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Bryant starts his new job reinforcing familiar themes

January 10th, 2012 No comments

Other than anecdotes about his family, there wasn’t much new in Gov. Phil Bryant’s inaugural address.

Like he has for most of the past four years, Bryant used his platform to talk economic issues: job-creation, education, the high cost of teenage pregnancy and his political pet project, performance-based budgeting.

The energy and healthcare industries, Bryant said, are two areas ripe for growth over the next decade-plus. The extraction and processing of natural gas, biofuels and clean coal can – and according to Bryant, will – help the state in its revolution from low-wage industrial haven to modern manufacturing empire.

Offering incentives for the healthcare industry, and bringing 1,000 new physicians to Mississippi by 2025, can turn the state’s metro areas and their medical corridors into burgeoning centers of medical power, Bryant said.

Having a stable of workers to fill those jobs will require a shift in thinking when it comes to public education, he said. Solutions don’t begin and end with funding, but will take redesigning curriculums to better serve students not on a college track, but headed for vocational employment, and a clearer path for charter schools to establish.

“When a Mississippian has a job, it changes absolutely everything,” Bryant said.

Bryant saved his strongest words for the state’s high teenage pregnancy rate, which has become as much of a Mississippi hallmark as the state’s musical and literary heritage.

“It must come to an end,” he said, adding that churches and other religious organizations have to partner with public institutions in reaching that end. “We can no longer turn our heads and pretend the problem doesn’t exist.”

Bryant compared the cultural change that would have to happen to do that to the one that has managed to eradicate smoking in nearly every public building and gathering spot in Mississippi, including the Capitol. He noted that a lot of folks 40 years ago would have filled the place with cigarette and cigar smoke during his address.

Obviously, Bryant’s plans will be met with a great deal of resistance in the Capitol, some from within his own party, but mostly from Democrats, who just watched their long-held power and influence all but evaporate.

Bryant’s Smart Budget Act, which bases agency funding on results achieved, is wildly popular with fiscal conservatives, but not with many agency heads, who cite the difficulty in tracking those results, not to mention the ease with which those results can be manipulated.

With a Republican-led Legislature, though, its passage is likely, if not guaranteed. The same goes for Bryant’s education reforms, though it’s worth noting the funding fight is likely to be as spirited as it’s ever been.

The wild card in that notion will be just how badly new legislative leadership – Speaker Phillip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves – want to return Mississippi’s government to one in which lawmakers hold the majority of power.

Either way, the game is afoot.

Regulatory review legislation tries again

January 8th, 2012 No comments

Mississippi has a law on the books that is supposed to educate businesses on the effects of new rules and regulations.

An effort to strengthen that law and to establish a commission whose members would include business owners to review new rules will soon be a part of the 2012 legislative session.

According to the federal Office of Advocacy, Mississippi is one of 26 states that already have a partial regulatory flexibility statute, meaning there is already a mechanism in place to alert businesses of how new rules will impact them, and ways rules can be altered after they’re enacted.

Legislation to create a full-blown review of proposed rules before they take effect has cleared the Senate in past sessions and has been on the calendar for floor debate in the House, but has failed to advance.

“It would allow us to look and see if there’s a more flexible way to alter the rules and regulations that come out, to where the intent can still apply without inflicting a (financial) burden,” said Ron Aldridge, director of the Mississippi National Federation of Independent Businesses. The organization has spent several sessions lobbying for a review commission. “That’s what this is about, is to put into law in Mississippi a framework where small business owners can sit on a commission and give feedback to the agencies as the rules are being put into place but before they take effect. The way it works now, if they do harm on the front end, you can alter them later. By then, though, they’ve done their damage.”

Aldridge listed as an example Mississippi’s window tint law, last modified in 2005, in which the Mississippi Department of Public Safety mandated tint darker than a particular shade be inspected, and receive clearance for road use. The process is similar to the one that governs state inspection stickers for vehicles. Law enforcement agencies are allowed to have darker tint on their vehicles than civilians.

