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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.

Perception hard to avoid with feet in your mouth

January 14th, 2011 Comments off

Quick, which state is last in healthcare?
Education?
Race relations?
Gov. Haley Barbour, while I am sure he already knew, is getting a full dose of perception as he prepares to announce whether he is going to run for president in 2012.
Just last week, a headline on the Bloomberg website read, “Barbour’s Comments on Kidneys, Klan Underscore Struggles in Mississippi”.
The story, in part, went on as such:
Governor Haley Barbour’s boyhood memories of Mississippi’s civil-rights strife are diverting attention from his stewardship of a state that might be the launchpad for a 2012 presidential run.
Supporters say Barbour, a 63-year-old Republican who has led Mississippi for seven years, has been the state’s biggest booster, getting re-elected with a 58 percent majority even as he increased taxes and spending. The former lobbyist and Republican National Committee chairman led the recovery from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He lured employers including General Electric Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. to expand, though the state remains ranked last in per-capita income and education.
That record has been overshadowed in the past two weeks by criticism of his views on race, an inescapable issue in a state where segregationist violence disenfranchised blacks for generations.

We like to think we have moved on.
But stories like this always seem to pop up.
When then Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm took shots at Mississippi a couple of years ago, we were all appalled.
Granholm was defending tax increases when she said, “Now is the time to stand up for those priorities. What we’re fighting for is Michigan not becoming Mississippi.”
We threw all kinds of stats at her, including how Mississippi’s unemployment rate was much lower than in Michigan.
“Shame on you Governor Granholm,” Mississippi’s State Senator Dean Kirby wrote in an e-mail. “Have you compared your tax structure to that of Mississippi? Have you ever been to Mississippi? Shame, shame shame !!”
Shame, shame, shame, indeed.
OK, now let’s take a look at the real issue here, whether it be about the Barbour story or the Michigan story — perception.
We still have a perception problem. Folks around the country view us as uneducated and backwoods.
We know that’s not true.
But it wasn’t so long ago that New York’s Charles Rangel made similar comments that enraged us all. Instead of firing back, 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 listens to likely was born in Mississippi.
She should be reminded that 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.
Gov. Granholm should be reminded of the great literature and writers who have come from Mississippi — from Faulkner to Welty.
We also would like to point out the great journalism tradition that we have in Mississippi ranging from Pulitzer winners of the 1940s with the Delta Democrat Times to a 2006 Pulitzer winner in the Sun Herald of Biloxi.
Mississippi is a wonderful place, and we would like the opportunity to show everyone what we are talking about.
Having said all of that, there are plenty of reasons that Mississippi isn’t always at the top of the popularity list.
We all know the reasons — education, racial tensions, etc.
But we can’t make the outside world’s job easy. Gov. Barbour has got to be smarter about what he says, regardless of whether is running for president.
He is still representing all of us out there. And when he makes comments like he has made recently, he gives the Rangels and Granholms and Bloombergs of the world ammunition to use.
In this world, we either do or don’t, all on our own. We have to make our own way. We created the perception that others have of us and we must make the difference in changing that perception.
First, we must own up to it.
Second, we must do differently than we did.
If we don’t, we deserve what we get.

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