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Hewes’ committee picks — strange? Yes. Smart? We’ll see

July 12th, 2011 3 comments

It was less then a week ago when Tate Reeves’ campaign released poll figures that showed him with a 40-point lead over Billy Hewes in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor.

Tuesday morning, Hewes countered. At a press conference at the Capitol, Hewes revealed who he would name as chairmen of the most powerful committees in the Senate.

Here are his picks:

Appropriations: Doug Davis, R-Hernando, who has chaired that committee since Alan Nunnelee left for D.C.

Judiciary A: Chris McDaniel, R-Laurel. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, is the current chair of that committee.

Finance: Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, who is the committee’s current chair.

Education: Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula. Videt Carmichael, R-Meridian, is the current chair of that committee.

Speaking of Carmichael, he would ascend to president pro tem of the Senate, Hewes said.

So let’s review: Hewes’ picks for critical chairmenships and president pro tem come from Rankin, Jackson, DeSoto and Lauderdale counties. You don’t have to be any kind of political expert to know that those are among the most populated GOP hotspots in Mississippi. Still, it’s odd, and Hewes has certainly backed himself into a corner and most likely alienated a few members (like Fillingane) of his party.

Even if you don’t put much stock in Reeves’ poll numbers, the fact remains that Hewes is considerably behind in the campaign cash race and the all-important name-recognition game.

Three weeks are left until the primary, a period Hewes called “an eternity.”

So we’ll be waiting a while to see if this was a shrewd political maneuver or an act of desperation.

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A quick glance at latest poll numbers in Lt. Gov. race

July 6th, 2011 1 comment

Tate Reeves’ campaign released Wednesday morning poll numbers that show the treasurer is leading his opponent in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Billy Hewes, by more than 40 points.

Out of 500 likely voters in the Aug. 2 primary surveyed by OnMessage Inc., 56 percent said they would vote for Reeves. Hewes garnered 16 percent.

What caught our eye immediately was that the results of the poll, taken June 29-30, showed that Reeves led in the Gulfport-Biloxi area, which Hewes has represented in the Legislature for two decades.

Obviously, the importance of these numbers lies in the eyes of the beholder. Reeves and his followers will likely take them as gospel; the Hewes camp probably won’t give them much more than a passing thought. The wisdom or folly of either approach will be decided Aug. 2.

For the full release from the Reeves campaign, click here.

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Speed sues Hosemann to keep eminent domain off ballot (Updated)

June 3rd, 2011 No comments

Mississippi Development Authority interim executive director Leland Speed has sued Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, in an attempt to keep the eminent domain petition off November’s ballot.

If you’ll recall, the petition seeks to prevent the taking of private land for private development. It keeps in place the state’s authority to seize private land for public-use projects, like streets or bridges.

Nearly 120,000 people signed petitions to get the issue on the ballot. Hosemann certified the results last year.

The Mississippi Development Authority and Gov. Haley Barbour were adamantly against the notion of eliminating the state’s authority to use eminent domain for private economic development. Barbour and Gray Swoope, Speed’s successor at MDA, warned that projects like Toyota wouldn’t be in Mississippi if the law were changed.

Following a failure to change the law in the Legislature, a petition drive led by the Mississipi Farm Bureau Federation commenced, and the issue was set for the November ballot, until Thursday afternoon.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for July 25 in Hinds County Circuit Court.

Pamela Weaver, spokesperson for Hosemann, just told Magnolia Marketplace that he would not comment beyond a statement, in which he said he intended to follow state law and place the initiative on the ballot, unless otherwise ordered by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

We’ve left a message on the cell phone of an MDA spokesperson, which wasn’t immediately returned.

For what it’s worth, Magnolia Marketplace several months ago polled the major contenders in the governor’s race — Phil Bryant, Dave Dennis, Bill Luckett, Johnny Dupree and Hudson Holliday — and they were of one mind: Eminent domain should be employed only for projects of direct public use, and that doesn’t include private economic development. Bryant, Dennis and Holliday each signed the petition to get the initiative on the ballot.

If and when we hear something from the MDA, we’ll post it. Rest assured, though: This is going to be a fight.