“It ended up that these places that did the inspections, it was going to cost them so much to deal with these rules it wasn’t any way they could actually do it,” Aldridge said. “The people who would have been impacted by it never got to sit down with the agency and figure out a way to make it work before the rule was passed.”

Aldridge said a number of rule-making state agencies have opposed the legislation, for the same reasons they opposed the original administrative procedures law passed in 2003 and officially put on the books in 2005. Former secretary of state Eric Clark pushed that legislation, which requires agencies to project what kind of impact new regulations might have on targeted businesses.

“But it doesn’t give any frame of reference for that,” Aldridge said. “In other words, what do they mean when they say small business. This review commission would define that, and it would make agencies more clearly state what the impact would be. Right now, all they have to do is say this has no impact, or little or minimal impact. How do they know? Unless you’ve been in that business yourself, you don’t know. Minimal impact for one person could have an entirely different meaning for another. One size does not fit all. Also, a commission will let us look at what’s already in place and see if there are any modifications to rules that have proven to be harmful that will maintain their purpose but reduce or eliminate the costs associated.”

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Laurel, has sponsored since 2008 legislation that would create a regulatory review commission. He said in an interview last week he plans to do the same this session.

“It’s always good to have honest feedback from business professionals and business owners. They need to know very specifically on the front end what a new rule will mean for them.”

Aldridge and McDaniel are optimistic new House leadership will be amenable to the bill’s passage. Gov. –elect Phil Bryant has already endorsed the idea, and may introduce a bill of his own, according to a press release from his office.

“I think the chances of its passage are greatly improved,” McDaniel said.

Democrats, freshmen dot Reeves’ committee chairs

January 6th, 2012 No comments

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves revealed his committee assignments Friday morning.

There were no major surprises. Democrats will chair 17 of the Senate’s 39 committees. Of those 17, the most powerful are probably Judiciary B, chaired by Hob Bryan; and Highways and Transportation, chaired by Willie Simmons.

Five Senators in their first terms will serve as chairs. Melanie Sojourner, D-Natchez, leads that list as head of the Forestry Committee.

The old Fees and Salaries Committee is now the Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee, chaired by Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, who is serving her first term.

The old Oil and Gas Committee and the old Public Utilities Committee have been merged, creating the new Energy Committee.

“This was an incredibly difficult task,” Reeves said. Reeves said he wanted to include Democrats for chairmanships to properly reflect the make-up of the Senate and the state. “That hasn’t happened in the past in the other chamber,” he said, referring to former House Speaker Billy McCoy appointing only Democrats to chairmanships.

Here’s the full list of committees, and their chairmen and vice chairmen:

