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Idaho writer needs a Mississippi education

April 8th, 2011 Comments off

Don’t believe the notion that Mississippi has a bad public relations image? Then you might want to check out the following March 30 headline from the Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho.
“Idaho looking up at (gulp) Mississippi”
A column from opinion editor Steve Crump went on to hammer our fair state, beginning the ranting with:
TGFM. Thank God for Mississippi. Every educator, politician, public health worker and economist in Idaho has uttered that phrase at one time or another.
Crump’s diatribe is a warning to Idahoans after the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that the annual average income in Idaho was $32,257 last year, second worst in the nation, just ahead of — you guessed it — Mississippi.
Our average yearly salary was $31,186.
Many of Crump’s points were valid, but some were mean spirited and way off base.
First a few of the valid points, which Crump used as bulleted items, to show readers where Idaho trails the Magnolia State.
>> Mississippi has a lower rate of binge drinking than Idaho.
>> Idaho spends less per pupil on public schools than Mississippi — a lot less. The difference is $970 per student.
>> Mississippi has lower corporate, individual and unemployment insurance taxes than Idaho.
>> Idaho trails Mississippi in the disparity in salary between men and women.
>> In the past decade, Mississippi’s per capita personal income has grown half-again as fast as Idaho.
>> Idaho has a lower immunization rate than Mississippi.
>> Mississippi has a higher percentage of its citizens who check their cholesterol than Idaho’s residents.
>> Idaho has a higher underemployment rate than Mississippi.
>> Although both states received “Ds,” Mississippi finished higher than Idaho in Education Week magazine’s most recent rankings. In the category standards, assessment and accountability, Mississippi received a “B;” Idaho got a “C.” Mississippi also got higher marks in school finance and teachers.

Low blows
Then there were the cheap shots:
If this continues, no Idahoan is gonna be able to go out of the house without a Confederate flag over his or her head.
I mean, have you been to Mississippi?
The humidity is so bad it’s like walking around in concrete overshoes. You have to change your shirt three times a day.
The roads are terrible, the politicians are crooked, the drivers are drunk (10.35 DUI fatalities per 100,000 people, as opposed to 4.67 in Idaho), fire ants and cockroaches are everywhere, and the food?
Crump went on to clobber our food based on a compilation of recipes for a book put out by the “Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation,” which is a really named the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
But who’s keeping score?
Anyway, the cookbook listed recipes for Squirrel Cacciatore, Rabbit Ravioli, a few others as well as what Crump called his personal favorite of Coon a la Delta.
I am a true Mississippian, with a public school Delta education, and no true expertise as a chef. I mean, I cut classes at Delta State University to clean squirrels and help make squirrel stew for the all the guys in my dorm. So, what do I know?
But I do know Mississippi’s resident food expert John T. Edge from the Southern Foodways Alliance. Edge is the author or editor of more than 10 books, including “Cornbread Nation: the Best of Southern Food Writing.” He also writes for many publications, including the New York Times.
He says his his son, Jess, won’t eat souse or trotters. Neither will his wife, and according to Edge, this situation frustrates him and he sees no resolution forthcoming.
I emailed Edge to ask his thoughts of Crump’s column.
“This doesn’t seem smart enough to dignify with a reply.” Edge emailed back. “What does Idaho know?”
For the record, I gave Crump an opportunity to respond for this column, but he did not reply to email and phone messages.
This isn’t the first time folks in other regions of the country have taken pot shots at our state to make their states look better.
Last year, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, while defending tax increases said, “Now is the time to stand up for those priorities. What we’re fighting for is Michigan not becoming Mississippi.”
New York’s Charles Rangel also made less-than- thoughtful comments of us a couple of years back.
As I have said before, we must do a better job of educating folks about our wonderful slice of the South.
It should be pointed out that whatever music Granholm or Rangel or even Idaho’s Steve Crump of the Times-News listens to likely was born in Mississippi.
Every major form of music in America got its roots in Mississippi — from Elvis Presley and rock n roll in Tupelo to country and western in Meridian to blues and jazz in the Mississippi Delta.
Maybe Crump and others should be reminded of the great literature and writers who have come from Mississippi — from Faulkner to Welty.
We also have a great journalism tradition ranging from Pulitzer winners of the 1940s at the Delta Democrat Times to a 2006 at the Sun Herald of Biloxi.
Surely, if Crump had known all of these things, he might not have been so quick to hit below the belt.
Having said that, there are plenty of well-documented reasons — education, racial tensions, etc. — Mississippi isn’t always at the top of the popularity list.
Crump and others should be admonished for the childish comments made, but we must be honest with ourselves.
There’s a long way to go, and people like Granholm and Rangel and Crump wouldn’t have made the comments they made if there we didn’t have a problem with perception.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.