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Historic aspects underpin Blackmon-Tuck race

As I See It

Everybody wants to be governor, right — but why? It’s a less powerful position than most voters probably realize, and in fact, the lieutenant governor’s axe chops a lot more wood in Mississippi.

This year’s race for lieutenant governor is historic on two counts: First, both major party candidates are female. Secondly, one of them is an African-American, the first to run as a major party candidate in a statewide election in more than 100 years.

In the role of leader of the Mississippi Senate, the lieutenant governor wields significant influence and power. She will choose the committee chairs who, in turn, decide which legislative bills see action on the floor. Thus, she will set the legislative priorities in the Senate by choosing like-minded chairs that will advance her agenda.

Mississippi faces several enormous issues that need attention in the upcoming legislative session.

At the risk of appearing to be a single-issue writer, I must reiterate the deplorable condition of the state’s finances. The situation is bad and is getting worse since our elected leaders have chosen to put enough duct tape on the problem to get us through the election without too much attention being focused on the problem.

Secondly, we have taken a baby step forward in dealing with the tort situation in Mississippi. As laudable as the baby step tort reform bill was, it is nothing more than a bandage applied to a gushing artery. The fact that the Legislature passed a bill to provide some minimum relief to the medical tort area is small comfort to dozens of rural communities who have no doctors. As Marie Antoinette might have said, let them heal their own wounds and deliver their own babies while the trial lawyers enjoy driving their Bentleys — after an ambulance or two.

Jobs, jobs, jobs. Our nation is enjoying a jobless recovery from recession. Economic indicators are up and so is unemployment. NAFTA, though an inevitable part of globalization and the New Economy, is partly to blame. Another culprit is the success of technology in improving productivity. We have replaced millions of workers nationwide with robots and other technical innovations unheard of until the last decade.

What has jobs got to do with the race for lieutenant governor? Tens of thousands of our low-skill jobs have disappeared over the last few years. Those jobs are gone forever, but the people, unemployed or underemployed as they may be, are still here. We have somewhat negated the job loss statistic by purchasing jobs with state money, Nissan being the classic example.

Locating the Nissan plant in Canton was and will be good for Mississippi. Paying the price to get those jobs was the right thing to do. However, how far should we go with buying jobs? How far can we go before we start having to cut essential state services to pay for the jobs we have bought? I don’t know the answer but I know that we need a plan — a comprehensive plan for economic development. This task has been attempted before with some initial success, but it has shriveled on the vine from inattention. The lieutenant governor is in the catbird seat to encourage development of a comprehensive economic development plan for the state.

Education is a continuing problem. We’re pouring millions and millions of dollars into public education and the kids aren’t taking the bait. Somehow, they do not understand that their education has an impact on their future. Sometimes it seems that they don’t even understand that they have a future. Crowding the curriculum with more requirements and more testing is not going to push kids into the arena. Somehow, our youth need to be energized about their future and the lieutenant governor’s perch is a good place to get something innovative going.

The current lieutenant governor, Amy Tuck, is seeking re-election as a Republican. She has extensive experience in state government at several levels and has been a friend to the business community. The challenger, State Sen. Barbara Blackmon, is a Democrat and a trial lawyer who is married to a trial lawyer and her support of the business community is questionable.

The two candidates come from different directions with widely varying viewpoints. Both are vigorous campaigners and will walk a rut in the campaign trail. We’ll be watching closely to see who champions the issues that are of importance to business, and we’ll be commenting on those as the campaign progresses.

Thought for the Moment — Conscience is the inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking. — H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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