LLOYD GRAY: A year of intertwined topics

By Lloyd Gray

It’s our custom at the Daily Journal as each year draws to a close to review the most significant news stories in Northeast Mississippi and the state as a whole over the past 12 months.
Some years it’s easier than others to pinpoint a top story of the year. In 2011, there was no question that the tornadoes that devastated portions of the region were far and away the biggest news event of the year. In 2010, the ousting of incumbent congressmen in Northeast Mississippi and on the Gulf Coast captured the mood of the “angry voter” we declared as our “Newsmaker of the Year.”
In previous years, we’d recognized the citizen-soldier, the recession-wracked Northeast Mississippi worker, hurricane relief volunteers and even anti-smoking activists as the most important or influential newsmakers in the region.
For 2012, the task was harder. No one dominant story emerged as we reviewed the significant events of the past 12 months, but there were – as usual – many that came to mind as more or less equal in interest and impact. They’re reviewed elsewhere in today’s paper.
But there were two news categories that were both ongoing and sometimes intertwined – education and politics. What happened in the 2011 state elections as Republicans captured the last bastion of Democratic control in state government, the House of Representatives, produced what appeared to be a clear pathway for the GOP agenda on education, at the top of which was charter schools.
Surprisingly to many, an expanded charter school bill didn’t pass the Legislature, in the end because a few Republicans on the key House committee opposed it. Starting Jan. 8, however, a new push will be on for charters and other changes in public education.
Another element of the new education agenda did pass, a new ranking system for schools and school districts A through F instead of Star, high performing, successful, academic watch, low performing, at risk of failing and failing. Supporters said it was more direct and understandable; skeptics thought it was intended as a shot at public schools.
In that sense, it’s a microcosm of the political battle surrounding public education – those who believe the system is in bad shape and needs a complete overhaul and those who reflexively defend it. Somewhere in between lies the proper approach to school reform, but the increased polarization makes it difficult to acknowledge that the other side has any valid points.
So the linkage between politics and education became, for better or worse, stronger in 2012.
As for the other politics ongoing in the past year – congressional and presidential – the region and state offered no real surprises. All incumbents were re-elected two years after the upsets, including Sen. Roger Wicker to a full six-year term and Rep. Alan Nunnelee to a second two-year stint in the House. Mitt Romney carried the state in the presidential election, as expected.
The closest thing to a surprise in the federal realm was that Mississippi’s Republican presidential primary took on unexpected significance, coming at a point when Romney was having trouble sewing up the nomination with a last-gasp surge by Rick Santorum, whose social conservatism played well in Mississippi. He won the primary, and both he and Newt Gingrich paid visits to Tupelo in the final days.
Northeast Mississippi and the rest of the state move into 2013 with the same uncertainties, anxieties and eternal hopes as other Americans, but with our own unique set of challenges. May the next year-in-review see more progress than polarization, more good news than bad.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.