OUR OPINION: Bipartisan work won the new Highway 9

By NEMS Daily Journal

The official groundbreaking for the new Mississippi Highway 9 last week was a festive event – a diverse group of people all happy that a long-needed highway is under construction and projected for a 2012 completion.
The new route, 10 miles of limited-access four-lane, will extend from Sherman to near Pontotoc, where it will intersect with Mississippi Highway 6, another four-lane.
The gathering, orchestrated by Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert and his staff, had elements of a Southern revival (under a tent, with folding chairs, “funeral home” fans, big electric fans, and coolers of ice water nearby) and a political rally (elected officials from both parties were there to be seen and celebrate).
The elected officials like Gov. Haley Barbour, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, and U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee all added something substantive in their comments, but a non-politician made the most salient points.
Dennis Cuneo, the former Toyota executive who recommended the Blue Springs site for the automaker’s new assembly plant, made brief remarks, but they were powerfully important.
First, he appropriately praised Barbour’s role in using his position and skill to win over the Japan-based Toyota executives.
Then, he praised the spirit of cooperation among the PUL Alliance officials (Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties) and the legislative delegation, and he specifically cited the bipartisanship marking the work that began in 2002 to locate an automaker in the Wellspring Megasite that’s now Toyota.
The new Highway 9 happened because of a continuation of that spirit; the highway was identified as an essential logistic of maximizing the Toyota investment’s jobs potential in Mississippi.
Cuneo said Northeast Mississippians, better than any other region he’s ever worked with, drop partisanship when it comes to economic development.
We believe that’s an essential dynamic moving forward because every issue, it seems, becomes politicized by party.
Money and jobs in the economy aren’t affiliated with either party, and most were created under policies crafted in a bipartisan spirit.
Barbour is a tough partisan, and Mississippi will bear the imprint of his Republicanism for a long time, but he never blinked in working with Democrats and independents to bring Toyota to Northeast Mississippi.
The same spirit characterized the private-sector leadership involved in Highway 9 and the Toyota project. It’s arguable that a majority of the business people and developers are Republicans, but party affiliation took a back seat to a more important nonpartisan goal: jobs and prosperity.
No partisan words were spoken at Thursday’s groundbreaking event. The most important issue was the red dirt that has been sculpted from Pontotoc to Sherman since July 5, when construction started on the new highway.
It’s virtually certain that everyone under the tents set up for the ceremony has political preferences, probably as intently about county races as statewide offices and the presidency. The politicians worked the crowd, but most of the conversation was about what was visibly happening all around the celebration.
The sense of expectation was palpable. It was telling that the attendees included some of those who sold land for right-of-way, happy that a new highway signaling progress would be part of their legacy.
Very few long-term, productive public policy decisions are made by one party or one faction.
Mississippi needs the bipartisanship and generous spirit that has so far shaped the Toyota experience and its spin-offs.