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Craft beer bill in the House, like Senate companion, dead on arrival

January 17th, 2011 2 comments

If you’ve gotten your paper copy of this week’s Mississippi Business Journal, you noticed the giant mug of beer on the cover. Looks good enough to drink, doesn’t it?

Anyway, it teases our story inside about a bill Sen. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, authored that would raise the maximum alcohol content in beers made and sold in Mississippi from 5 percent alcohol by weight to 8 percent ABW. Check it out. There’s some pretty interesting stuff about the economics of craft beer.

A few hours after the MBJ went to press last Thursday, similar legislation dropped in the House. Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, wrote the House bill, which was referred to the Ways and Means Committee. Like its companion in the Senate, the House bill doesn’t sound likely to gain much traction in an election year.

“I don’t think its chances would be good this year,” Moak said Monday morning. “Neither side is going to want to deal with anything related to alcohol this session. There’s just too short a window after we’re done with the session to go back home and thoroughly explain something as potentially explosive as an issue like this.”

Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, said he had not had a chance to read the bill as of Monday morning, but said that it most likely would not make it out of his committee, should he even choose to introduce it.

“This just isn’t a good year for legislation that deals with alcohol,” Watson said.

Not surprisingly, it will be at least next year before legislation like this gets a serious look, a fact Raise Your Pints and other grassroots organizations pushing it are resigned to.

“But we’re going to fight until this happens,” said Raise Your Pints President Butch Bailey of Hattiesburg.

Categories: Elections, News, Politics Tags:

Barbour sounds more like a presidential candidate than he ever has

January 11th, 2011 2 comments

For the past few months, anytime somebody’s asked us if we thought Haley Barbour would run for president in 2012, our answer has been the same: He already is.

And no better proof of that exists than Barbour’s last State of the State.

Tuesday night at the Capitol, Barbour threw out enough conservative red meat to feed the 5,000. He talked about fiscal restraint and smaller government. He boasted of the advanced manufacturing projects the state has lured and the jobs they have created. Barbour refreshed everybody’s memory on tort reform and issued a reminder that he hasn’t raised anybody’s taxes. He slammed President Obama’s energy policies right after he pointed out that 2004’s Defense of Marriage Act got more votes percentage-wise in Mississippi than any other state in the nation. It went on and on.

Of course, Barbour didn’t talk quite as much about the budget shortfall he’s enduring now or the brutally unpopular decisions that lie ahead for him and lawmakers on how to spend scarce state revenue. Barbour won’t be on a ballot this year, but a lot of folks who have carried his water — especially in the Senate — will be, and there will come an issue that will force some of them to choose loyalty to the governor or loyalty to their political well-being. 

But cold reality is not what a State of the State is about . It’s about political chest-thumping, and Barbour beat his with both fists. The hard stuff can wait until February and March.

Barbour has said he’ll announce his presidential plans in the spring. Call us crazy, but we think the decision has been made for quite some time, and his last turn in front of a joint session of the Legislature only made us think that even more.

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

Transportation commission getting total makeover — almost

January 10th, 2011 No comments

Lots of news on a snowy/icy morning, so let’s lace up our boots and get after it.

MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown has announced he will step down in June, at the end of the fiscal year. That comes as no big surprise. Brown is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, after it returned for the third time late last year.

Politically, there are immediate ramifications: The most obvious is it will remove a major campaign theme. Each of the candidates would have had to address Brown’s leadership style and his out-of-office activities. Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall would have seen to it.

Sen. Tom King, R-Petal, who chairs the Transportation Committee, revealed today that he will seek to replace the retiring Wayne Brown (no relation to Butch) for the Southern District Post. He’s probably the favorite right now, and had been considered such once it became clear a few weeks ago would he would seek the post.

Speaking of elections, the special election to replace Bill Minor, who represented MDOT’s Northern District until his death late least  year, is still scheduled for tomorrow, but that could change.

Gov. Haley Barbour, his spokesman Dan Turner told us just a minute ago, will make that decision some time this morning. Theoretically, Turner said, the Coast could go ahead with its election to replace Steven Palazzo, and North Mississippi could wait until maybe Wednesday to hold a vote for Minor’s old seat and to fill Alan Nunnelee’s post.

