Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Be Good To One Another

Your friends at Cottonmouth are taking some time off during the holidays, but we will be back if a story breaks that we wish to share. Rest assured, we will return for the legislative session in January. While the political heat (hopefully) cools along with the temperatures this fall, it is important to remember why you are reading this post in the first place.

Cottonmouth is a forum designed to be a conduit of ideas that advances public discourse over a host of issues. Sure, many of us are guilty of using blogs to see who's up/who's down or who's right/who's wrong. There are some who do not agree with my viewpoints or the viewpoints of my co-authors, but that is part of the process. We can agree to disagree through fact-based discourse. I am thankful that we continue to have the opportunity to impact policy discussions. It is ultimately up to voters and policy makers to determine the best course of action as she or he sees the evidence.

Another year is about to conclude, but we still have time to enjoy 2015. As we gather with family and friends this holiday season, cherish the company you are blessed to have. Watch a football game. Go see a movie. Donate some time to a charity. Retell funny stories about a loved one. Live in the moment. Most of all, let's be good to one another.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Ties That Tie

Earlier today, Rep. Bo Eaton (D-Taylorsville) won the tie-breaker between him and his Republican challenger, Mark Tullos. Certified election results show each candidate receiving 5,489 votes. A document obtained by Cottonmouth shows that the results may be askew. A relative of Mr. Tullos - Mr. Jeffrey Tullos - has filed homestead exemption on property he owns in Rankin County. Yet, Jeffrey Tullos is voting in Smith County elections. So we have a situation where a voter voted in a county where he does not live. This would imply the type of ballot irregularities that Mark Tullos argued existed just this week; thus, the election was tied likely due to a voter improperly voting in favor of his brother, Mark Tullos.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Health Care on the Brink

A recent report shows the dire financial situation facing Mississippi's rural hospitals. The report reiterates what has been known for years: hospitals are struggling financially while patients are in danger of and are actually going without medical care.

Some of the hospitals in jeopardy reside in districts represented by some of the worst offenders when it comes to health care in the state:
  • Highland Community Hospital, represented by Rep. Mark Formby (R-Picayune)
  • Tippah County Hospital, represented by Rep. Judas Steverson (R-Ripley)
  • Baptist Medical Center Attalta, formerly Montfort Jones Community Hospital, represented by Rep. Jason White (R-West)
  • Natchez Regional Medical Center, ironically represented by Public Health Committee Chairman Sam Mims (R-McComb)
This report was released as news broke that the Pioneer Community Hospital in Newton, represented by Reps. Randy Rushing (R-Decatur) and William Shirley (R-Quitman), will be closing their doors - forcing their patients to drive to other counties to seek medical care. Imagine having to drive to another county if you are having a heart attack or delivering a baby! 

For years, Reps. Formby, Steverson, White, Mims, Rushing, and Shirley and the Republican Party have stood in the way of ensuring that hospitals have patients who are able to afford medical care. This shameful behavior is disgraceful, and their stubbornness is costing lives. Once the new legislature is seated in January, we must hope that our legislators will be more concerned about the well-being of their constituents who need health care than being concerned about where a lobbyist will buy them pink-colored drinks and expensive dinners. If history is our guide, we should not get our hopes up. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

New Report Shows What Won't Be Addressed

A health report out today shows alarming numbers for Mississippi. The report shows that nearly 2,300 deaths could be avoided each year if policy makers will fix the problems associated with poor access to health care services. Based on what we have seen over the past four years of Republican governance, it seems unlikely that Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves or House Speaker Philip Gunn will address any of these problems over the next four years.

Here are some highlights of the report:

  • 20 percent of Mississippians do not have health insurance (Republican't don't care.)
  • 34 percent of children live in poverty (Republicans don't care.)
  • Income inequality is very high (Republicans don't care.)
  • 35 percent of Mississippians are obese (Republicans don't care.)
  • 45 percent of children in Mississippi live in single-parent households (Republicans don't care.)
  • 12 percent of Mississippians are excessive drinkers (Republicans don't care.)
  • 20 percent of automobile accidents are caused by alcohol impairment (Republicans don't care.)
  • A 877:1 ratio of citizens to mental health providers (Republicans don't care.)
Some of the best policy tools lawmakers have at their disposal to remedy this crisis are the Earned Income Tax Credit (a credit which helps working individuals and families) and paid family medical leave. The record of the Republicans gives us little hope that Republicans care enough to do anything about the problems. Meanwhile, Mississippi remains on the bottom of the bad lists. Republicans don't care. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The "Secret Plan" That Isn't So Secret

Today, Rep. Brad Mayo (R-Oxford) ran this full page ad in The Oxford Citizen, attempting to white-wash his abysmal voting record on the Public Employees Retirement System.

Mayo wants his constituents to think that his record on PERS is just a series of silly partisan accusations, and says that Democrats think there's a "secret plan" to dissolve PERS. 

