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Hood, Simpson duck major policy issues at Stennis luncheon

October 3rd, 2011 1 comment

Current attorney general Jim Hood and his Republican opponent Steve Simpson both support the personhood amendment.

Things are pretty murky after that.

The two candidates’ feelings about the three initiatives with which they will share a ballot next month were what I really wanted to learn during their appearance at Monday’s monthly meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps.

The legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act and the hiring of outside counsel for state-backed litigation have been the main themes of the campaign — at least Simpson’s — so far. I’ve heard enough about both.

For Simpson, the stickiest ballot initiative is the one that seeks to bar the use of eminent domain for private enterprise. For Hood, it’s the one that would require photo identification at the polls.

After being asked for their stance on each, I still don’t know what it is. Bobby Harrison of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal tried first. He asked Simpson how he felt about all three initiatives. Simpson was great guns for voter ID and personhood. But what he said about the eminent domain measure is, well, baffling.

“I don’t know how I feel about that,” Simpson told the 100 or so people gathered at the University Club in Jackson. “There are strong advocates for and against it.”  Later, I asked Simpson if he considered job-creation a public use. “I consider it a public opportunity,” he said. So I asked him how he planned to vote on the issue. “I haven’t changed my mind from two minutes ago. I just don’t know,” he said.

After he noted supported for the eminent domain measure, Hood was equally evasive when it came to voter ID. He said if the initiatives passed — and they surely will — that he would defend them against any legal challenge should he be re-elected. Asked which way he would vote on the voter ID measure, Hood exercised his constitutional right not to reveal it. “I”m going to take that with me to the voting booth,” he said.

It’s hard to recall another instance of political hopefuls, at least those I’ve covered, flatly refusing to say which side of an issue they’re on. I know for sure I’ve never heard a candidate at any level say “I don’t know” in reponse to a policy question, nor have I heard one decline to reveal how he will vote on a policy issue.

It’s embarassing, weak and ridiculous.

Categories: Elections, News, Politics Tags:

Post-flood levee repair, and its funding, take center stage

September 18th, 2011 No comments

Another phase of the recovery from the historic spring flood has started – the race to repair and rebuild the levee system that was strained by the high water, and the political process to pay for it.

Relentless spring rainfall in the Lower Mississippi Valley combined with annual snow melt in the upper Midwest filled the Mississippi River with more water than it had seen since floods of 1927 and 1937.

The result was disastrous: Millions of acres of crops from Missouri to New Orleans ruined, homes and businesses destroyed and a levee system that in spots is in need of major repair.

Save the Delta, a grassroots campaign started while the water was still high, is an organization working on behalf of the Memphis-based Mississippi Valley Flood Control Association to push Congress for funding to completely rebuild or otherwise repair the mainline river levee system and the backwater levees in the Lower Mississippi Valley. The Lower Mississippi Valley stretches from Southeast Missouri to New Orleans.

Congress has already appropriated some money for levee repair. On Sept. 7, $4.86 billion was allocated for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water projects. It included $1.3 billion for work on the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project, a government flood control program launched in 1928.

Save the Delta has a goal of $3 billion to completely restore the levees of the Lower Mississippi Valley to pre-flood condition.

In Mississippi, the Vicksburg District of the Corps of Engineers has just started letting contracts to repair its part of the mainline and backwater levee systems.

Kavanaugh Breazeale, District spokesperson, said last week a $3.1 million contract was awarded recently to fix two seepage areas near Eagle Lake, an area between Vicksburg and Yazoo City that was among the hardest hit by the flood.

Breazeale said the Corps was still evaluating levee systems up and down the river in Mississippi and elsewhere to see exactly how much damage was done, and compiling a list of areas that should be prioritized for repair before next spring’s flood season.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Breazeale said. “Experts are out there now still trying to find out what needs to be done, what can wait and what can’t. There’s still an ongoing assessment and that goes for Vicksburg as well as the whole division from Canada to New Orleans and everywhere in between. There is no number (for a total price tag) yet, but it’s still growing.”

During a Senate subcommittee hearing in July, Sen. Thad Cochran said the mainline levee system, which runs along the Mississippi River, did its job, preventing floodwaters from reaching people and property on the non-river side. Most of the serious flooding, he said, was along the backwater levees that abut the smaller rivers and streams that make up the Mississippi’s spider web of tributaries.

“The situation prompts me to question whether or not we need to go back to the drawing board to see what could be done to protect more people from this kind of disaster,” Cochran said.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency director Mike Womack said in that same hearing that a lot of existing backwater flood-control infrastructure “was not enough to protect the citizens.”

Womack singled out the Yazoo River Basin, in the South Delta, as an example of an area whose flood-control infrastructure was exposed as inadequate. Water overtopped the Basin’s levee in several spots.

Cochran spokesperson Chris Gallegos said in an email to the Mississippi Business Journal that it was likely Congress would approve some form of additional disaster relief funding for the Corps of Engineers, perhaps as early as this week. It could come in the form of a stand-alone bill, he wrote, or as part of a continuing resolution designed to keep the federal government running after the Sept. 30 end of fiscal year 2011.