Accountability Efficiency and Transparency

Nancy Collins, Chairman

J.P. Wilemon, Vice Chairman

Agriculture

Billy Hudson, Chairman

Russell Jolly, Vice Chairman

Appropriations

Buck Clarke, Chairman

Terry Burton, Vice Chairman

Business and Financial Institutions

Gary Jackson, Chairman

J.P. Wilemon, Vice Chairman

Compilation, Revision and Publication

Derrick Simmons, Chairman

Dean Kirby, Vice Chairman

Congressional Redistricting

Merle Flowers, Chairman

Chris McDaniel, Vice Chairman

Constitution

Michael Watson, Chairman

Will Longwitz, Vice Chairman

Corrections

Sampson Jackson, Chairman

Lydia Chassanoil, Vice Chairman

County Affairs

Nickey Browning, Chairman

Billy Hudson Vice, Chairman

Drug Policy

David Jordan, Chairman

Michael Watson, Vice Chairman

Economic Development

John Horhn, Chairman

Steve Hale Vice, Chairman

Education

Gray Tollison, Chairman

Nancy Collins, Vice Chairman

Elections

Chris McDaniel, Chairman

David Blount, Vice Chairman

Energy

Merle Flowers, Chairman

Giles Ward, Vice Chairman

Enrolled Bills

Alice Harden, Chairman

Kelvin Butler, Vice Chairman

Environmental Protection, Conservation and Water Resources

Tommy Gollott, Chairman

Deborah Dawkins, Vice Chairman

Ethics

Bennie Turner, Chairman

Gary Jackson, Vice Chairman

Executive Contingent Fund

Robert Jackson, Chairman

Gray Tollison, Vice Chairman

Finance

Joey Fillingane, Chairman

Merle Flowers, Vice Chairman

Forestry

Melanie Sojourner, Chairman

Giles Ward, Vice Chairman

Highways and Transportation

Willie Simmons, Chairman

Perry Lee, Vice Chairman

Housing

Hillman Frazier, Chairman

Chris Massey, Vice Chairman

Insurance

Videt Carmichael, Chairman

Rita Parks, Vice Chairman

Interstate and Federal Co-op

Kenny Wayne Jones, Chairman

Sampson Jackson, Vice Chairman

Investigate State Offices

Albert Butler, Chairman

Videt Carmichael, Vice Chairman

Judiciary A

Briggs Hopson, Chairman

Bennie Turner, Vice Chairman

Judiciary B

Hob Bryan, Chairman

Chris McDaniel, Vice Chairman

Labor

Kelvin Butler, Chairman

Robert Jackson, Vice Chairman

Legislative Reapportionment and Congressional Redistricting

Merle Flowers, Chairman

Local and Private

Perry Lee, Chairman

Tony Smith, Vice Chairman

Municipalities

J.P. Wilemon, Chairman

Bill Stone, Vice Chairman

Ports and Marine Resources

Brice Wiggins, Chairman

Public Health and Welfare

Dean Kirby, Chairman

Hob Bryan, Vice Chairman

Public Property

David Blount, Chairman

Sally Doty, Vice Chairman

State Library

Deborah Dawkins, Chairman

Albert Butler, Vice Chairman

Tourism

Lydia Chassanoil, Chairman

Sean Tindal, Vice Chairman

Universities and Colleges

Terry Burton, Chairman

John Polk, Vice Chairman

Veterans and Military Affairs

Haskins Montgomery, Chairman

Philip Moran, Vice Chairman

Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks

Giles Ward, Chairman

Angela Hill, Vice Chairman

Metro Jackson well-repped in key political positions

January 1st, 2012 No comments

The governor’s office and both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature will have entirely new leadership when the 2012 session starts at noon Jan. 3.

And each of the new faces has roots in the Jackson Metro area.

Gov.-elect Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves are from Rankin County. Rep. Phillip Gunn, a Republican whose district includes portions of Clinton and Madison County, is all but guaranteed to be the next House Speaker.

The three men whose approval each piece of legislation must receive before it becomes law are intimately familiar with the city of Jackson and its needs and problems. Will that give Jackson a built-in advantage in getting its legislative wish list passed?

“I would hope it would help,” said Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, who has been the tip of the spear for many a legislative fight on behalf of Jackson. “But of course, (former speaker) Billy McCoy has been a big supporter of Jackson.”

Indeed, McCoy told the Mississippi Business Journal during an interview last session that one of his favorite ways to unwind after a day at the Capitol was to drive by the Farish Street project and check on its progress. David Watkins, who is developing the historic Farish Street district, said in a separate interview last April that he and McCoy would often run into each other in the construction zone.

“He’s really interested in what we’re doing here,” Watkins said of McCoy. “He realizes what Farish Street could do for Jackson.”

Brown was part of a meeting right before Christmas with Jackson officials in which the city’s legislative priorities were discussed. And while specifics weren’t laid out, Brown said the city’s agenda would be similar to those from previous sessions.

“They have to decide what they want to do,” he said. “Obviously, they’d like some help with some of the infrastructure projects that we have. We don’t know exactly what they’ll ask for, but roads are always a problem. There’s just not enough money for them.”

Brown said he expects to receive Jackson’s legislative bundle by mid-January, in time to file the bills before the session’s first deadline on Feb. 20.

