The video would lead one to surmise the Corinth resident must be another tax-and-spend liberal Democrat. Or another way to look at the issue is that Mississippi legislators take literally hundreds of votes each year and a smart political consultant can construe one of those many votes into a lot bigger issue than it actually is.
It happens all the time. But the case being made against Powell in the video is almost laughable.
One of those tax increases Powell is accused of voting in favor of was on the state' s hospitals. The primary advocate for that tax increase was no other than Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, the poster child for fiscal conservatism.
As a matter of fact, at one point, Powell, like most legislative Democrats, was opposed to the tax increase on hospitals, but in 2009 Barbour essentially said he would block Medicaid funding unless the tax increase on the hospitals was enacted.
In a special session in the summer of 2008, Barbour tried to get the Legislature to enact the tax increase. But House Democrats blocked that effort.
Then, he tried to enact a $90-million tax increase on the hospitals without legislative approval. That effort was blocked in the courts.
But in the 2009 session, Barbour was dead set on the Legislature passing the tax. He said the tax would in reality make money for the hospitals because it would be used to pull down Medicaid funds from the federal government at roughly a 3 to 1 match.
The hospitals, though, opposed that idea. They contended they already were paying a tax to the state government and questioned why they should be compelled to pay more.
After all, highway contractors are not required to pay a special state tax to pull down federal highway funds at an even better matching rate than the state gets on Medicaid funds.
At any rate, during the 2009 session, a coalition of Senate Democrats and Republicans rejected Barbour's hospital tax increase. The tax also was supported by then-Senate Appropriations Chair Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, and Lt. Gov Phil Bryant.
Powell was among the coalition that went against the Senate leadership and Barbour to kill the hospital tax increase. The 2009 session ended without a budget agreement partly because Barbour could not get his hospital tax through either chamber of the Legislature.
The Legislature had to come back in special session to pass a budget, The bickering back and forth over the hospital tax and on other budget issues continued right up to nearly the start of the new fiscal year. Finally, hours before the new budget year began with no agreement to fund Medicaid, the Mississippi Hospital Association conceded to Barbour and agreed to the tax and urged legislators to pass it to ensure Medicaid funding continued.
It passed the Senate with no dissenting votes. It passed the House by a slim four-vote margin, but the members voting against it were not Republicans for the most part, but Democrats.
The Republican voted for the tax increase because that is what the governor wanted.
The fact that Powell is being criticized on the campaign trail for voting for the hospital tax increase is - like so many things in politics - laughable in a perverse kind of way.
By the way, the two other votes to increase health care taxes Powell is being criticized for in the video were an increase on the licensing fees for physicians and an increase on certain traffic citations and on certain other fees to help pay for the state' s trauma care system. The bill increasing the licensing fees was sponsored by Rep. Sid Bondurant, R-Grenada, the only physician in the Mississippi Legislature.
Both of those bills passed with near unanimous support and, like the hospital tax increase, was signed into law by Barbour.
Does Eric Powell deserve re-election? That is for the voters in Alcorn, Tishomingo and Tippah counties to decide. But the vote for or against him should not be based on the aforementioned campaign video.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal's Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at bobby.harrison@ journalinc.com or call (601) 353-3119.