EDITORIAL: Focus on Mississippi

By NEMS Daily Journal

The last election qualifying deadline has passed and the first primary ballot in both major parties is Aug. 2, less than two months ahead.
Mississippi will have a new governor and a new lieutenant governor because Gov. Haley Barbour is term-limited and completes his second term in January, and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is running for governor in the Republican primary, with Dave Dennis from the Gulf Coast his principal opponent.
Treasurer Tate Reeves is running for lieutenant governor against Senate President Pro Tem Billy Hewes, also a Coast resident.
Those candidates, all Republicans, create primary contests of more intensity than the GOP has seen since its emergence as the dominant statewide party.
The Democratic gubernatorial race shapes up as a contest between Clarksdale attorney Bill Luckett and Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree.
The GOP primary strength could also be seen in the race for Transportation commissioner in the northern district, in which incumbent Mike Tagert of Starkville, faces John Caldwell, a DeSoto County former supervisor who is making his third race for the office, including the 2011 special election to succeed the late Bill Minor, a Democrat. Ray Minor, the late commissioner’s brother, is running as a Democrat.
All the races in the top of the ticket involve policymaking influence of statewide importance, and all the candidates are answerable to voters before election day.
The central issue for all the top offices is about money – how Mississippi’s uncertain revenue stream can be fairly and effectively divided among a long list of real priorities, including public education, mental health, transportation, higher education (including community colleges), and unmet needs like pre-K early childhood education.
While a recent Mississippi Economic Council report on membership opinions about the state’s future showed real concerns about keeping young people in Mississippi, the survey also found optimism that Mississippi can succeed if the right leadership empowers the vision and potential seen by many.
Individual regions in the MEC survey tended to be more optimistic than the state viewed as a whole, so what state leadership must do is unite and match the optimism and energy that’s evident in the private sector.
In legislative races the most important issue is not party affiliation but each candidate’s willingness to commit on the record to issues like adequately funding public education, without which our state will stop dead in the water. If legislative enthusiasm for public education matched the commitment and enthusiasm of parents in almost every school district for the schools their children attend, funding public education would be resolved upward.
Some legislators in recent years have listened too much to their partisan overlords in Jackson and not enough to their constituents in the districts.
Mississippi’s policies and needs cannot match national agendas point-for-point because our state’s profile is markedly different from anything described as a national norm. A national policy overlay on Mississippi won’t work, and legislators who don’t understand that doom our state to spinning its wheels, at best.
We need legislators who run as Mississippians focused on Mississippi priorities and needs. The national agenda belongs to Congress, the president and voters in the 2012 federal elections, not the 2011 Mississippi elections.