By Bobby Harrison
JACKSON – In recent days, it seems that everyone is picking on Mississippi and the state’s various elected leaders, including Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann have said it is time to stop.
Just last week, North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said her electorate’s overwhelming support for a proposal to ban gay marriage and civil unions made her state “look like Mississippi.” Those comments raised the ire of both Bryant and Reeves.
Bryant, a Republican said he recently had a civil conversation with Democrat Perdue, but apparently an apology from the North Carolina governor was not part of those talks.
He said she is a lady, and he is “a Southern gentleman” so he would say no more about her refusal to apologize.
Before Perdue uttered the words Mississippi, an analyst for the Elections Division of the U.S. Justice Department apparently described Mississippi as “shameful and disgusting” on her Facebook page. The employee was apparently referring to actions of a few University of Southern Mississippi pep band members, who were yelling ethnic slurs during the schools’ appearance earlier this year in the NCAA basketball tournament.
Hosemann took umbrage to those comments by the federal employee and expressed fear about whether the state’s new voter identification law would get a fair hearing before the Justice Department. A spokesman for the agency said the employee in question would not be part of any review of Mississippi election changes to ensure they do not negatively impact minority voters.
Of course, Mississippi has been the butt of jokes and criticism by public figures for a long time. I recall when I was a little boy that comedian Jerry Lewis, while filling in for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, made disparaging comments about Mississippi. Those hurt. I liked Jerry Lewis.
In the early 2000s, Rick Perry, shortly after replacing George Bush as governor of Texas, said essentially he did not want Texas to end up like Mississippi. Perry who ran unsuccessfully this year for the Republican presidential nomination, was referring to Mississippi’s poor showings in areas like education, health of its citizens and its high poverty rate.
The irony is that while Bryant has made much political hay over Perdue’s comments, he endorsed Perry for president and even appears to consider the Texas governor a kindred spirit. Heck, he even had an expert on the Texas budgeting process meet with Mississippi legislators to explain to them how they do it in the Lone Star state.
Bryant, who was auditor when Perry made the comments, said he vaguely remembers them and would mention them to him next time they talk.
When someone like Rick Perry makes comments about Mississippi I want to point out all the extraordinary people who hail from the state, ranging from business leaders like FedEx founder Fred Smith, best-selling author John Grisham, country music star Faith Hill and many more. But more importantly are the literally tens of thousands of people who live a good, decent life.
But the comments sting, not because Perry or some other public official said them but because they are true – at least partially true. As a Mississippian I am not proud of our poverty and all that comes with it.
As a Mississippian, I am not proud that as late as 1987 264,064 people voted to ban interracial marriage – only 20,000 more than voted against the ban.
What I tell people from outside the state when given the opportunity is that we have a lot of people – both in the public sector and private sector – trying to change what is wrong with Mississippi. Hopefully, people in their state are doing the same.
Bryant is, no doubt, one of those people working to change the state. But he has been known to have his own problems with speaking about people negatively in general terms, such as when he said the left’s “one mission in life is to abort children, is to kill children in the womb” or when he said that if a “personhood amendment” was defeated by Mississippi voters, as it was, “Satan wins.”
Perdue was saying people would compare North Carolina to Mississippi because of a vote to ban gay marriage.
While she did not like the way her constituents voted, since Bryant said he opposes gay marriage, and Mississippians in 2004 voted overwhelmingly to ban gay marriage, I am not sure what the controversy is there.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 353-3119.