It’s likely the agenda will include a mechanism to enact a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes law, in which Jackson would receive a lump sum from the state to offset the revenue the city loses from state buildings being exempt from property taxes.  The bill would likely be dead on arrival, though, Brown said.

“I’d like to see it. I think we need to do it with our property tax situation. With the budget like it is, I think anything that adds cost to the state general fund is going to be a non-starter.”

With revenue bills required to originate in the House, such legislation would have to earn Gunn’s approval before hitting the floor. Gunn did not return messages by the time the MBJ went to press last Tuesday.

Jackson scored a couple major victories during the 2011 session. A bond package totaling $38 million for a civil rights museum and a Mississippi history museum passed. The two museums should be open in time for the state’s bicentennial in 2017. They will sit adjacent to each other in downtown Jackson.

The bill setting up the fund for the museums enjoyed support from Gov. Haley Barbour, and several key committee chairmen whose districts are outside Jackson. It would have been difficult to form that coalition in the past, Brown said.

“I don’t’ sense as much anti-Jackson (sentiment) as maybe there was 20 years ago. A lot of cities in the state need help. There has been some concern in other parts of the state that if we help Jackson, what will happen for Hattiesburg, Meridian, the Gulf Coast. Everybody needs help.

“I do see some concern about just the whole financial situation,” Brown continued. “We don’t have enough money to do the things we need to do. There’s just not enough to go around.”

Waller’s charisma was unforgettable

December 1st, 2011 No comments

Mississippi politics lost one of its more colorful personalities Wednesday when former Gov. Bill Waller Sr. died.

I only had two encounters with Waller, but they were pleasantly memorable. Here they are:

In 2005, while I was at the Yazoo Herald newspaper in Yazoo City, I covered a murder trial in which Waller represented the defendant. Waller’s client, if I’m remembering correctly, had shot the victim more than once in the back after an argument at one of the town’s nightclubs. Waller’s client was at the club planning a birthday party when the incident occurred.

Waller’s strategy was simple: Convince the jury that his client had acted in self-defense. His execution held a lot more flair.

In his opening argument, Waller put on a show. He yelled. He gyrated. At one point, when he was re-enacting the fight that ended with the victim being shot, he grabbed his chest, twirled toward the jury, and hit the deck. It was all jurors — and the rest of us — could do to maintain some kind of composure.

But it worked. Waller’s client was acquitted. In a post-trial interview, I asked Waller how he had done it. “It all goes back to the old colloquialism,” he said in his sing-songy drawl. “Who started the fight? My client didn’t start the fight. My client protected himself the best way he knew how.”

The second came in 2009, when Gov. Haley Barbour was presenting the Medal of Service to a group of Mississippians at his Sillers Building office. Waller was among them. Barbour called the winners up to the podium alphabetically to receive the medal; becase of that, Waller was among the last of the group.

Before Barbour had finished calling his name, Waller leaped out of his seat and bounded to the front. He gave an acceptance speech that went beyond cursory thank-yous.

“This is a great day to be a Mississippian!” Waller bellowed. “And I can’t wait for Mississippi to lead us out of this recession!”

Just like he did in Yazoo City, Waller owned the room. May he rest in glorious peace.

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Eminent domain initiative roars to passage, but nothing is settled

November 13th, 2011 No comments

We might have finally found something Mississippians of every political persuasion can agree on: The use of eminent domain for private economic development is a bad idea.

With 97 percent of precincts reporting late last Wednesday afternoon, Initiative 31, which will amend the state Constitution to essentially restrict the use of eminent domain to projects of direct public use, had earned more than 595,000 votes. The initiative needed 50 percent plus one, with the affirmative votes equaling at least 40 percent of total votes cast in all races, to pass. With 96 percent of precincts reporting, 73 percent of the votes cast were in favor of 31.

The 595,000 votes were more than all but one of the winners of the statewide races got. Lt. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves had gotten about 598,000 votes by 3 p.m. last Wednesday.