Categories: 2011 flood, News, Politics Tags:

Economic development special session set for Friday (Updated)

August 29th, 2011 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour announced this morning that there will be a special session Friday for lawmakers to deal with an incentive package for at least one economic development project, maybe two.

The details of each will not be unveiled until Wednesday.

As is his custom, Barbour released little to no details about the projects. He said it will be Wednesday before we’ll know if lawmakers will deal with an incentive package for one project, or two.

“We’re not sure the other will be ripe by Friday,” Barbour said. If it isn’t, it will be at the top of the list for the regular session that starts in January, he said.

When the Legislature passed that $420 million bond bill toward the end of the last session, there was some money earmarked for future economic development projects, with the intent of having the money in place to avoid a special session. Barbour said Monday morning that neither of these projects was eligible for that. When the bill passed in April, Barbour said he was under the impression that one of the projects was going to Ohio, and the other wasn’t even on the radar.

“Both of these involve large (private) capital expenditures and large job numbers,” Barbour said.

That’s about all we know right now.

UPDATE: This may provide a clue about at least one of the projects, from the Columbus, Miss. Commercial Dispatch: http://www.cdispatch.com/news/article.asp?aid=12724&sort=d#ixzz1WXRsSp6S

Coast candidates have tough hills to climb (literally)

August 3rd, 2011 1 comment

Until graduation from Ole Miss, I lived in North Mississippi. Ackerman, Starkville, Pontotoc and then Oxford.

I still have kin in Ackerman, Starkville and Pontotoc. Even though Jackson is where my house and office are, the hill country is home, and always will be.

With that background, I’ve known for many years that folks in North Mississippi — more specifically, Northeast Mississippi – don’t think much of the Coast, as a general rule. Consequently, they don’t think much of statewide candidates from the Coast. The reasons are varied. The Coast is too much like Louisiana, and Louisiana has New Orleans, so the Coast is like New Orleans, and that makes it bad.

Then there are the casinos, which are a major hang-up for some of my relatives. The Coast has the casinos, they surmise, so candidates from there are in cahoots with the gambling business, and that makes them bad. Never mind that most every elected official from the hill country is pro-casino in one form or another. That’s not the point, and it’s also not the point to poor-mouth folks for having a bias against the Coast. That street runs both ways.

The point is this: No matter how hard they work or how much money they spend, statewide candidates from the Coast do not stand a chance in North Mississippi. Period.

Tuesday’s elections made me believe that more than ever. In the northernmost vote-rich areas, Billy Hewes and Dave Dennis were wiped out at the ballot box.

In the GOP primary for governor, Phil Bryant won DeSoto (80%), Lee (66%) and Lowndes (74%) counties comfortably. Take a look at that DeSoto total again. It’s not a misprint.

The Republican primary for lieutenant governor didn’t go any better for Hewes. Tate Reeves easily won DeSoto (65%), Lee (62%) and Lowndes (65%).

Those numbers held true in the smaller counties, too.

It doesn’t matter if you win other vote-rich GOP counties like Madison and Rankin and Lauderdale, all of which Dennis and Hewes lost. If you get beat that badly in North Mississippi, your campaign is sunk. There’s no other way around it.

It’s not like Hewes and Dennis didn’t spend time and money up north either. I know they did. The first time I interviewed Dennis was more than 18 months ago, and he was on his way back from speaking to (if memory serves) the Tupelo Rotary Club.

Hewes’ and Dennis’ individual campaign itineraries that arrived daily in my inbox on plenty of occasions had Southaven, Tupelo, Columbus, New Albany, Batesville, Ripley, wherever – name a town, it was on there.

I didn’t expect Hewes and Dennis to win any of those counties, because Bryant and Reeves had big advantages in money and name-recognition, but those margins look made-up.

Will there be a Coast candidate on the statewide ballot in 2015?

Can anybody break the Curse of North Mississippi?

The numbers say no.

Categories: Casinos, Elections, News, Politics Tags:

Nash, Taggart make their predictions

August 1st, 2011 No comments

Political analysts and authors Jere Nash and Andy Taggart offered Monday at the Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon their predictions for how Tuesday’s elections will go. Without delay, here they are:

Taggart, who served as chief of staff for former Gov. Kirk Fordice, likes Phil Bryant to win the Republican primary for governor, and to win it handily. “The only surprise that could be left in that race is if Phil is drawn into a runoff with Dave Dennis, and I don’t think that’s likely,” he said.

Taggart made it a point to say he supports Bryant. In the lieutenant governor’s race, Taggart said he was solidly behind Billy Hewes, who he predicted would pull off what would be an upset and beat Tate Reeves. “(Hewes) has come a long way really fast,” Taggart said.

In the down-ballot races, Taggart was less decisive. He said there will almost certainly be a runoff among two of the three GOP candidates for treasurer, the race he said was the hardest to handicap, and that any two of the three — Lee Yancey, Lucien Smith and Lynn Fitch — could make the runoff. Also headed for a runoff, Taggart said, is the agriculture commissioner’s race. Max Phillips and Cindy Hyde-Smith, both Republicans, have run strong ground and media campaigns, but Taggart stopped short of  predicting who would win should a runoff become reality.