Mayo is right that there is no secret plan to dissolve PERS.  There is a public plan to dissolve PERS.

And he's the one who introduced it.

In the 2013 session, Brad Mayo introduced House Bill 486, and if it became law, would have provided an opportunity for public employees to opt out of PERS, essentially rendering it useless. 

What incentive might a financial advisor have to dissolve it?

Legislators across Mississippi think that pointing out their record is mud-slinging. I think it's called telling the truth. 


Here's an ad that ran in the Oxford Eagle for Jay Hughes. What about this is anything other than accountability? 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

About That Jim Hood Poll

A poll is circulating around Mississippi showing a close race between incumbent Attorney General Jim Hood and his opponent. The poll shows Jim Hood leading with 50% to his opponent's 44% with 6% undecided (a plurality of the undecided voters are Democrats). This poll also shows a number of statewide Republican incumbents with oddly high re-elect numbers.

Before anyone on either side of these campaigns gets in a tizzy, let's take a look at who conducted the poll. The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. In case you have not heard of them, it is likely because they try to keep their history out of the news. For instance, during the 2012 election cycle, Mason-Dixon had an awful track record.

Mason-Dixon proudly projected that Mitt Romney would carry states like Virginia and Florida - Romney lost both; Mason-Dixon's poll showed Republican pickups in US Senate seats in Montana and North Dakota - Republicans lost both; Mason-Dixon polled a Congressional race in Utah showing a Republican pickup - the Republican lost.

In each poll, Mason-Dixon consistently raised likely turnout expectations among Republican voters anywhere from 4-6 percentage points. The same situation appears to be taking place in their Mississippi poll with Republican candidates running stronger than the historical average.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Is your Legislator Going to Destin on your Dollar?

FLASHBACK (8/11/2013):

This morning, The Clarion Ledger's Geoff Pender wrote a few (1) damning reports (2) about state legislators using taxpayer dollars for trips with lobbyists.

According to Pender, not only did lobbyists cover the cost of much of a trip to Destin, these legislators were then reimbursed by the state for travel, food, etc, essentially double dipping on the taxpayer dollar.

The trip's purpose was to meet with a group pushing for the ability of loan sharks to charge up to 99% on "small" loans. Obviously driving up heinous debt on sometimes the most desperate people.

Now this, at its face, is appalling. But what really sticks out is how legislators like Bubba Carpenter (R-Burnsville), Tracy Arnold (R-Booneville) and Ray Rogers (R-Pearl) responded when they were asked about the trip.

Pender on Rep. Bubba Carpenter (R-Burnsville):

Rep. Bubba Carpenter (R - Burnsville)
...when first contacted, on his way back from the same MCFA event in Destin this year, said: “No, sir, I did not. I didn’t file anything on my state report. (Lobbyist) Buddy Medlin paid for that. I can’t turn that in — (the House Management Committee) wouldn’t have approved it. You’ve got some wires crossed with whatever you’re looking at. … Something’s not geehawing. I would have to be approved by Management, and this is a private convention.” 

But then, after checking his expense records, Carpenter said he had been pre-approved by the Management Committee, and the $652.70 he was reimbursed by taxpayers for the travel was for mileage, meals and other out-of-pocket expenses. He said neither the association nor lobbyists provided for all meals at the convention.

Pender on Ray Rogers (R-Pearl):

Rep. Ray Rogers (R- Pearl)
...at first said he recalled only filing mileage and that “where lobbyists pay for motel and so forth, the thing they don’t pay for is mileage.”

“I certainly did not ask for meals,” Rogers said. “Mine better not show meal expenses.”
Records show Rogers was reimbursed $547.04, including $138 for meals. Later, Rogers said: “Well, I apologize. Records show I asked for mileage and meals that weren’t covered. … We don’t double up. We don’t pay anything that the lobbyists cover. No, they don’t cover all meals.”
Pender on Tracy Arnold (R-Booneville):

Rep. Tracy Arnold (R - Booneville)
...had a similar first response: “You’re saying the state paid? I need to check that out because it was my understanding that the Mississippi Consumer Finance Association paid for everything on that trip … That’s the first one of those that I’ve been on … the first time I’ve went to one where someone was supposed to be totin’ and paying it all.” He also said he’s had problems with an assistant at the Capitol who files his expenses.

Arnold state-expensed $654.54 for the trip, including $170 for meals. After checking records, he, too, noted the travel was pre-approved by House Management and directed further questions to House Management Committee Chairman Greg Snowden.

But a 23% increase in travel over the last year sounds less like a mistake, and more like uninhibited corruption (by the way, Speaker Gunn refused to comment for these stories).

So was it complete incompetence or good ol' corruption?

