Well, the much publicized and eagerly anticipated special session of the Mississippi Legislature has occurred and, for now, the beast has been chained. The system won, the legislators lost, democracy works. Their vulgar passage of a law which would double their retirement pay has been repealed.
Is there anything to be learned from this sorry episode in Mississippi political history? I think there is.
Without unnecessarily beating a dead horse, let’s see what really happened. Ever since Adam and Eve violated the Garden of Eden, greed has been a part of human nature. It shows its ugly face in our unrelenting quest for money and power. All of us are infected with this disease and our struggle to overcome it defines our character. Plain and simply, the Legislature thought they could “slip one over on us” while we weren’t paying attention. Likewise, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove thought he could avoid the taint of participation by not signing the bill and letting it become law and thereby reap the rewards without leaving his fingerprints on the weapon.
The Legislature is in a no-win situation. Either they must own up to incompetence for approving legislation without knowing what it said or confess to their greed in participating in a plot to clandestinely feather their personal financial nest while the public wasn’t looking. Ah, but the public was looking! And the public didn’t like what it saw.
I would personally like to commend the media for their dogged devotion to keeping the issue before the public, particularly the The Clarion-Ledger for its strong and unwavering editorials. Does anybody in the state believe that the law would have been repealed without the pressure brought about by the unrelenting media bombardment? I don’t think so.
Some of the comments from the Legislators were instructive. Eric Fleming equated repeal of the law as putting legislators in “public slavery” rather than public service. Ah yes, the race card. Well, Mr. Fleming, I don’t think it will work. Public outrage was color-blind in this case. The real color was green! If you feel that public service is tantamount to being hauled down to the Capitol in shackles and chains, perhaps you should find another line of work.
A number of legislators claimed that they deserve the loot because their constituents bother them all the time, calling them at inconvenient times and disturbing their dinner. One legislator, with a known proclivity towards violence, suggested that anyone given the opportunity to double their retirement would do so, ethically or otherwise.
In the days immediately following the session, many legislators publicly proclaimed that the entire mess was the fault of the media. The media? What an ignorant thing to say! That equates with a robber faulting the police for capturing him. House Speaker Tim Ford should be ashamed of himself.
Oh well, what good can come from all of this? Plenty. When the smoke clears, valuable lessons are ours for the learning.
1. Without being overly self-serving, the free press is an important safeguard in our country. I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said that the key to democracy is an informed electorate. Democracy is working and our free press is a significant part of the process. Viva la First Amendment!
2. The legislators can learn that “Santa Claus is watching you” and expects elected officials to serve the public interest unselfishly. Holding elected office is a privilege and not a license to filch the public purse.
3. Gov. Musgrove can hear the wake-up call and realize that all his actions are going to be examined under a microscope. Letting self-serving bills become law without his signature is a strategy that will not work.
Should we “throw the bums out?” No. The governor is a good and decent man and the Legislature includes a few good folks. They made a mistake, but no mistake is too bad if you learn from it. My guess is that they have indeed learned a lesson and will be models of public service in the future. However, I suspect that a number of them will be SLuRPed into early retirement.
THOUGHT FOR THE MOMENT
Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
— JAMES 4:17
Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.