OPINION: Toyota news hits home; 1st District revs up

By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal

Toyota’s recent troubles have grabbed headlines everywhere, and it’s a case where a major international news story is loaded with local interest and implications.
Since February 2007, we’ve considered any news about Toyota to be local, given Northeast Mississippi’s stake in the company’s success. Since December 2008, when Toyota announced an indefinite delay in opening the Blue Springs plant, pronouncements from company officials – however casual or vague – have been the source of intense dissection and interpretation in our region.
But the recall crisis has taken that interest to a new level, and of course, the first thing Northeast Mississippians want to know is what it means for Blue Springs. It’s safe to assume that it means at least a setback in the timetable for the plant’s opening since it will be a while before the company can think about increasing production. Beyond that, it’s all speculation.
Before the recalls Toyota appeared likely to make some kind of positive announcement about Blue Springs in the spring. It may take longer now, but don’t underestimate the resiliency of a company with as long and successful a history as Toyota.
Elsewhere on this page is a statement from the PUL Alliance, the tri-county consortium that developed the plant site. It suggests, as have some commentators, that Toyota’s problems have been the subject of greater scrutiny than past recalls of domestic automakers, owing to the politics inherent in U.S. and international automotive competition. Of course, the fact that Toyota has long had such a sterling reputation for quality – and best-selling books written about the processes that ensured it – makes this more of a “man bites dog” story precisely because it’s so unexpected.
It did get me to thinking about the three cars currently in use in our household. All three have been recalled, and none is a Toyota. If there was more than a day’s worth of national news coverage of those recalls, I don’t remember it.

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Speaking of politics, the unfolding 1st District congressional race seems sure to mirror the major national political themes of the year.
Most obvious, of course, is the swing district element as Travis Childers – a member of the endangered “Blue Dog” coalition of conservative and moderate Democrats – seeks to hold his seat in a Republican-leaning district. That alone will focus national attention on the campaign, as in 2008.
But there’s also a national story mirrored in the Republican primary. State Sen. Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo is the clear choice of Republican leaders. But as has been the case with the GOP elsewhere, the anti-establishment Tea Party movement has complicated the task of taking advantage of Democratic vulnerabilities.
Angela McGlowan, who formally announced her candidacy last week, is a favorite of the Tea Party folks and says they urged her to run. The most common characteristic of that movement is its frustration with all incumbents. McGlowan lumps Nunnelee – a 15-year veteran of the state Senate – in with the group, even if he hasn’t been in Washington.
McGlowan, the former FoxNews analyst, and the other Republican candidate, former Eupora Mayor Henry Ross, will try to paint Nunnelee as insufficiently conservative – a challenge, given his record – and to portray him as part of the problem. McGlowan’s primary campaign clearly will make an anti-Republican establishment appeal.
In a fascinating counter move, Nunnelee this week will host former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at a fund-raising luncheon for Nunnelee’s campaign. It was Huckabee who in 2008, much to the consternation of the national Republican establishment, persisted in a drawn-out primary campaign against John McCain even after Huckabee had no chance for the nomination. Huckabee appeals to the social conservatives who are the nucleus of the Tea Party movement and has impeccable anti-establishment credentials.
The Republicans lost the 1st District in 2008 in part because of a bruising primary. Their ability to mend wounds after the June 1 vote will be critical to their chances against the formidable Childers in November.

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