UPDATE: MDA spokesperson Melissa Medley just returned our call. She said that agency would have no comment on Speed’s lawsuit since he filed it as an individual, and not in his official capacity as interim executive director of the MDA.

We just got off the phone with Speed’s assistant, who said he was out of town and wouldn’t return until Monday around lunchtime. We’ll try to catch up with him then.

Burton: No political favoritism behind budget bill language

April 4th, 2011 1 comment

Monday morning, Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, got a text message from Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, in which Newton asked Moak to allow the conference report for House Bill 1095 to clear the House, which would have sent it to Gov. Haley Barbour’s desk to await his signature. The text, Moak said, seemed odd because Moak had done no work on the bill. He wasn’t the committee chair that sent it to the floor, and he wasn’t one of the conferees appointed to hash it out.

HB 1095 is a bill that revises actual revenue numbers for fiscal year 2011 for several state agencies, including the Department of Public Safety and the Division of Medicaid. Language inserted either late last week or over the weekend, however, spells out the job description and educational requirements of the deputy director of administration of the Division of Medicaid. The educational requirements say a candidate “shall have at least five years’ experience in a health-related field and/or shall possess a special knowledge of Medicaid as pertaining to the State of Mississippi.  The Deputy Director of Administration may perform those duties of the executive director that the executive director has not expressly retained for himself.” The bill stipulates that the deputy director of administration would serve at the will and pleasure of the governor, and would be appointed by the governor.

 Moak, along with several other House Democrats and at least one Republican, opposed that language in the bill, saying it had been inserted too late in the process to property evaluate, and that it appeared to intend for a specific person to become the deputy director of administration at the Division of Medicaid.

“When several of us found out about it (over the weekend), that was the first time we had seen it,” Moak said. “We were really concerned.”

And when Moak got the text message from Burton in which Burton encouraged Moak to support the bill as a whole, Moak said it “kind of raised my eyebrows. I had no conversations with Burton about this beforehand. So somebody told him I was against it. That’s my logical rationale.”

Magnolia Marketplace called Burton to get his reaction to what Moak had told us, and to ask him if he was interested in becoming the deputy director of administration at the Division of Medicaid.

“I’ve qualified to run for re-election,” he told us. In that conversation, he denied having contacted any House member to encourage them to support the bill.

A few minutes after that, we called Moak back, who told us that he had received another text message from Burton, this one asking Moak to delete any text messages from Burton. Moak did not delete the messages, he said, because they could be the subject of a public records request.

Shortly after that, we called Burton again, who admitted to basically lobbying for the bill to Moak, but denied several times that he had been given assurances that the deputy director of administration job would be his.

“I supported it because the governor and the Division of Medicaid supported it,” Burton said. “If it’s for Medicaid, I’m going to support it. I’ve heard I’m going to be everything from Division of Medicaid Director to the head of the Department of Public Safety. Anything’s possible. Would I take the job if offered? I might.”

The job won’t be extended to anybody, because the language dealing with it has been taken out of the bill, after Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, made a point of order on the House floor that eliminated it. The conference report for the bill, minus the deputy director of administration language, has already been approved by both chambers and will now go to Barbour.

“I just didn’t understand the need,” Baker said, when asked why he raised the point of order that ended up striking the language. “We’re spending too much as it is.”

According to House Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer, who was one of the House conferees, the Division of Medicaid requested the language be inserted in the bill.

Division of Medicaid spokesperson Francis Rullan did tell us in an email this morning that the deputy director of administration position already exists, and that he is under the impression that it currently requires a college degree and a CPA license. We’ve followed up our original inquiry to see if the position is currently filled, what the salary would be and if the Division of Medicaid requested the language that was struck from the bill.

Before Baker’s action, the bill would have required that a candidate either have five years’ worth of experience in the healthcare field, or an intimate knowledge of Mississippi’s Medicaid system, or both. There was no requirement a candidate hold a college degree. Burton’s bio on the Senate website lists his education as having been attained from Newton High School. No college or university is listed.

Barbour spokesperson Laura Hipp said that the governor did not request the language be inserted into the bill, “but he wouldn’t have objected to it had it made it into the final version.”

Davis talks budget, redistricting at Stennis luncheon

March 7th, 2011 No comments

Sen. Doug Davis, R-Hernando, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said Monday he was “a little bit surprised” at Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant submitting his own redistricting plan late last week.