Eminent domain’s initiative colleagues didn’t come close to that. Personhood failed altogether. Voter ID passed, but got 94,000 fewer votes.

Personhood’s defeat would qualify as a minor upset. There was never very much doubt that Voter ID would pass. Likewise with eminent domain, but it’s hard to imagine anyone who supported it would have thought that it would outpoll Gov.-elect Phil Bryant by 90,000 votes with 96 percent of precincts reporting.

The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation and its 200,000 “member families” made eminent domain their single biggest issue the past 18 months. The latest issue of Farm Country, the organization’s magazine, was almost nothing but testimonials from members on the virtues of private property rights.

Nothing is settled, though. The new eminent domain law will almost assuredly be challenged on the grounds that amending the state Constitution – specifically, the Constitution’s Bill of Rights — via ballot initiative is illegal. The Mississippi Supreme Court deferred the issue when Mississippi Development Authority interim executive director Leland Speed challenged it earlier this year, arguing that it would kill any chance the state had of attracting projects like the Toyota and Nissan manufacturing facilities.

Speed had not returned a message left with a MDA spokesperson by the time the Mississippi Business Journal went to press last week. In an interview with the MBJ earlier this year, he said he would most likely challenge the initiative if it passed.

Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation president Randy Knight said last week that he had not communicated directly with Speed, but was under the impression that Speed would seek to overturn the law.

“We’re expecting one,” Knight said. “We’re still real optimistic, though. It’s hard to fathom that the Mississippi Supreme Court would do away with something that 73 percent of Mississippians are so strongly in favor of.”

Matt Steffey, a professor at Jackson’s Mississippi College School of Law who has followed each of the three initiatives closely, said the state’s high Court would not decide the issue based on its popularity, but on its legal merits.

“While I think that personhood clearly transcended the limits of what the initiative process can be used for, the eminent domain only arguably does,” he said.

What separates the two amendments, he said, is that the text of the Personhood initiative would have amended the Bill of Rights’ use of the word “person.”

“It sought to fundamentally redefine the balance of liberty contained in the Bill of Rights,” Steffey said. “It essentially took direct aim at the Bill of Rights. That’s not the way the text of the eminent domain initiative reads. So the argument is at least that much removed. The argument will be, in effect, that the Bill of Rights already strikes a balance between private property rights and governmental need. The argument could be that this alters that balance.”

“On the other hand,” Steffey continued, “it doesn’t add to or subtract from or redefine any of the words in the Bill of Rights. In that sense, it’s different. You could argue that it doesn’t modify any existing understanding of state constitutional law. Either way, I’m absolutely certain there will be a challenge to it.”

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Personhood lesson: Freedom of speech a right that should be employed with dignity

November 11th, 2011 No comments

Those who have taken up arms for the United States have given and preserved precious freedoms. One of those is the freedom of speech.

So let’s compare how two of Mississippi’s most recognizable elected officials chose to exercise that freedom when they discussed right before Tuesday’s elections their views on the Personhood amendment, or Initiative 26.

On Monday, Nov. 7, Congressman Gregg Harper was the speaker at the monthly luncheon of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps. When he ended his 20-minute speech, I asked him how he planned to vote on the three ballot initiatives the next day, just like I asked the two agricultural candidates and treasurer candidate Connie Moran before that. Harper said he would vote “yes” on all three, and acknowledged that it “would probably upset some people.”

Here is what Harper said, verbatim, about 26:

“I was surprised (at the amount of opposition to it). I thought it would be a slam dunk early on. I believe life begins at conception. That’s not a hard vote for me in that situation. Planned Parenthood is good. Politically they know how to get things done. If you read that language, and I’ve talked to some OB-GYNs and some other medical folks — nobody, if they’re honest, believes that it will keep a woman from getting birth control pills or stop in vitro fertilization. It won’t stop a doctor from saving the life of the mother if there’s an ectopic pregnancy. Those are things designed to create a stir over an issue.

