LLOYD GRAY: Nation’s concerns were the region’s throughout 2010

By Lloyd Gray / NEMS Daily Journal

The year that ends in a few days has been one of those where the concerns of Northeast Mississippi have been largely those of the nation as a whole.
It’s not always that way. Sometimes unique local and regional circumstances cast a different perspective on the year’s events.
But in 2010, Northeast Mississippians were concerned primarily with two things – the economy and government – and their relationship to each other in providing a secure living and a strong future for individuals and families. In that way the people of our region were no different from most other Americans.
As in many other places across the country, that concern was translated into a potent anti-incumbent surge in congressional elections. Incumbent Democratic Congressman Travis Childers’ decisive loss to Republican challenger Alan Nunnelee in the 1st Congressional District race was unusual enough; only twice in the last half-century had any incumbent congressman in Mississippi lost a bid for re-election to a non-incumbent, and neither of those was in Northeast Mississippi. But coupled with the loss of 21-year Democratic incumbent Gene Taylor in south Mississippi’s 4th District, the election year results in this state were historically unprecedented.
Equally indicative of the impact of this highly unusual and politically combustible electoral environment, spurred by dual concerns about spending and debt and the still-stalled economy, was the about-face of one of the state’s Republican senators, Roger Wicker of Tupelo, on the earmarks issue. Wicker backed off of a hallmark of his congressional career, getting “congressionally directed spending” for projects in his district, in deference to what he said was the message from the voters. Wicker faces a re-election campaign in 2012.
For these reasons, the Daily Journal selected “the angry voter” as our Newsmaker of the Year for Northeast Mississippi, just as many locales across America could have done.
This is the seventh year we’ve given this designation, and in each case it has been a group of people who represented the dominant ongoing news story and its impact for that year in the region. As in 2010, some previous years’ top newsmakers have correlated with national stories: victims of the recession in 2009, citizen-soldiers in 2004, for example. But there have also been years in which the designation was largely or uniquely regional, such as Hurricane Katrina volunteers and refugees in 2005, anti-smoking activists in 2006 and the Toyota-luring PUL Alliance in 2007.
Of course we know that there are many other ongoing news stories and individuals prominently in the news that merit mention in any look back over the past year, as we’ve done today on pages 11 and 12A.
Certainly economic conditions were heavy on people’s minds in 2010. Despite continued high unemployment in the region, there was good news that bodes well for the future, including Toyota’s restart of preparations for production at Blue Springs and other positive economic announcements of job-creating business expansions.
International attention focused on a student in Itawamba County, national attention on our state’s governor, and intense local attention on the Tupelo Police Department. Meanwhile, the drive for legalized alcohol in dry areas of Northeast Mississippi, and Sunday sales in legally wet areas, continued across the region.
All of these events and individuals made for an interesting news tapestry in Northeast Mississippi in the past year, but none had the potentially game-changing impact produced by the voters at the polls on Nov. 2.
The impact of their actions in 2010 will begin to be measured in 2011. How serious are voters about trimming back government spending and the national debt? How much are we willing to sacrifice in the quest? How will we deal with the potential loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal expenditures for universities, roads and other infrastructure and jobs-creating government grants and contracts in the region? Will we determine that it’s worth the cost to help rein in spending? Or will creative public entities, companies and lawmakers simply find other ways to make the funding happen?
These are some of the unanswered questions about the change in the political environment the angry voter has wrought. But as the year draws to a close, there’s no doubt that the change – at least for now – is real.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@djournal.com.

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