New Albany, MS– In a single generation Mississippi has gone from being a one-party state to, again, being a one-party state.
Still a one-party state government
That simple fact may be the key to why Mississippi state government, while claiming transparency in politics, is such an embarrassment today. It explains how the Mississippi legislature, during this year’s session, was able to pass the fiscal year 2017 state budget without holding a single open committee hearing.
Mississippi legislators not in the ruling clique, both Republicans and Democrats, were not allowed to ask questions or make comments. Legislators of both parties have sworn that they knew nothing about the contents of bills until they came to the floor for a vote.
Thus the “Budget Transparency and Simplification Act of 2016” became law and goes into effect Friday, July 1, 2016.
Although his record for integrity and actual service in office was a mixed bag, at best, George Corley Wallace was substantially correct in the 1960s when he declared, “There ain’t a dimes worth of difference between Democrats and Republicans.”
For more than a hundred years, the Democratic Party was THE party in Mississippi. The party’s hold on the state started to weaken a little when Barry Goldwater carried the state in the 1964 presidential election, and Democrats weakened themselves when they split along racial lines in 1968. Then, Republican Kirk Fordice whipped Democrat Ray Mabus in 1991, becoming the first Republican elected governor of Mississippi since “Reconstruction.”
By 1991, both of our current U.S. Senators, Cochran and Wicker, were marching under the Grand Old Party banner, although both had previously been Democrats.
After Fordice moved into the Governor’s Mansion, Democratic office holders started fleeing the party that had “brung ’em to the dance.” It was a regular parade. The Republicans would hold little press conferences in Jackson to welcome “galvanized” Republicans to the fold. (During the Civil War, Confederate soldier who left the Rebel side and joined the Union Army were called “galvanized Yankees.”)
Governors Fordice and Barbour would trot out a sheepish judge or legislator in front of the microphones and announce their having seen the light and “j’ined up” with the GOP. In 2002 they exhibited Amy Tuck, who had been elected lieutenant-governor as a Democrat, and she pledged her new Republican allegiance. She was rewarded by Governor Barbour allowing her to be elected to a second term.
The two state legislators now supposed to be serving Union County were originally elected as Democrats. Nickey Browning, originally elected our senator as a Democrat in 1995, came out of the closet and declared for the Republicans in 2013. State Representative Margaret Rogers, elected as a Democrat to serve Union County as our state representative in 2003, converted to the GOP in January 2011, near the end of her second term. Ms Rogers was displayed before the news cameras, grinning with gratitude as she was accepted into the fold, anointed by Governor Haley Barbour as a “galvanized Republican.”
And so it has gone until the Republicans have a “super majority” in both houses of the state legislature. Thus we have the “Budget Transparency Act.”
Transparency in Politics: the local effect
Here are a few of the losses New Albany and Union County would suffer each year under the guise of “transparency in politics”:
- $150,000 lost each year for fire-fighting equipment in New Albany and Union County.
The state insurance commissioner is directed by law to collect money on certain insurance premiums, and the money, several million dollars each year, is to go into the “County Volunteer Fire Department and Municipal Fire Protection Fund” (Fire Rebate Funds). Current law directs the insurance commissioner to rebate that money directly to local fire departments when they buy fire trucks, etc.. Under the “transparency act,” that money will be swept into the state general fund. Local fire departments can no longer depend on getting their fair share of the Rebate Fund money every year. Instead, local fire departments will have to go “hat in hand” to the state legislature and hope to get the money for fire equipment.
- $17,000 for election expenses lost by Union County.
By an act of the state legislature in 2002, Mississippi secretaries of state have been authorized to pay money from the “Election Support Fund” directly to Mississippi counties, according to a formula that divides the money by county population. During the last year that totaled a little more than $17,000 for Union County. The “Transparency Act” sweeps that money into the state general fund. Local election officials would now have to go begging the state legislature for the election support money each year.
- $12,000 for communications equipment for the New Albany Police Department lost each year.
State law allows local city governments to levy a fee of $10.00 on traffic citations. The money collected is to go to the Mississippi Department of Public Safety Department, which is to reimburse it to local police departments for the cost of communications equipment. Those fees amount to about $1,000 each month for the New Albany Police Department. The “transparency act” grabs that money for the state general fund.
Local officials are hoping to get the money that has already been collected into these special funds, and have received various assurances that the “transparency in politics act” will not divert the money from them and into the general fund until next fiscal year.
As noted in the article posted on NAnewsweb.com Tuesday, June 28th, Mississippi Attorney General, Jim Hood, has ruled that the insurance commissioner and secretary of state may ignore the “transparency act” and distribute the special funds as they have in previous years.
What will really happen remains to be seen.
Governor Bryant called the legislature back to Jackson this week for a special session to authorize him to spend money from state “rainy day fund,” so the state can pay its bills for this month, the last of the fiscal year. They did so. Some New Albany and Union County officials had hoped the special session would reconsider and amend or repeal the “transparency act.” We said here, before the special session began, that there was very little chance of that happening, and it did not.
This article is already overly long and we’ll not get into a discussion of how the legislature has failed to fund public education for several years. Nor will we go into detail about the fact that the legislature has underpaid Union County by $118,000 for Homestead Exemption Reimbursement since 2011.
One-party state government, transparency in politics business as usual
The attempted diversion of money under the “transparency act” is simply the most recent way the state legislature has shortchanged Mississippians and their local governments.
No one should assume from what we’ve said herein that we think the Republicans have done any worse than the Democrats did when they were the monopoly power in Mississippi. We hold both parties about equally in contempt, both at the state and national level. We pretty much agree with Wallace that, at the core of them, there “ain’t a dime’s worth of difference.” The Three Stooges running Mississippi today are little different from Bilbo and John Bell Williams and Cliff Finch, who “served” when the Democrats had absolute power.
For whatever it’s worth: the galvanized Republicans who hold the house and senate seats, and who are supposed to be acting for the benefit of Union County, were contacted — repeatedly — for comment on these issues. We sent two e-mails each, sent a letter by U.S. mail to their homes, and made numerous phone calls to State Representative Margaret Rogers and State Senator Nickey Browning, asking for their comments on these budget matters. We were not surprised that neither of them responded.
For Transparency, Part I: When did they change the meaning of the word “transparency?”
For education funding shortfalls: Third-grade reading gate and third world math
For the politically driven health-care fiasco: Mississippi burned-again