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Political nastiness doesn

As I See It

This political season’s attack ads and negative campaign tactics are unprecedented in their volume and viciousness.

I’ve been surprised by how far both Haley Barbour and Ronnie Musgrove have gone in their attacks against each other.

And just when most voters probably thought it impossible to sink lower, Barbara Blackmon demands that her opponent, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, sign an affidavit swearing that she has never had an abortion.

Unbelievable, but clearly the folks running these campaigns think that they’re only doing what it takes to win. The costs, apparently, be damned.

I cannot recall a more mud-stained fall in recent Mississippi political history. But what is this negative campaigning all about?

To a great extent, it’s really nothing more than attempts by the candidates and campaigns to deflect attention from the critical issues looming over the Magnolia State.

I would like to interject some sensibility into this sorry situation.

First of all, the North American Free Trade Agreement has benefited Mississippi’s overall economy far more than it has hurt it. Without NAFTA, and the companion GATT agreements, Nissan and all the automotive suppliers would not have located here. So, you can’t really impugn NAFTA and praise the arrival of Nissan in the same breath.

Thus, the governor’s ranting about NAFTA is empty rhetoric.

Of course, it is also true that Mississippi’s loss of tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs over the past few years came as a result of globalization, and there is nothing that Gov. Musgrove could have done to prevent it.

Most of the lost jobs were low-skill, low-pay, and offered by outfits that came here because of cheap labor and left to pursue even cheaper labor elsewhere. If the main thing you are selling is cheap labor, you better have the cheapest labor available.

So much for political attacks.

Truth is, unlike the recent California recall election, both Ronnie Musgrove and Haley Barbour are qualified to be governor. Having said that, voters need to be given each of the candidate’s positions on the vital issues facing our state so that we can make an intelligent decision. Not going to happen.

Plenty of tough issues to go around

The issues that threaten our happiness — and the pursuit of it — are going to be hard to resolve. They can’t be dismissed with emotional, simplistic sound bites. Solving the problems are going to be painful for the taxpayers of Mississippi — and nobody wants to admit that sad fact.

Medicaid is out of control. Whatever the intent, the Legislature opened the program up to far too many people by lowering the bar for qualification. We can’t afford what we have promised. Notwithstanding the prospect for federal reimbursement, we are still overcommitted.

There’s a problem with thinking that the more we spend on Medicaid the more we’ll have as a result of federal reimbursement. If that were true, we should up the Medicaid budget to several trillion dollars and Mississippi would be rolling in dough. Obviously, there’s a rat in that pile somewhere.

In general, the prosperity of the 1990s allowed state governments all across America to promise ever-increasing levels of services to the taxpayers. Now that the economy has slowed, fulfilling those commitments is not going to be possible. Accordingly, folks are going to get less in the future and they are going to holler and whine and froth at the mouth.

On the subject of civil justice reform, we scratched the surface last year, but plenty of work remains to be done.

We need to overhaul the entire system and put some meaningful limits in place. Anyone who believes that Mississippi’s reputation as Heaven-on-Earth for plaintiff attorneys hasn’t hurt economic development and the business climate from one end of the state to the other is living in a fantasy world.

The lieutenant governor is arguably the most powerful elected official in the state. Along with the speaker of the house, they award legislative committee chairs, and those are the folks who ultimately determine what bills make it to the Legislature for debate and vote. Trial lawyers, who have effectively blocked efforts at civil justice reform, have historically chaired the judicial committees.

So, what do the candidates for lieutenant governor have to say about their plans for committee chairs? Who knows, but I wonder how strongly Barbara Blackmon, a trial lawyer herself, is going to pursue patching up the cracks in the system that has made her — and her husband, another trial lawyer — extremely wealthy.

What about turnout?

Though the governor can do little more than influence the state budget, it would still be enlightening to hear what each of the candidates plan to do about the sorry shape of state government finances. Which departments are going to be cut and how much? What services will be terminated? How will the agencies function in a smaller state government?

These are the types of questions on my mind. It takes raw courage to tell the people what they don’t want to hear. Thus far, that courage hasn’t appeared in this onslaught of campaign advertising. Rather we’re bombarded with attack ads that may be designed, in part, to keep our eyes off the ball.

Aside from the negativity of personal attack ads, there’s a bigger issue at stake: turnout.

While Secretary of State Eric Clark is working hard to excite Mississippians about voting, what impact will the mudslinging and finger-pointing have? How many people will simply opt out of the fracas and stay home on election day? It’s impossible to predict, but it can’t be helping things.

Voting is a privilege and a responsibility. Please mark your calendars for November 5th and fulfill your patriotic duty by taking the time and effort to vote. One of my proudest accomplishments is that I have voted in every election since I became 21. Every one! I hope all of our readers will adopt this as a personal goal.

Thought for the Moment — When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. — President Franklin D. Roosevelt

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

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