Davis was the speaker at the monthly lunch meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps in Jackson.

Bryant’s move came after the Senate Congressional Redistricting Committee and its chairman Terry Burton, R-Newton, had earlier passed a plan of its own. Davis said the Senators would take up one of the plans when they gavel in Monday afternoon. Whether it’s Bryant’s or Newton’s is anybody’s guess.

“From speaking with some senior members of the Senate, I’ve gathered that this is the first time the process has been handled this way,” Davis said, referring to the dueling redistricting proposals.

We should note that Davis didn’t sound like he was criticizing Bryant; he was, in our view, just pointing out the unique situation the Senate finds itself in. How that shakes out should make for fascinating political theater.

On the budget side, Davis wouldn’t commit to many specific numbers, but he did say that Gov. Haley Barbour’s veto of a bill that would have funded community colleges at the level they asked for was a good idea. “It’s entirely too early,” Davis said, to dole out money when budget-writers don’t have a crystal clear picture on what the revenue situation will be.

Each of the state’s K-12 districts can expect the same amount of funding in FY 2012 as they received in FY 2011, Davis said. “Budgeting in an election year during good times is difficult,” he said. “Budgeting in a recession and an election year and having to go through redistricting is a challenge the legislature hasn’t gone through in many, many years.”

RNC Chairman: GOP leading the way in “battle for freedom”

February 22nd, 2011 No comments

New Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was in Jackson Tuesday afternoon visiting with Gov. Haley Barbour and other party VIPs.

He held a short press conference with Barbour, who was once RNC chair, at the state GOP headquarters. In his opening remarks, Priebus wasted no time in revealing what he thinks is at stake in the latest political fight between Republicans and Democrats.

“I believe we’re in a battle for freedom, and Republicans are leading the way,” he said of the budget brawl in which congressional GOP leadership have engaged President Obama.

The continuing resolution that is currently funding the federal government expires March 4, but Priebus wouldn’t speculate on the possibility of a government shutdown should no extension or long-term funding agreement be reached before then.

“The only people talking about a shutdown are the Democrats,” he said.

Priebus spent about nine minutes of the 10-minute press conference discussing the federal funding situation and the awful mess in his home state of Wisconsin over the collective bargaining rights of public workers, and the political holy war that has broken out between unions and Gov. Scott Walker.

“All (Walker is) asking for is just a little bit of help from the state employee unions to pay 12 percent on their healthcare benefits and 5 percent on their pension benefits, which is half of what everyone else is Wisconsin is doing,” Priebus said.

Priebus was a little less verbose when he was asked to lay odds on Barbour’s chances in 2012.

“I look up to and admire Gov. Barbour, but at the end of the day we’re going to have a lot of great (GOP) candidates,” he said. “Whether it’s Gov. Barbour or another candidate, we’ll have a lot of great choices.”

The only real news came when Barbour said he had not had a chance to read either of the two major bills to clear the Legislature recently — the payday lending legislation and the open meetings reform bill. Without giving them a once-over, Barbour said, he couldn’t commit to signing them or not signing them.

 

Categories: Elections, Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

New councilman Whitwell talks arena, local option sales tax and city budget

February 16th, 2011 No comments

Quentin Whitwell won Tuesday’s special election to represent Jackson’s Ward 1 on the City Council, after former councilman Jeff Weill was elected last fall to the Hinds County Circuit Court bench.

Magnolia Marketplace had a phone conversation with Whitwell Wednesday morning, just before he headed to City Hall to polish up some paperwork in advance of his swearing-in on Thursday.

We talked about the downtown arena and the local option sales tax legislation Jackson leaders are attempting to push through the Legislature. Here’s what he told us:

Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. essentially took over the arena project late last year from the private entities that had been pursuing it for a couple years.

The city’s action was not met with much enthusiasm from the private sector. Johnson responded to that by saying that the private sector would have to be involved if a downtown arena were to become a reality.

Whitwell acknowledged that there is an inherent mistrust between Johnson and Jackson’s business community that was developed over Johnson’s first two terms.

“That’s something we have to get over,” Whitwell said. “I definitely believe this is an opportunity for the business community and the city to actually get things done. Whether we agree with the mayor every time or not, he is the mayor. I think it’s a positive, not a negative.”

