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DAVID DALLAS: The good governor gambles on poverty

David Dallas

David Dallas

Mississippi continues to suffer a Catch-22 Poverty Problem. The state cannot combat poverty without sustainable jobs. Industries that could provide those jobs are choosing not to invest their money in Mississippi because we have a Poverty Problem along with the consequent poor schools and ill-prepared workers.

According to recent data the problem is getting worse. A Wall Street Journal report has listed the poverty rate in Mississippi at close to 25 percent. That’s right, nearly a quarter of us are living at or below the poverty rate. The median household income is under $38,000 and over 12 percent of households in our state do not make $10,000 a year.

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Twenty percent of Mississippians receive food stamps. There are a number of federal programs providing additional support for those in need, but there are many Mississippians who are either no longer eligible for federal assistance or have just given up even applying.

As a result of all of this, Mississippi continues to be the least productive economy in the nation. And when you are not productive, you make dumb decisions and you do dumb stuff. As my father said to me just the other day, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” If that is the case, we’re in danger of building the world’s largest Satanic Temple in the Magnolia State.

But our Governor has a plan to combat the Poverty Problem in Mississippi while offering assurances that his plan will not involve raising taxes or provide any more funds to “adequately” educate our public school children, which the Governor considers a worthless effort.

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, the Governor suggested that our Poverty Problem was the result of homes without fathers. He added that this was also the reason for our failing school system. But then the Governor was careful to say, “We’re not trying to place blame on anyone.” It is an election year, after all.

Thus, the Governor’s plan to combat the Poverty Problem: “Remove any winnings at a casino from a parent who may owe child support.”

There is no question that our Governor often seeks the simplest solution to the most difficult problems. But Bryant may be on to something, whether he chooses to blame anyone or not.

We probably do have too many parents who should be earning an honest living and paying child support who are, instead, spending too much time “winning” in one or more of our many excellent casinos. With all of the surveillance equipment at their disposal, casino operators should have no problem tracking these “winners.” Just think how cute the advertising billboards on Highway 61 will look with photos of fat checks being handed over to all those sweet little children.

The casino industry is pretty reliable, providing over 23,000 full-time jobs in Mississippi, and does well enough. Since the largest number of gamblers come from the ranks of the poor, casinos here will always have clients. Sure, wealthy folks gamble, but folks who work hard to earn their money are much less likely to risk it, even in a Mississippi casino with those really loose slots.

How did we get to the point where our state’s economy has been brought lower than usual by all of these deadbeat, gambling parents? It’s a little known fact, but when you don’t have a job or you have little income, you tend to avoid marriage. You also tend to avoid begetting children. However, you tend not to avoid sex with the same passion and, on occasion, a child results.

So these parents are choosing to gamble what little they do have. Can you blame them, choosing to risk their meager fortune on a chance to hit the jack-lotto at a local casino? Sadly, many of them believe they have no other way to get ahead in life or to pay next month’s utility bill.

If we were in their shoes, gambling and “winning,” we would certainly pay child support. And if we won really big, which according to those billboards is a given, we might even buy the kiddies a few extra trinkets. That’s just what decent folks do. But, according to the Governor, these deadbeat gambling parents aren’t acting right. But again, no blame.

How do we combat our Poverty Problem? Bryant’s highlighting a slightly problematic and peripheral issue, like deadbeat gambling parents, may seem shallow thinking to some. It is.

The Governor, along with the rest of the leadership in our state, has little stomach for honestly tackling the Poverty Problem. Most of these fine men and women take Jesus quite literally when He said, “the poor are always with us.” They wouldn’t dare try to prove Jesus wrong.

Maybe during this legislative session, real leaders might emerge to focus our attention on building stronger public schools for all of Mississippi’s children and their families. Then work hard to attract industries that will pay their fair share in taxes while investing in their future with Mississippi and its citizens. That, Dear Governor, would be the simplest way to solve our Poverty Problem.

» David Dallas is a political writer. He worked for former U.S. Sen. John Stennis and authored Barking Dawgs and A Gentleman from Mississippi.


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