was left as one of only two states which tax food at the full rate of their sales tax with no offset.
Going back to Wicker as a state legislator voting to raise the sales tax to 7 cents on groceries, in fairness it must be pointed out that no amendment to exclude groceries was offered from the floor, so he he had no opportunity to vote directly on that issue.
Last weekend a TV spot aired on Mississippi stations in which Wicker criticized President Obama for being too slow to pick up on solutions proposed by local officials in the Gulf area to protect their wetlands and seafood beds from the massive oil spill from BP’s Deepwater Horizon well.
Dozens of self-styled “experts” on how to deal with the oil spill have cropped up in the Gulf region since the millions of gallons of oil began spewing into the Gulf over two months ago. Some of them have been pounding Obama with their ideas.
One of the loudest and most persistent advocates has been Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal who has been pushing the scheme of constructing artificial berms (similar to dunes) from pumped sand, to block oil from entering Delta wetlands and barrier islands. Jindal railed so much the president agreed to let him begin constructing some 45 miles of berms (with BP footing the bill) despite the fact that federal agencies question whether the berms will be effective or even could be harmful to the area they intend to protect.
Dr. Robert Young, of Western Carolina University, an expert on coastal geology, wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece that the berms were hastily designed and likely will be a waste of money, not appreciably diminishing the amount of oil entering the wetlands. Young contends the sand hills will quickly be wiped away by the ebb and flow of coastal waters and certainly by any storm or hurricane surge which comes near the area.

Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him at P.O. Box 1243, Jackson, MS 39215-1243, or e-mail at edinman@earthlink.net.

Bill Minor