Why not both?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Drug Dealers for Lagasse (and other Republicans)

At a Republican campaign rally in Hancock County today, Republicans Phil Bryant, Tate Reeves, Speaker Philip Gunn, Reps. Timmy Ladner and Mark Formby, and party chairman Joe Nosef stood next to their candidate for House District 122, Mickey Lagasse.

Rallies like this are pretty common - firing up the crowd, taking pictures, handing out stickers. What stood out about this event is where it was being held. The Republican rally took place at the business of Gary Wayne Necaise of Hancock County; Mr. Necaise (mugshot below) has had his fair share of run-ins with the law.

Mickey Lagasse
In 2013, Mr. Necaise - a Lagasse supporter - was arrested with dozens of others (some of which were children) in a massive Hancock County drug bust in where Necaise was charged with the sale of a controlled substance. Such substances, mind you, are responsible for tens of thousands of Americans' deaths each year - now causing more deaths than vehicle accidents. 

That is now all water under the bridge as Republican candidates hold hands with Necaise in a strong show of party unity.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Rep. Bubba Carpenter (R - Burnsville) Caught on Tape, Blatantly Race Baiting

Oftentimes, we are taught to listen for the subtle undertones of Republican language, dog-whistles that are meant to break through some of the dreariest days of Mississippi's past.

We must do this, because it's no longer usually socially acceptable to outright race-bait in Mississippi politics. But this week, Jack Ivy of WRMG-TV was on location to film the Midway Republican Rally, and what Rep. Bubba Carpenter (R-Burnsville) said may shock you.

In the video Carpenter is repeating the now typical (ridiculous) argument from opponents of Initiative 42, suggesting a Hinds County judge would be able to control funds from all sorts of school districts at his liking.  (You can watch the entire Republican rally here.)

Except Bubba went off script a bit. Instead of using the dog-whistle "liberal," Carpenter said what they always meant.

Bubba told a group of constituents that a black judge would be making the decision. And he meant it as a cuss word.  (This has the extra benefit of not even being true, as the Hinds County Chancery Court bench is evenly split, with two black female judges and two white male judges.)

And not only that, Carpenter assured the room that Governor Bryant, Secretary Hosemann, and fellow Representative Donnie Bell would be visiting later to "tell you the same thing."

This is the breakdown of a talking point in action; Carpenter is simply repeating what he heard from fellow Republicans. They wanted to put a black face on this issue, and this time, he forgot to disguise it.

Will they get away with it?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Rep. Brad Mayo Trying to Save Face:

2013 FLASHBACK Brad Mayo tries to break PERS:

Late Sunday night, Representative Brad Mayo (R-Oxford) sent out an email to his constituents trying to save face on some of his recent actions in Jackson. One of the issues covered is House Bill 486, which dramatically alters PERS and how it funds itself.  What Mayo wrote can be found below (Bold is editorial notation of Cottonmouth):

As many of you have seen, I have introduced House Bill 486 - which would allow employees to opt-out of our PERS system. I know it is the source of much worry for many of you (and PERS members around the state). In no way am I trying to undermine the PERS system. If such a consequence is shown to be the case, I will seek to accordingly alter or kill the bill. However, I would like to explain the genesis of this bill and how it may work. I was asked by younger state employees (with families) and by prospective employees about devising a method of retirement planning that did not tie up 9% of their salary. These employees do not expect to make a career of state service and would like to plan for retirement while stretching their paychecks. Thus, we have developed a plan similar to our university system's Optional Retirement Plan (ORP). It would allow a new employee to allocate a pre-determined percentage of their income (up to 9%) that would be placed in the state's existing Deferred Compensation Program and matched by the employer. The employer would then contribute an additional 2.5% to PERS' accrued liability fund. Thus, the employee would have no claim to any PERS funds, but would be contributing 2.5%. Money would go in, but not come out. This should very slightly (depending upon utilization) increase PERS funding levels (assets/liabilities). There is also a provision for existing employees to roll out of the system, but it is quite punitive. Should an existing employee opt to leave PERS for Deferred Comp, they would only be entitled to rollover their contributions, not their employer's or the earnings. Depending upon their years of service, this would allow them to rollover somewhere between 30 and 40% of their account value. That is not a very good deal for anyone with substantial service and any rollover would improve PERS overall funding levels (by losing a small amount of assets, but forgoing all corresponding liability). I have asked for projections on how this might affect PERS.
I have used bold in various parts of this explanation to point out how many times Rep. Mayo treats this bill as a hypothetical scenario. May work? I have asked? The Mississippi State House of Representatives is not a think tank. This is not a thesis.  It is a bill with real life consequences from a Representative of a district that is home to the state's flagship university. So many of the people in his district wouldn't make it without this retirement system.

Out of fairness, I have not changed Rep. Mayo's explanation in any way aside from the bold. But even his explanation doesn't offer any reason to believe that this won't drastically alter PERS as we know it.