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BILL CRAWFORD — Course changes needed for Mississippi? Yes or no?

BILL CRAWFORD

Happy with the way things are going in Mississippi and want to stay the course? Then Tate Reeves is probably your choice for Governor. Stay the course is pretty much his campaign message.

Not so happy with the way things are going? Well, if you want a conservative Republican to guide course changes, then Bill Waller or Robert Foster should be your choice. Each would take a somewhat different approach to those changes, Waller guided by his longtime Supreme Court and National Guard background and Foster by his agribusiness and recent legislative background.

If you’re fed up with Republican control, then a Democrat, most likely Attorney General Jim Hood, will be your option.

Of course, governors are not the only political leaders who can cause course changes. We know from Reeves’ domination of the Mississippi Senate that the Lieutenant Governor has a lot of sway. Gilbert, Philbert, Dilbert, Albert, Delbert (take your choice) Hosemann is the odds on favorite to succeed Reeves. Both he and Democratic nominee Jay Hughes will attempt to take the state in directions not tolerated by Reeves, with Hosemann taking the more conservative path.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives also has sway. Likely to be re-elected in January, current Republican Speaker Philip Gunn has shown he is willing to take alternate paths to those Reeves took.

Another position with sway is that of Attorney General. There will be course changes coming here. The Mike Moore/Jim Hood era is coming to an end. Odds are that in heavily Republican Mississippi one of the GOP candidates will easily win the position over Democratic nominee Jennifer Riley Collins. Longtime GOP leader Andy Taggart, State Treasurer Lynn Fitch, and State Rep. Mark Baker are no peas in a pod either, with each likely to chart different paths from the others.

As I wrote in an earlier column, where you live matters and will likely impact your perspective of how Mississippi is doing and whether the state needs course changes. Even then, it’s easy to be confused.

Consider these conflicting facts.

Mississippi has more people working than ever before and our unemployment rate is the lowest ever. Yet, we have the lowest average weekly wages in the nation and our 18 to 24 population is shrinking as our elderly population surges.

Mississippi over the past seven years created 35,000 new jobs and attracted more than $7 billion of private investment. Yet economic distress is on the rise in three-fourths of our counties and many hospitals, key economic engines, are at risk of closing.

National publications rate Mississippi high as a business friendly state. But national rankings consistently rate us at or near the bottom in health status, educational achievement, and per capita income.

High school graduation rates and some NAEP scores are up. But, teacher shortages have reached crisis stage.

State revenues are up and the rainy day fund is full. Yet many programs are underfunded and total indebtedness, which includes the PERS unfunded liability, is at a record high and growing.

How these things are playing in your backyard will determine Mississippi’s direction over the next four years.

More of the same, something a little different, or something a lot different, those are your choices, some of which you are going to get anyway.

» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicate columnist from Meridian.

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