“But I don’t want to lose sight of this: If I don’t stand up for the life of that unborn child, who’s going to do that? What’s more important? I understand a woman’s right to her body. But I’m also going to say, ‘does that child have any rights whatsoever?’ If we look at the breakdown on most abortions, the overwhelming majority are elective procedures because the mama doesn’t want to have the baby. I think that if we don’t stand up, nobody else is, and I think the process and procedure (of abortion) has been very harmful to our country over the decades.”

Now let’s look at how then-Lt. Gov. and now-Gov.-elect Phil Bryant addressed 26 in an appearance Nov. 4 on an American Family Association radio show. The entire seven-minute interview won’t be transcribed here verbatim because the back-and-forth between the host and Bryant, who is the co-chair of the Yes on 26 Committee, would run into the thousands of words. To listen to the entire interview, click here:

“I just believe that this is one of the reasons I was here,” Bryant said, “that Personhood was our opportunity to say loud and clear to people all over America that we want to end abortion in our time, and I want to stop it here in Mississippi. I believe I was led here by the Lord to help take up this cause, to say that this is something you’ve got to stand for no matter what the political temperature or how the winds blow at you. We want to stand firm for life and I’m just honored to be a part of it, and I believe we’re going to win on Tuesday.”

The host of the show asked Bryant how he felt about Gov. Haley Barbour initially expressing concerns about 26’s ambiguity before revealing a day or two later, at a get-out-the-vote rally for Bryant, that he had indeed voted for the measure. Bryant replied, and I’m paraphrasing, that it was obvious that Barbour had prayed about the matter before voting. Bryant added that we’re still debating some parts of the U.S. Bill of Rights 200 years later, the debate over 26 was no different, and that he appreciated Barbour saying at his event that he had supported 26 with his vote.

The host then suggested that divine intervention had a lot to do with Barbour voting absentee for 26, so he could provide a pre-Election Day jolt to its chances of passing. That’s when Bryant’s tone changed.

“This is a battle of good and evil,” he said. “Let’s just make it plain. There is the evil side, the dark side of the forces, Satan and those that would love to continue to kill children while they’re still in the womb, are out there using every effort that they can, anything at their disposal. Now even in these times, if you talk too much about the fact that evil that does exist, people think there’s something wrong with him. What times are we living in when it is politically incorrect for someone to say that Satan has a hand in this? And you’ve got to understand that we’ve got to fight against the gates of hell to prevail here, and that’s exactly what I’ve been saying. I think when I say those things, I see people recognizing the fact that this is a Biblical battle of good and evil.”

Precisely the same view, wildly different ways of explaining it. One way is clearly better than the other; and it has nothing to do with political correctness, and everything to do with being polite, dignified and respectful.

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Eminent domain bridges the great political divide (Updated)

November 9th, 2011 No comments

We might have finally found something Mississippians of every political persuasion can agree on: The use of eminent domain for private economic development is a bad, bad idea.

Just before 11 Tuesday night, Initiative 31, which will amend the state Constitution to essentially restrict the use of eminent domain to projects of direct public use, had earned more than 498,000 votes. The initiative needed 50 percent plus one, with the affirmative votes equaling at least 40 percent of total votes cast in all races, to pass. With 83 percent of precincts reporting, 73 percent of the votes cast were in favor of 31.

The 498,000 votes were more than all but one of the winners of the statewide races got. Lt. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves, who had what could charitably be called token opposition, had gotten about 509,000 votes by 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Eminent domain’s initiative colleagues didn’t come close to that. Personhood, some of whose supporters and opponents need to take a long look in the mirror after the shenanigans of the past few weeks, failed altogether. Voter ID passed, but got 80,000 fewer votes.

Personhood’s defeat would qualify as a minor upset. There was never very much doubt that Voter ID would pass. Likewise with Eminent Domain, but I can’t imagine anyone who supported it dared to dream that it would outpoll Gov.-elect Phil Bryant by 60,000 votes with more than 80 percent of precincts reporting.