The bill that would allow Jackson voters to decide via referendum if they would accept a 1 percent sales tax whose revenue would fund water and street infrastructure repair and maintenance has cleared the Senate and sits in the House Ways and Means Committee. As the bill reads now, hotels and restaurants, to go with retail food sales and cable and satellite TV service providers’ income, would be exempt from the additional tax.

“My fiscal conservative nature tells me that we are looking at a $300 million budget that is bloated,” Whitwell said. “There are a lot of things that can be cut. I’m not one of those people looking for more dollars in general.

“Having said that, I have been a vocal supporter of the optional sales tax for seven or eight years, going back to working with (Ridgeland) Mayor Gene McGee when he was president of the Mississippi Municipal League.

“I believe that the optional sales tax is a good measure because, No. 1, it’s ‘optional,’ and No. 2, the local government knows best what projects will make it successful,” Whitwell continued. “If Jackson is successful at passing this bill, I think it could be very good and it could free up additional monies (should 60 percent of voters approve it). But I’m going to be a watchdog over the taxpayer money. We already have a pretty high tax system and I think we need to be finding areas to be lowering taxes to start drawing people back into the city.”

When we asked Whitwell for specific things he thinks could or should be trimmed from the city’s budget, he mentioned the overhead associated with administrative departments and their staff, whose hiring process he called “the friends and family plan. I think that needs to be examined and cut significantly.”

““In 1990, our budget was $100 million,” he said. “It was projected then that our budget 20 years later would be $200 million. Since then, we’ve lost enough citizens to fill the city of Vicksburg, about 35,000 people. Yet our budget has increased an additional 50 percent of what was projected. What that tells me is that we’re spending more money than we really should spend.”

Damages cap briefs due to fly any minute

February 14th, 2011 No comments

A couple of newsy items on a pretty Monday morning …

The Mississippi Supreme Court has set a Feb. 28 deadline for parties to file briefs related to the damages cap question the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals kicked back to the state court earlier this year.

If last year’s premises liability case that also addressed the punitive damages cap is any indication, the briefs should come in by the truckload.

Mississippi’s $1 million cap on punitive damages was the cornerstone of 2004′s tort reform. It essentially eliminated the massive judgments that had earned the state a reputation as a plaintiff attorney’s paradise. The premises liability case reached the state’s high court last year after the plaintiff appealed the trial judge’s setting aside a $4 million jury verdict, and reducing it to comply with the $1 million cap. The Mississippi court clearly answered the premises liability issue, but did not rule on the constitutionality of the damages cap. That’s what the Fifth Circuit is asking the Supreme Court to do now.

Expect every business group and trade association there is to file a friend of the court brief in support of the cap. Gov. Haley Barbour, like he did in the premises liability case, will probably do the same.

A lawyer friend of Magnolia Marketplace told us a few weeks back that if the Court rules the damages cap is out of line with the Mississippi Constitution, “it’ll be like 1995 all over again” as far as the state’s tort climate goes. “All hell will break loose,” he said. “It’ll be like tort reform never happened.”

A lot of folks have a lot on the line in this deal.

In other news, Dave Dennis officially kicks off his campaign for governor this week, with stops planned all across the state. Unofficially, he’s been campaigning for over a year now.

Lynn Fitch, executive director of the State Personnel Board, will also start her campaign for treasurer with a three-day announcement tour.

Strap in. It’s going to be a busy week.

 

Bryant, business groups weigh in on House immigration bill

January 28th, 2011 1 comment

It was late Thursday afternoon when the House blindsided the Senate with an immigration bill that, structurally, shifts the liability for enforcing illegal immigration laws from law enforcement to the businesses that hire them.

The Senate’s version put most of the burden of enforcing illegal immigration laws on law enforcement; the bill included provisions that allowed citizens to sue their local police department or sheriff’s office if that citizen felt either agency was not doing enough, under the terms of the bill, to stop illegal immigration. Businesses who knowingly hired illegal immigrants faced mostly administrative penalties, like the possibility of lost operating licenses and probationary periods in which they had to submit employment reports to their local district attorney.