“But I really doubt one would go forward without the other,” Turner said. “Right now if the pattern holds, and this is your typical Mississippi ice storm that’s here one day and gone the next, they’ll go on as normal.”

At the Capitol, the Senate is still set to gavel in at 3 p.m.; the House will follow at 4 p.m. We have a feeling there’ll be a few snow stories swapped.

GOP speculation and 1,000 jobs in the Pine Belt (Updated)

January 4th, 2011 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace just wrapped up a phone conversation with one of our political type friends, in which we talked about two things: the supposed economic development deal Gov. Haley Barbour will announce today and who might succeed Brad White as state GOP chairman.

White announced this morning he would step down and run for Simpson County chancery clerk.

So let’s get to it.

The general consensus is that whatever deal Barbour will reveal will have something to do with Hattiesburg, and will bring somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 jobs. “I know nothing beyond that,” said our friend.

Barbour, as is his wont, is staying quiet on the issue until he’s ready to make it official.

Our source was a little more knowledgeable on the subject of the new GOP chairman. He threw out two names — former state GOP executive director Arnie Hederman and current lawmaker Phillip Gunn from Clinton.

Hederman was executive director under former chairman Jim Herring. The chairman sets policy and runs meetings, while the executive director runs the day-to-day operations. White has filled both the executive director and chairman roles since he was elected in spring 2008.

The executive commitee that will select a new chairman could opt to appoint one person to fill both seats, or split it like they did with the Hederman-Herring duo. Naturally, Barbour will have a big say in who slides into either seat, because the executive committee will defer greatly to what Barbour wants.

But with Barbour’s time as governor running out, his replacement could decide to bring in his own person, so that situation could be fluid for the next year.

Another name to keep in mind, and we have nothing but our imagination to thank for this: Hayes Dent. The Jackson lobbyist, who like Barbour is from Yazoo City, has been active in GOP politics for three decades. He knows the landscape.

So stay tuned, as they say.

UPDATED AT 10:05 A.M.: Naturally, as soon as we hit the publish button, Barbour issues a release. Here it is, in full:

Hattiesburg – Governor Haley Barbour and officials from Stion, a venture-backed manufacturer of high-efficiency, low-cost thin film solar panels, announced today the company is locating a 100-megawatt solar panel production facility in Hattiesburg, Miss. The operations will be located in the Sunbeam building. The production line is the first phase of a company investment of $500 million that will create 1,000 new jobs over the next six years.
“Today’s announcement that Stion is locating a thin film solar panel manufacturing facility in Hattiesburg is further proof that Mississippi is an ideal location for clean energy companies to locate and expand,” Governor Haley Barbour said. “I am pleased to welcome Stion to Mississippi, and I thank the company for creating so many high-quality jobs for Mississippi’s workers.”
From its Hattiesburg location, Stion will utilize its proprietary material and process expertise to produce its high-efficiency, thin film solar panels. The 110W to 120W panels are designed for use in all major applications, including commercial /government, residential, utility and off-grid and offer significant cost and performance advantages over many competing products. The company will use approximately 300,000 square feet of the Hattiesburg facility to manufacture the solar panels.
“Together, the state of Mississippi, Forrest County, and the city of Hattiesburg offer a business-friendly location with a strong resource base for manufacturing,” said Chet Farris, Stion’s president and chief executive officer. “We are pleased to partner with them to help increase domestic production of clean energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support the local and national economy.”
The State of Mississippi is providing loan assistance totaling $75 million through the Mississippi Industry Incentive Financing Revolving Fund, pending approval by the Legislature. The State is
also providing clean energy tax incentives and workforce training incentives for the project. Additionally, local officials provided tax and other financial incentives to assist with the project.
“In 2010, Mississippi sought legislation to target clean energy companies, and Stion’s location in Hattiesburg is a result of this effort,” said Gray Swoope, Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) executive director. “I am excited to see Stion occupy the Sunbeam building. I know firsthand that the quality of the building coupled with the area’s workforce equals a win-win situation for the community and the company.”
Founded in 2006, Stion currently produces its highly-efficient, low-cost thin film solar panels in its state-of-the-art, 100,000-square-foot manufacturing and research and development facility in San Jose, Calif., where the company is headquartered.
To learn more about Stion, please visit the company’s website at www.stion.com.

Hyde-Smith’s defection a step toward run for ag commish?