The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation and its 200,000 “member families” made eminent domain their single biggest issue the past 18 months. (Disclosure: I am a Farm Bureau member). The latest issue of “Farm Country,” the organization’s magazine, was almost nothing but testimonials from members on the virtues of private property rights.

But this is not over, not by a long shot. The new eminent domain law will be challenged on the grounds that amending the state Constitution via ballot initiative is illegal. More than one legal scholar has told me that it could not withstand serious judicial scrutiny. The Mississippi Supreme Court basically punted the issue when Mississippi Development Authority interim executive director Leland speed challenged it earlier this year. Expect another one early next year.

Property rights, especially in our rural state, go beyond the normal wonkish back-and-forth. One’s land is one’s kingdom, so there’s plenty of raw emotion involved whenever the specter of land forcibly swapping private ownership arises.

On the other side of that is the economic development lobby that insists mega-projects like Toyota and Nissan cannot happen without the ability for the state to employ eminent domain.

Nothing is settled, but those who supported 31 deserve to revel in their victory for now.

Wednesday morning update: Initiative 31 is still outpolling every statewide official but Reeves at 9:30. With only 61 out of 1,876 precincts still out, “yes” votes for 31 have reached over 588,000. Reeves has pulled in about 593,000 votes.

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Moran opposes all three ballot initiatives

October 24th, 2011 No comments

Ocean Springs mayor and Democratic candidate for state treasurer Connie Moran was the speaker at Monday’s Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon.

Moran’s presentation and the Q&A that followed was among the shortest I can remember at the monthly Stennis meetings, so let’s just hit some highlights.

Moran said she would vote no on all three of the ballot initiatives that will appear on next month’s ballot. She said Alabama’s putting together 30 parcels of land in two weeks for its Mercedez-Benz plant is proof that the ability to use eminent domain for private enterprise is the “number one tool” for landing mega projects. Mississippi was considered for the plant.

“Was that worth it? Absolutely,” Moran said of Alabama’s efforts, which included the use of eminent domain. “Would I want to use that to build a golf course? No. But for major investment, yes.”

Moran cited what she called the “unintended consequences” of the Personhood Initiative among her reasons for opposing it. She made it a point to say that she was pro-life, but supported the use of abortion in cases of rape and incest.

As for the Voter ID Initiative, Moran said she was worried it could potentially disenfranchise elderly voters, particularly those who no longer drive and have no need to keep a driver’s license.

Moran also opposes converting the PERS system into a 401 (k)-style format, an idea that has emerged after Gov. Haley Barbour appointed a commission to study the state’s retirement system. She added that the annual cost-of-living adjustment retirees get — commonly called “the 13th check” — should be held harmless in any sort of discussion of PERS reform.

Moran’s opponent, Republican Lynn Fitch, did not attend, citing a scheduling conflict.

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Hood: Investigation gives reason to believe Brandon Rep. McGee violated ethics laws

October 6th, 2011 No comments

Mississippi Ethics Commission executive director Tom Hood just confirmed to Magnolia Marketplace that an investigation by that agency has turned up evidence that Rep. Kevin McGee, R-Brandon, violated the rules governing lawmakers having a financial interest in state vendors.

Hood said a hearing on the matter that was scheduled for Friday morning had been continued.

Hood said the Ethics Commission received an anonymous tip a few months ago that McGee’s financial interest in Pearl-based Service Printers Inc. violated the aforementioned rules about lawmakers being involved in entities that did business with state agencies. On the Service Printers website, McGee is listed as the company’s president.

After the investigation turned up probable cause to support charging McGee with a violation, Hood said, the Commission filed a formal complaint, which would have been aired Friday had the hearing been continued. What will most likely happen is that one of McGee’s attorneys will appear before the Commission during its regularly scheduled meeting to make a settlement offer, a few of which have already been rejected, Hood said.

Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, and Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, are representing McGee. Baker wouldn’t say much when I reached him on his cell phone. McGee, who is unopposed in his re-election bid, did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone. Smith’s cell phone rang unanswered.

I’ll update this throughout the day.

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