The House version takes a different tack. Gone is the ability to sue law enforcement, and in its place are heavy monetary penalties for businesses who knowingly hire folks who turn out to be in the U.S. illegally. The specifics: A $5,000 fine per day per illegal worker, up to $25,000 per day. That’s a lot of cash and would put most small businesses out of commission within a few days.

The House’s position is pretty simple: Illegal workers wouldn’t be here if businesses would stop hiring them.

Two directors of major business groups Magnolia Marketplace spoke with Friday morning had two wildly different opinions of the House bill.

Jay Moon, president and CEO of the Mississippi Manufacturing Association, didn’t have much of a problem with it “per se.”

“There are some things we’re not quite sure of,” he said. One of the biggest ambiguities, Moon said, is the question of whether companies that verify their workers’ residency eligibility through E-Verify, and that worker turns out to be here illegally, are still subject to the $5,000 per day fine for that worker.

One part of the bill seems to say the companies would be held harmless; another section seems to insinuate they would not.

“We’re not complaining about the sanctions, because we don’t support any manufacturer that hires undocumented workers, but we would like to see that cleaned up a little bit,” Moon said. “We have more procedural questions about the bill than anything else. The general spirit of it is something we can live with.”

Buddy Edens, head of the Mississippi Associated Builders and Contractors, had not read the bill when we spoke to him Friday morning, but said the notion of businesses being slapped with a fine that high “makes no sense at all. That’s pretty excessive.”

Politically, the breakdown of the House vote could present a conundrum for Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Senate GOP leadership.

Two Republican representatives, Larry Baker of Senatobia and Jessica Upshaw of Diamondhead, were absent when the vote went down Thursday afternoon. Rep. Tad Campbell, R-Meridian, voted against it. Every other House Republican voted for it.

Bryant was one of the bill’s most ardent supporters before the Senate sent it to the House. So he has a watershed decision to make in an election year that for him is the most important of his political life: Does he take a hardline stand against illegal immigration at the expense of the business community, which will solidify his popularity with the Tea Party and alienate his law enforcement and most of his business supporters? Or does he protect the business community and open himself up to accusations of being soft on illegal immigration?

He’s not totally tipping his hand yet.

“This is part of the legislative process,” he said in an emailed statement to Magnolia Marketplace. “But we believe the Senate has a better approach to a more fair and reasonable illegal immigration reform. The Senate bill mandates e-verify to protect employers and legal employees while giving law enforcement the authority to arrest those who cross our borders and violate our immigration laws.”

 

 

 

Categories: Elections, News, Phil Bryant, Politics Tags:

Health Report Card: “Failed in many areas”

January 21st, 2011 1 comment

We promised you yesterday to provide the particulars of the Mississippi State Medical Association and the Mississippi State Department of Health’s 2011 Mississippi Public Health Report Card.

It’s a little late because the Fifth Circuit’s damages cap ruling took up yesterday’s blog time, but here it is:

“The state’s health is in critical condition,” said Dr. Timothy Alford, MSMA president. “We have failed in many areas.”

Alford was referring to our state’s rankings in several health indicators. For example, according to the MSMA and the MSDH, Mississippi has more obese adults per capita than any state in the U.S. We also lead in adults who report no physical activity in the past month. We lead in deaths by heart disease, we’re second in cases of diabetes and hypertension, first in traffic fatalities and second in infant mortality.

Basically, like we have been for generations, we’re first in everything bad and last in everything good. Mary Currier, the state health officer, says those statistics trace back to choices.

“Many of these things are predictable and are things we can do something about,” she said during a press conference Thursday at the Capitol.

Numbers like these that are unveiled during a legislative session are usually accompanied by recommendations, and the Report Card was no different. Fighting the general unhealthiness, Alford said, will take a statewide smoking ban, and full funding of the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program, the Healthcare Trust Fund, the Trauma Care Trust Fund and full funding of Medicaid. So like everything and everybody else, the MSMA and MDH are asking for money.

It’s an election year, so Medicaid will almost certainly be given most if not all of the money it needs. A smoking ban, however, is already meeting resistance for the same reason.

Re-election anxiety will be at the center of every major decision this session, and these issues are not immune. So have a good weekend, and lay off the french fries.

Categories: Elections, News, Politics, State revenue Tags: