Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Rep. Toby Barker: Actor

If you've looked at your local papers recently, candidates are putting their biographies and issue platforms before the voters. One that caught my eye was of Republican Rep. Toby Barker of Hattiesburg. In his statement, Barker listed a goal to "continue Mississippi's transition into evidence-based policy and budgeting; by implementing this approach in both health and education."

Evidence-based policy? Does he mean the time he voted with House Republicans to gut 30 percent of the state budget without a single hearing on the bill or passing the bill in a matter of only a few hours? He must have forgotten about how this lack of evidence-based policy would impact the University of Southern Mississippi and his local school districts. Rather than solve "problems through tangible solutions that can both pass the Legislature and be implemented" as he claims, Barker falls in line with his Republican leadership's bad ideas every time.

Toby Barker (left) possibly meeting an upset constituent

Monday, July 20, 2015

Have You Seen Philip Gunn?

Ever since making comments about changing the Mississippi flag, House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton) has been hiding. Gunn was not at Jacinto in Alcorn County or Lena Day (his family's Leake County hometown) during the Fourth of July weekend, and he was absent from the Superintendent's Association convention on the Gulf Coast last week. Gunn's chief of staff has taken it upon himself to speak on the Speaker's behalf. At an event at the state Capitol today, his church pastor spoke to the attendees while Gunn simply sent along a letter. 

Philip Gunn Showing How Deep His Troubles Are
The latest comment on his Twitter account dates back to June 22 when he declared his support for removing the Confederate battle flag from the state flag. 

Normally, Gunn and his like-minded friends such as Governor Phil Bryant and House Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden retreat to the warm embrace of talk radio in situations like this to reassure their base that there is a steady hand at the wheel. Not this time, it seems. It appears Gunn is going to stay clear of the public view. Perhaps he will grace Neshoba County with his presence next week at the fair. The reaction from the crowd will be fascinating to watch, should Gunn show up. Yet, if Gunn stands by his position, what does he have to fear?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Republicans Sure Would Hate Cuts They Supported

If you have been tuned into the news this week, you have seen the stories about House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson (R-Poplarville) calling together the heads of state agencies to warn them about possible funding cuts if Initiative 42 is approved by voters this November. This is not the first time Frierson has tried this divide and conquer strategy to try and win his position. He used similar talking points when he rejected any attempt to broaden access to Medicaid services in the state. He has killed any attempt to provide hospitals and medical professionals with more paying customers, and he is now trying to scare away and defeat any attempt to provide public schools with the resources they need to educate our students. The message from the Republicans is clear: if you vote to force us fund our own public education formula, then we are going to blame you for firing hundreds of people. This is a false choice set up by Frierson and his fellow House Republicans who refuse to roll back any corporate tax giveways or dip into $622 million of unappropriated revenue to make up the $200 million funding gap in K-12 education.

Herb Frierson
Here is the biggest dose of hypocrisy: Frierson voted for a 30 percent cut to state agency funding earlier this year. If you recall from this year's legislative session, Frierson and the Republicans voted for a politically-motivated cut of around 30 percent to the state's general fund. There were no hearings on the bill. There was no consultation with the state economist. There was no summoning of state agency leaders to alert them of the impacts. How many people would state agencies have had to lay off if the Republicans' tax cut bill had been signed into law? We will never know, because Frierson did not care to ask.

Frierson's crocodile tears underscore what we already know about their stunning hypocrisy: Republicans do not want to fully support Mississippi's education system. They are pulling out all the stops to deflect from their own failures on public education. Frierson and the leadership team of Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton) can try to change the subject all they want, but the fact is well known that you can either be a Republican or support public education - but you cannot do both.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

What Would Mike Hurst Do for BP?

This morning, Attorney General Jim Hood announced that Mississippi will receive 2.2 billion dollars from BP's disastrous Deepwater Horizon spill. Along with the tragic loss of lives, the spill wreaked havoc on our gulf coast's environment, fishing, and tourism industries.

In his statement, Hood said:
"We remain committed to ensuring that our coast counties and cities are included in any settlement and treated fairly. I am pleased to say we are upholding our promise. The size and scope of this settlement is the result of a successful partnership of all the gulf states and our state agencies. Together, we held BP accountable for the damage it caused."
But Republican Mike Hurst has different plans for companies like BP; he doesn't want them to face any consequences. How do we know? He'll tell you in his stump speech:

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

(Some of) The Republican Caucus Fights Back

The battle for the heart and soul of the House Republican Caucus continues this week with a fundraiser for House District 58 candidate Bruce Bartley of Madison County. Bartley is in a heated primary with fellow Republican Joel Bomgaars (the actual spelling of his family name.)

The fundraiser for Bartley is being promoted by Ridgeland's Republican mayor, Gene McGee, and is co-sponsored by a number of current House Republicans including DeSoto County Reps. Forrest Hamilton and Wanda Jennings. In his letter to supporters, Mayor McGee sounds the alarm on the importance of this particular House seat. McGee notes that there are extremist factions within the Republican Party that seek to foster disunity among Republican voters.

You may recall Bomgaars's name from a recent post written about his involvement in funding campaigns against Republican House members who have historically supported public education like Reps. Hamilton and Jennings. Bomgaar has already spent a hefty sum supporting House Speaker Philip Gunn's agenda to dismantle Mississippi's public education system. Bomgaar and his allies have already spent tens of thousands of dollars supporting Republicans who have voted against public education such as Reps. Joey Hood of Ackerman and Randy Boyd of Mantachie.

Joel Bomgaars and House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton)
In fact, Speaker Philip Gunn is such a big fan of anti-public education candidate Joel Bomgaar that the Speaker tried to reward Bomgaar's efforts by appointing him to the state Board of Education. The state senate rejected Bomgaar's nomination, likely on the basis that since Bomgaar does not support public education that it would be a disservice to have him serve on this board which provides leadership and oversight of our public education system.

This brings us to the contrast that Mayor McGee noted in his letter. He is correct that there are divisions in the Republican Party, and the fact of the matter is that one candidate for House District 58 appears ready to stand up to the crazy. The other candidate is adding fuel to the extremist fire, and his name is Joel Bomgaar.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A deserved thank you to Speaker Philip Gunn (R- Clinton)

By now, you are all very much aware of the online petition to change Mississippi's state flag and the various comments from politicians on the issue.  One in particular stood out, seeing as the Mississippi Republican Party is the official "safe place" of racist white Mississippians.

(Just like this, but in the MSGOP version, both people are white.)
House Speaker Philip Gunn (R - Clinton), whom I have criticized on this blog more times than I can count, issued a statement last night stating his belief that we should remove the Confederate battle flag from the Mississippi state flag. I agree with him, and am glad to see he has opened his mind to the idea that a symbol of our state should be one that unifies, not divides.  So, kudos to him for that.  I stand with you, Speaker Gunn.

Now let's see you get that through a government currently dominated by Republicans. Best of luck.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Phil Bryant Sets Up Dangerous Situation

The United States Supreme Court will soon rule whether it is permissible for Mississippians to receive a tax credit in order to help pay for their health insurance. This is a case with huge implications for tens of thousands of Mississippians who risk losing their health care coverage. The person caring the least about this is Republican Governor Phil Bryant.

As of March 2015, over 75,000 Mississippians receive a tax credit to help pay their health insurance costs. This could all be in jeopardy if the Supreme Court rules against the tax credits. The backup plan from Republicans is nonexistent.

Republican Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney once worked to build a state-based insurance marketplace, but the stubbornness of Phil Bryant killed Chaney's proposal. Thus, Bryant's poor decisions have led us to this precarious (and avoidable) position.
House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton) and Governor Bryant,
likely not talking about helping Mississippians get health insurance
For Phil Bryant and the Republicans, it has never been about the Mississippians that are being helped by having health insurance. To them, it is all about making a political statement despite the fact that we have a higher uninsured rate than the national average. Phil Bryant and his Republican Party have done everything within their power to make sure thousands of Mississippians have no health insurance coverage.

Commissioner Chaney summed up the shortsighted, politics-only views of Phil Bryant with this quote:
“He’s got a pretty good approval rating, and he doesn’t have a real strong opponent,” Mr. Chaney said. “So he’s just not worried.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Empowering Bipartisan Opponents of Public Education

Last week, we discussed Empower Mississippi and their efforts to destabilize Mississippi's public education system. This group's out-of-state money has already poured tens of thousands of dollars into Republican legislative campaigns across the state to defeat supporters of public education.

While Empower has focused most of its energy at defeating Republicans who support public education, they have also given money to a Democratic legislator who has helped push along their anti-public school agenda.

Rep. Deborah Dixon 
Meet Rep. Deborah Dixon (D-Raymond). This first-term member has the distinction as being the only co-sponsor to the 2013 charter school bill that was signed by Governor Bryant. Dixon has been an ally of Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, as he passes bills to hurt public education. For instance, Dixon supported the Republicans' bill to slash funding to public education earlier this year. 

To reward Dixon for her assistance, Empower and its anti-public school funds donated $2,500 to Dixon's campaign while giving her a grade of A for her votes against public education. According to Dixon's finance report, she accepted their anti-public school money.

You can be a Republican (or Deborah Dixon) or you can support public education, but you cannot do both.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Empowering Opponents of Public Education

In the Haley Barbour years, Mississippi Republicans at least voiced some support for public education. Even then-Lt. Governor Phil Bryant campaigned on the promise that he would always fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP.) As anyone who has observed the Republicans' shameless tactics to undermine Initiative 42 can tell you, Republican support for public schools has come completely unraveled over the past several years. What's changed?