December 28th, 2010 No comments

New Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven cemented her status as one of Magnolia Marketplace’s favorite legislators in the 2009 session.

It was during the Senate’s debate before the vote on whether to override or sustain Gov. Haley Barbour’s veto of a bill that would have restricted the use of eminent domain for projects of direct public use, like roads and bridges, and eliminated it as a tool for private economic development.

As we all know, Barbour’s veto was sustained. Hyde-Smith voted to override it, but not before she gave one of the best floor speeches we’ve ever heard. The highlight of her diatribe was a warning to her fellow lawmakers. Hyde-Smith said her colleagues who voted to sustain Barbour’s veto “had better have asbestos underwear because somebody’s going to light your rear-end on fire when you get back home.” The rest of the day, folks called her “the asbestos lady.”

Hyde-Smith was one of three state officials who switched from the Democratic party to the GOP this afternoon, during a ceremony at Republican headquarters in Jackson. Magnolia Marketplace couldn’t make it because we had an appointment with a source we’d been trying to run down for more than a week.

Hyde-Smith joins Rep. Bobby Shows of Ellisville and Simpson County Superintendent of Education Joe Welch in trading a donkey for an elephant.

But it’s Hyde-Smith’s defection that is the most interesting, and here’s why: She’s a cattle farmer when she’s not at the capitol. She chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. The current commissioner of agriculture, Lester Spell, has already said he won’t seek re-election next year.

Even before November’s midterms, Democrats — with few exceptions like Attorney General Jim Hood — haven’t done well in statewide races.

We’ve heard Hyde-Smith’s name brought up in recent casual political conversations about candidates for down-ballot offices in 2011.

We ran this theory by two political types.

“Makes sense,” said one.

“We’ll see,” said the other.

We just left a voicemail on Hyde-Smith’s cell phone. If and when she gets back to us, we’ll let you know what she says.

Barbour responds to Weekly Standard ruccus

December 21st, 2010 1 comment

Gov. Haley Barbour has endured another round of racially tinged criticism for comments in this week’s Weekly Standard, in which he said the Citizens Council played an important role in keeping civil rights unrest to a minimum in his hometown of Yazoo City. 

It took center stage on most of this morning’s talk shows. Barbour, either directly or through his spokesman, has been asked enough about it that he decided to issue a statement about the matter.

This comes a few months after Barbour received similar fire for his assertion that the raised hackles over Confederate History Month “didn’t amount to diddly.”

Here is his statement, in full:

“When asked why my hometown in Mississippi did not suffer the same racial violence when I was a young man that accompanied other towns’ integration efforts, I accurately said the community leadership wouldn’t tolerate it and helped prevent violence there. My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either. Their vehicle, called the ‘Citizens Council,’ is totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country, and especially African Americans who were persecuted in that time.”

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

Waide will not seek office in 2011 (Updated)

December 6th, 2010 No comments

Today’s a  big day for the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. There’s an election to see who will succeed David Waide as president, and there’s the speculation about Waide’s political future.

According to a text message Magnolia Marketplace received this morning from somebody who’s at the election in Jackson, Waide told the crowd there that he will not seek any political office in 2011. Instead, he’s going to concentrate his energy on his farm in West Point.

This isn’t a huge shock, but it is a little bit of a surprise. A lot of people, us included, thought Waide would have been a strong candidate for commissioner of agriculture. Waide also considered running for governor.

Waide would have almost certainly made the issue of eminent domain being employed for private economic development the center of his campaign, had he run. Whoever the new Farm Bureau president is will deal with the push to the ballot initiative that will appear on the 2011 ballot.

We’ll fill in some details as the day goes on, so check back with us periodically.

 

UPDATE: Randy Knight, a dairy farmer from Rankin County, was just elected as the Farm Bureau Federation’s ninth president. Knight defeated Ken Middleton of Washington County and Brad Bean of Amite County. Knight beat Middleton in a run-off.

New General Motors ad is insulting

November 29th, 2010 1 comment

Magnolia Marketplace usually pays almost no attention to television commercials that take up obscene amounts of time interrupting our favorite programming, whether that’s football games or Seinfeld reruns.

One that began airing recently, though, caught our eye, for all the wrong reasons.

