Governor: Mississippi reality different from critics’ view
By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS, Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Critics are painting a negative picture of Mississippi but the state is enjoying low unemployment and is improving its public education system, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said Tuesday night in a State of the State speech that offered a few new proposals.
“The proverbial critics would have you believe that one is a declining state whose people are suffering mightily,” Bryant said. “They search for problems as if there is a reward for finding them.”
At the midpoint of his second and final term as governor, Bryant said the state is filled with progress.
“It is inhabited with caring, hard-working people of all races and ages who strive valiantly every day to make this wonderful state a better place to live and raise our children,” Bryant said.
He said billions of dollars have been invested in new jobs. Bryant said that during the three-month legislative session, he will offer proposals to reduce government regulations.
He said he supports efforts in the Republican-led Legislature to rewrite the school funding formula, though leaders have not revealed a proposal. The current formula, called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, is designed to ensure school districts receive enough money to meet midlevel academic standards. It has been fully funded only two years since it was put into law in 1997, falling short under leadership from both parties.
Bryant said a new formula “should serve as a road map to success for every child in Mississippi’s public schools. It should not be a political prop used to allege someone’s failure to support education.”
As he has in the past, Bryant advocated expansion of vouchers for children to attend private schools.
“I continue to believe parents should have the freedom to use their tax dollars to send their child to the school of their choice, not one decided by the government,” he said.
Vouchers are a contentious issue, with critics saying Mississippi should focus on improving all public schools rather than sending money to private schools.
Bryant said Mississippi continues to “lag behind most of the nation” in health statistics.
“We have an overwhelming tendency to be our own worst enemy when it comes to obesity, substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases,” he said.
He also said Medicaid is straining the state budget, and patients and health care providers should focus more on preventing poor health from getting worse.
“We must also insist that positive health care outcomes be the first responsibility of the Medicaid recipients,” he said.
One revived proposal is to move the Mississippi Department of Public Safety headquarters from its 1970s-era building in Jackson, out into suburban Rankin County. Bryant added a new twist, saying he wants a new medical conference center to be built on the site of the public safety building, which is near several hospitals.
Bryant said the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, in December, was an important step toward racial reconciliation. He praised President Donald Trump for attending the opening — an appearance that drew protests by people who said Trump’s appearance was an affront to those who put their lives in danger to advance civil rights. Bryant said “the horror of slavery, the indecency of Jim Crow and the dark days of segregation” are all on display at the museum.
“We peered into Mississippi’s soul, and saw that it was cleansed of any deceit or malice,” he said. “The soul of Mississippi now contained a love for all its people, its traditions and most of all, our future.”
He did not mention one issue that continues to divide lawmakers and state residents: The Confederate battle emblem remains on the state flag. Critics see it as racist and supporters see it as a symbol of Southern heritage. Bryant has said repeatedly that if the flag design is to be reconsidered, it should be done in a statewide election.
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Dem response: Bryant failed to note Mississippi problems
By EMILY WAGSTER and JEFF AMY, Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Republican Gov. Phil Bryant failed to acknowledge many of Mississippi’s problems in the State of the State address, a lawmaker said in the Democrats’ televised response.
Bryant gave the speech Tuesday at the Capitol, saying critics are portraying Mississippi in a negative light.
Rep. Jay Hughes of Oxford said Mississippi is last in public education, last in mental health care and first in poverty. He also said the state suffers from a “brain drain,” with large numbers of college graduates leaving.
While the governor mentioned low unemployment and robust job creation, Hughes said too many communities are stuck with low-paying jobs that don’t provide a way out of poverty.
“Unfortunately, the policies that impact our quality of life have merely gone unchanged and underfunded,” Hughes said. “Simply ignoring a problem is not a solution.”
Other response to the State of the State:
Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn of Clinton:
Gunn said not to read too much into Bryant’s failure to mention road and bridge funding, saying he and Bryant have had “ongoing conversations.”
“The governor can’t cover everything in a 20-minute speech.”
Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat:
“The governor did a good job showing what’s bright with our economy, but he doesn’t talk about things that are going to cost money, like roads and bridges.”
“The job of government is to fix problems, and you’ve got to talk about the problems to fix them. You’ve got to talk about money.”
Hood said he thought it was a missed opportunity that lawmakers weren’t doing more to try to aid the city of Jackson with its infrastructure problems. “You’ve got porta-potties outside the Capitol building.”
Republican Sen. Lydia Chassaniol of Winona:
Chassaniol said she thought the governor’s emphasis on racial reconciliation recognized the honesty of the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. “It needs to be acknowledges that we pretty much laid ourselves bare.”
“I was excited to hear his interest in improving not only the health care and the education, but the job opportunities for poor people.”
Democratic Sen. Sollie Norwood of Jackson:
“The governor had some good expressions. I was listening for the how-to’s on some of it.”
Norwood said education funding is a problem that needs the governor’s involvement if the state is going to guarantee a good teacher to every child: “We’ve got to have the resources to make that happen.”
Norwood said he was pleased by the governor’s call for the state to train another class of state troopers, as well his advocacy for the Department of Child Protective Services.
Republican Sen. Briggs Hopson of Vicksburg:
“I thought the themes were very good, especially in light of the fact that we celebrated our bicentennial….. I think the acknowledgment of some of the difficulties of Mississippi were appropriate, but he gave a hopeful and optimistic vision of Mississippi.”
Democratic Rep. Sonya Williams Barnes of Gulfport:
“He did say he wants all citizens of Mississippi to be equal. So, is he going to support equal pay for women? … It is imperative to the economy in our state that all citizens, regardless of gender or race, get equal pay for the same work.”
Republican Rep. Robert Foster of Hernando:
“We are seeing positive returns for some of the decisions we have made.” Foster cited as an example the “third grade gate” law enacted in recent years, requiring students to achieve certain reading standards before moving to the fourth grade. “We are seeing positive results through that. Long-term, it was good policy.”
Rep. Abe Hudson, a Democrat from Shelby:
“Though I share the same passion as Gov. Bryant, I believe the way to achieve success in some areas is different, particularly in the area of public education. In order for our state to move forward from an educational perspective, we must continue to try to find a way so that every child gets an opportunity for success. I get concerned when we spend an equal amount of time discussing chargers and vouchers as we do public education.”