Many Republicans have probably just started showing their true colors. For years, they would voice support for MAEP while voting to under-fund it. There were a few who really did support public education - mainly from districts with strong public schools, such as Lafayette, DeSoto, Madison, and Rankin counties. Their reversal seems to have been dictated by outside pressure rather than personal philosophy or the interests of their constituents.

Thanks to financial disclosures posted on the Secretary of State's website, we can start to get a picture of who is applying that pressure. A campaign finance report for an anti-public education political action committee, Empower PAC, shows some disturbing information about our elected officials' stances on public education. We already know that Republicans are not supporters of public education, and the information in this report further backs that up.

Between January 1 to April 30, 2015, this PAC received nearly $365,000 in donations from anti-public education forces such as state House candidate Joel Bomgaars of Madison and the Mississippi Federation for Children PAC, an ALEC-aligned organization, which is oddly based in Virginia. Who is the Federation for Children, you might ask?

The national organization is chaired by former Michigan Republican Party Chair Betsy DeVos. Her husband, Richard, unsuccessfully ran for governor of Michigan in 2006, as a Republican, while spending $35 million of his own money on the race. For Mississippi's purposes, the Chairman of the Mississippi Federation for Children PAC is Greg Brock, a person who is listed with a Washington, DC, address. To give you a sense of his feelings on public education, he led an unsuccessful school voucher initiative in 2000. The DeVos family, as well as billionaires Alice and Jim Walton of Walmart, have poured a tremendous amount of money into anti-public education efforts in recent years. That money is now seeping into Mississippi politics.

Republican candidates for statewide and legislative offices are indirect recipients of the DeVos and Walton money to undermine Mississippi's public education system. If you recall from this year's legislative session, state Rep. Forrest Hamilton spoke from the House Well claiming that he was to be the target of forces who want to hurt public education while Speaker Gunn demanded to know the source of this speculation. Hamilton was right. Hamilton's Republican primary opponent, Dana Criswell, has received at least $11,000 from Empower PAC. Steve Hopkins, who is challenging fellow DeSoto County Republican Rep. Wanda Jennings, has received at least $11,000. Mind you that Hamilton and Jennings both oppose legislation advocating vouchers and charter schools. Longtime Republican Rep. Ray Rogers of Rankin County voted against charter schools in 2013, and now he is a target of Empower. Rogers's opponent, Randall Stephen, has received over $11,000 to take on this race.

Not all incumbents are targets, however.
  • Lafayette County Republicans like Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison and House Education Committee member Brad Mayo both received $2,500 from Empower PAC.
  • House Education Committee Chairman John Moore received $2,000.
  • Republican Rep. Carolyn Crawford (who serves on the House Education Committee) received $5,000.
  • Republican Rep. Joey Hood received $2,000.
  • Republican Rep. Randy Boyd (who serves on the House Education Committee) received $2,500.
  • Republican Rep. Charles Busby (who serves on the House Education Committee and was the floor manager of the charter school bill) received $2,500.
  • Republican Lt. Governor Tate Reeves (who is a product of the Rankin County school system) received $5,000.
The evidence is abundantly clear that Republicans do not care about public education; it's been said before and will be said again. You can be a Republican or you can support public education, but you cannot do both.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

What Did They Think Would Happen?

Mark this under the category of "we told you so."

A recent report from the Mississippi Legislative Budget Office shows that the state budget took a big hit in May, coming in roughly $107 million under budget. For the entire fiscal year, which began in July 2014, the state is barely staying afloat thanks to the oft-maligned federal government. Thanks, Thad. If it were not for federal transfers for such things as infrastructure and health care, the state could be nearly $29 million in the red. So much for fiscal conservatism.

If you recall from earlier this year, without any hearings or any input from the state economist, Republicans rushed a bill which would likely have cut 30 percent of the state's general fund. The model was based off of legislation from Republican-led Kansas, which held the belief that if you build it, it will come. It didn't happen. In fact, just the opposite happened. The state of Kansas is nearly $600 million under budget, their schools are closing, and their roads are falling apart. This same plan is what Mississippi Republicans wanted to implement in our state.

The legislature is not funding public education as it is required by law to do, and the proposal by the Republicans would have further set Mississippi back from that goal were it not for Democratic leadership being responsible against reckless Republican priorities. Think about it like this: take the levels the legislature is funding public education today and reduce it by 30 percent. Scary, huh? Not if you're Republican House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, who is "hopeful" it all works out.

Additional examples of Republicans not being into public education can be found HERE and HERE and HERE. As the saying still goes, "You can be a Republican in Mississippi, or you can support education, but you can't do both."