OUR OPINION: Bipartisan challenges begin with state’s public schools

By NEMS Daily Journal

“If you had to agree with Haley Barbour on every issue it would be a mighty small party. That’s just a fact, and we need people to understand that at the end of the day, Reagan was right. A person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is your friend and ally, not some 20 percent traitor.”
Gov. Haley R. Barbour, R-Miss., June 2011, at a press conference, and earlier in 2010 at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, New Orleans
Anew legislative term begins Tuesday and soon after a new governor, Phil Bryant, takes office, replacing the term-limited Haley Barbour. The Yazoo City native will return to work for BGR, the lobbying firm of international stature he helped found in Washington and from which he returned to Mississippi full-time to successfully seek the governorship in 2003.
Bryant enters the executive office suite overlooking the Capitol complex with two Republican chambers, the first time since post-Civil War Reconstruction that the GOP has held the gavel in both the House and Senate.
After the initial surges of adrenaline subside, the festivities have temporarily ended and the glow of a grand inaugural has been extinguished, the governor and Legislature, including large Democratic minorities in both chambers, must get down to governing.
Coming off eight years of unprecedented sway and influence by the governor within the Legislature, it is undoubtedly difficult for some continuing incumbents to fully agree with Barbour’s description of allies and friends. He drove hard bargains. He effectively persuaded his caucuses to stand firm with or for him on most issues, but he also understood that any piece of common ground offered a foundation for potential agreement/productive compromise.
Both major political parties would prefer smooth sailing for partisan agendas, as would individual politicians, but that’s not possible except on the rarest of issues.
Every issue legitimately before the 2012 and succeeding sessions will have common ground because the work of the Legislature and governor is about Mississippi.
Gov.-elect Bryant’s inaugural theme is “Rising Together.” It could be paraphrased as forward together or ahead together. What it cannot be is standing pat or turning back.
Gov. Barbour threw himself into opening doors to bring decision-makers from around the world to see what our state offers for mutually beneficial economic development and investment. The Toyota assembly plant in Blue Springs stands as testament to the role he played at crucial times in crucial ways.
Few things will change the purely partisan allegiances in the Legislature, but most of what Mississippi must accomplish for itself falls in that 80 percent territory where Barbour says people can be allies and friends. He was speaking in context about Republicans, but most issues in a legislative context have strongly bipartisan substance and application.
One of the first areas on which common ground should be established is public education – its priority, its funding and its quality for all students. Most Mississippians send their children to public schools, and one sure way to start and continue controversy is to try and reshape public education in the image of anything smacking of exclusion.
Our state will rise together only to the extent that educational attainment increases across the population, with adequate special skills and training for 21st-century jobs.