Nash made what we thought was the most interesting point regarding the statewide races: In the last two election cycles, 2003 and 2007, the candidate for a statwide office who has spent the most money has won that race. “It will be interesting to see if that holds this year,” Nash said, noting that if it does, Bryant, Reeves and Smith would win.

In their most recent campaign finance filings, Phillips and Hyde-Smith both reported raising nearly identical amounts of money (about $150,000), so that race is a sure-enough toss-up, at least in the financial sense.

Nash spent the majority of his time at the podium on the local legislative races. He concedes that it will require a minor miracle for the Democrats to control the Senate. The fight to control the House — something Republicans have made a priority to pave the way for a GOP Speaker — “will be very, very close,” he said. 

As for the three initiatives — eminent domain, personhood and voter ID — Nash and Taggart agree that they will all pass overwhelmingly, should they survive legal challenges and actually be on the ballot.

Categories: Elections, News, Politics Tags:

Marcus Dupree endorses Bill Luckett — but what about Ron Williams?

July 14th, 2011 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace has made a habit of not paying much attention to political endorsements. That’s because they rarely mean much of anything. There are exceptions, but not many.

So when Democratic candidate for governor Bill Luckett announced Thursday morning that Marcus Dupree, who a lot of folks think is the best high school football player Mississippi has ever produced, had endorsed the Clarksdale lawyer, it was strange. Why? Because Dupree endorsed GOP candidate Ron Williams back in February. You can view video of Dupree making official his affinity for Williams here.

Dupree worked for Williams’ hazardous material clean-up company after the oil spill, which probably had a lot to do with his original decision to endorse the Moss Point businessman.

We reached Williams on his cell phone, and he said he had been made aware of Dupree’s switch this morning.

“Marcus is a good guy,” Williams said. “It is what it is.” Williams added that he was under the impression that Dupree was trying to get Morgan Freeman,who’s been a big part of Luckett’s campaign, to back a movie about Dupree’s life, which would explain the flip.

Williams didn’t seem overly bothered by Dupree’s decision, probably because of what we mentioned earlier — these things rarely pack any real voting punch. “But I’m starting to understand why Jackson is so messed up,” he said of the weird things politics can make otherwise reasonable people do.

 And this is among the weirdest we’ve seen in a while.

Categories: Elections, News, Politics Tags:

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.

Categories: Elections, News, Politics Tags:

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.

Categories: Elections, News, Politics Tags:

Next phase of tort damages cap fight? The waiting game

June 14th, 2011 No comments

The Mississippi Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday morning about the constitutionality of the state’s $1 million cap on non-economic damages in civil cases.

Magnolia Marketplace isn’t a lawyer, so you’re not going to find much in the way of legal analysis or a prediction here on which way the court rule.

What is clear is that there probably is no single issue for Mississippi’s business community more important than this one. It’s probably equally important to Mississippi’s plaintiffs’ bar.

The case that spawned Tuesday’s hearing – Sears & Roebuck Co. v. Lisa Learmonth – centers on a car wreck involving Learmonth, the plaintiff, who claims she was injured when she collided with a Sears van driven by one of the company’s employees. Learmonth was awarded about $4 million in punitive damages in the federal court trial, but the trial judge reduced that amount to conform with the $1 million cap. Learmonth’s attorneys appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to get the jury’s verdict as it related to the $4 million punitive damages upheld; Sears cross-appealed asking for a new trial, claiming it wasn’t liable for the accident in which Learmonth was injured. The Fifth Circuit then certified the constitutionality of the cap to our Supreme Court.

If you’re scoring at home, Chief Justice Bill Waller and Presiding Justice Jess Dickenson were the most active as far as questioning the attorneys from both sides. Both seemed a little more skeptical of the argument made by Sears’ attorneys, that the cap did not violate the right to a jury trial, and that the cap did not violate constitutionally outlined separation of powers among the branches of government.

Keeping intact the separation of powers and the right to a jury trial were the cornerstones of the arguments made by Learmonth’s attorneys.

Very little anecdotal observations of the cap were made. The one that stood out the most came from Justice Jim Kitchens, who asked Sears counsel, “Who is this cap working for? The business community? It’s not working for people with catastrophic injuries.” Kitchens, it should be noted, sounded the most unconvinced of the nine justices that the cap was constitutionally sound, even though he asked maybe six questions during the 90-minute hearing.

The cap was the centerpiece of 2004’s tort reform, which Gov. Haley Barbour made the cornerstone of his first campaign. Barbour and business associations and trade groups said the cap’s removal would return Mississippi to the reputation the state had pre-tort reform as a judicial hellhole. Opponents have built their rebuttal around the constitutionality of the cap, claiming that the Legislature has no authority to tell juries how much to award or not to award in civil cases.

For both sides, it comes down to money. Businesses don’t want their liability insurance premiums to rise with the removal of the cap. Plaintiff lawyers would love nothing more than for 8- and 9-figure compensatory damage awards to return.

And so now they wait.

Categories: Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

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.