It’s the new General Motors spot that begins with a montage of failure. A boxer gets clocked. Evel Knievel crashes his motorcycle. The boys from Animal House begin to realize the damage Dean Wormer has done to their social careers.

The second part begins with Knievel being helped off the ground, the boxer standing back up, and Blutarsky giving his Germans/Pearl Harbor speech. If you haven’t already seen it, watch it here.

The gist of the ad, whose concept came from a San Francisco-based agency, is General Motors offering thanks for its rebound, just in time for Thanksgiving and the company’s IPO.

But who is the company thanking? Because it shouldn’t be the taxpayers, whose money kept GM from going under. The midterm elections made it pretty clear how most folks felt about the bank and automotive industry bailouts. GM’s gratitude should be aimed at the politicians who thought billions of dollars other people earned would be well-spent propping up a company whose arrogance and flippance toward quality nearly killed it.

GM’s notion that taxpayers had any say at all in its rescue is proof positive that the culture that made the rescue necessary hasn’t changed that much. Otherwise, such an ad would never have passed the smell test. That’s something folks should consider when it comes time to buy a new car.

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Barbour unveils his budget plan

November 15th, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour presented his Executive Budget Recommendation this afternoon.

Under Barbour’s outline, most state agencies would receive a cut of 8 percent in fiscal year 2012, compared with funding for the current budget year, which ends June 30.

Education, Medicaid, Corrections and the Mississippi Development Authority are a few of the agencies that were granted level funding. Of course, Barbour’s EBR means little right now. The actual budget-writing process won’t start for another three months or so.

There were no major surprises. State revenue collections have stayed flat, and there’s a whole lot of stimulus money that isn’t available, so cuts were expected. No agency will ultimately be very happy with its funding, but that’s been the case for a couple years now. In sum, the loss of stimulus money and an increase in the state’s share of the Medicaid match will create a shortfall of nearly $700 million.

One thing Magnolia Marketplace did notice about this year’s EBR press conference, though, is it lacked a lot of the bomast of last year’s, when Barbour recommended merging the Mississippi University for Women into Mississippi State, and Alcorn and Valley into Jackson State. Each recommendation was met with outrage from supporters of the affected schools.

Barbour did not explicitly make the same recommendations this year, but did note in his budget narrative that he continues to favor consolidation. He also reiterated his desire to cut the number of school districts statewide by a third. With elections next year, it’s not very likely either of those ideas will gain much traction once lawmakers return in January.

The budget — to go with job-creation — has been at or near the top of Barbour’s list of priorities since he took office nearly seven years ago. Election-year politics that he doesn’t have to engage in will drive the bulk of budget decisions, so how Barbour maneuvers within that — and how much he engages compared with years past — will be interesting to watch.

Anti-Brown forces need to be careful

November 9th, 2010 No comments

On Tuesday, other statewide media picked up the latest Butch Brown story Magnolia Marketplace first reported last Thursday and Friday.

But we’re not here to pat ourselves on the back.

And Brown’s political enemies should be careful not to do the same.

Anybody with a working knowledge of Mississippi politics knows that Brown’s leadership and his missteps will be the major issue in the race to succeed Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor, who died suddenly last week.

Candidates who align themselves with Brown, like Minor did, have lots of things to mention as examples of what has gone right under MDOT’s executive director — the sparkling new bridge in Greenville and the lightning-fast rebuilding of major bridges on the Coast post-Katrina come immediately to mind.

Likewise, those who align with Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, Brown’s biggest political enemy, have plenty of ammunition, too. There was Brown’s arrest for public intoxication at the Beau Rivage in July, and now there’s this latest incident, in which Brown made inappropriate remarks about U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and got an admonishing letter from Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez afterward.

While the anti-Brown camp has plenty of reasons to build a campaign around ousting him, they had better tread lightly.

Brown told Magnolia Marketplace that his cancer is back for the third time since he was initially diagnosed a few years ago. Anybody who’s lost a loved one to cancer knows this is bad news all the way around. If he’s not already there, Brown is on his way to M.D. Anderson cancer treatment center in Houston, Texas.

North Mississippi voters, especially the country folks, won’t stand for somebody beating up on a sick man. Those sensitivities are no doubt heightened in the light of Minor’s untimely death. Politics is nasty enough without Brown having to defend himself from a hospital bed.

There are other issues a candidate could build a campaign around, and he or she should focus on those.