“The typical lawmaker of today is a man devoid of principle — a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him he would be cheerfully in favor of polygamy, astrology, or cannibalism.”
— dead American journalist H.L. Mencken
I’m sitting here quite dejected (OK, it was a few weeks ago). Gov. Ronnie Musgrove just announced that he’s calling a special session of the Legislature to re-examine the lovely new law doubling legislators’ retirement pay.
I’m upset because I had already begun this column on the apparent vacuum of leadership currently in our state government, and the governor’s announcement meant scrapping a lot of what I had already written.
But not all of it.
Gov. Musgrove shouldn’t have called a special session because he should have never let the bill become law. Period. It’s arguably the biggest mistake in a young administration that’s already seen its fair share of questionable decisions.
It was more than unfortunate that after eight years as Mississippi’s CEO Kirk Fordice left the Governor’s Mansion under a little more cloud cover than before he arrived. It was regrettable that Fordice’s personal life received nationwide coverage. Not exactly the PR we’d like to see.
Musgrove’s arrival was viewed by many as a potential breath of fresh air, a return of respect for the office that may have lost some standing. Instead, we’ve gotten a rabbit-out-of-the-hat teachers’ pay raise, deep slashes in our junior and senior college budgets, that crazy labor department thing and a governor that has showed a lack of leadership skills. Now this retirement stink.
It would have been almost as horrible to have signed the bill. But to simply do nothing, let it sit there without vetoing it and allowing it to “slide” into law, is reprehensible. He obviously wanted his legislative chums to get their retirement bump, but was not willing to take the heat for actually inking it.
Who’s steering the ship?
Louis Treman once said, “If you want a track team to win the high jump, you find one person who can jump seven feet, not seven people who can jump one foot.” Winston Churchill said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.”
Say what you want about Kirk Fordice, but ask yourself an honest question : would Fordice have let that bill go? Better yet, would he have given a sideways nod to a bill with which he had reservations, a feeling that Gov. Musgrove has already admitted to having experienced with the bill? Love him or hate him, you never had to guess where Fordice stood on an issue. The current governor has yet to give much evidence of that quality.
Defenses and excuses can be made for the administration’s early foibles. The election controversy and the corresponding delay in the transition into the mansion was obviously out of the governor’s hands and understandably may have negatively effected his early effectiveness. And the governor did make a stand for the teachers’ pay raise (though the plan for funding it is at best shaky), an action he had to take to protect his credibility after campaigning so hard on the issue.
There’s the word — credibility. I believe Musgrove won the governor’s race for one main reason: people felt he would be a stand-up guy and do the right thing for the state. In short, he would be a leader. If he ever loses that trust factor, he’ll be back in Batesville in a little less than four years.
As far as the other guilty parties in this travesty, legislators can have a fist fight on the floor and hardly draw a ripple. I guess our expectations are much lower for our lawmakers.
Lt. Gov. Tuck’s general response of “I didn’t know” was at least honest. Not a great sign when one of the Legislature’s top officers doesn’t know what’s going on — but honest.
Wally Northway is a staff writer for the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.