Two party leaders, two different views on stateBy WYATT EMMERICH,
At the start of every year, the Stennis Capitol Press Forum has Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and David Baria, leader of the House Democrats, talk in back-to-back sessions. It’s an interesting contrast in views on the state.
Reeves, along with Gov. Phil Bryant in his State of the State speech, argue that the media is making an overly negative portrayal of the state by focusing on population declines over the last three years.
Reeves and Bryant hang their hat on a record low unemployment rate of 4.6 percent. Bryant boast that companies are seeking employees for 40,000 jobs.
There’s one problem with this rosy picture: According to the U.S. Census Bureau total employment today, 1.21 million, is lower than it was 10 years ago by about 40,000 jobs.
Bryant, like President Trump, calls this fake news, but it comes straight from the U.S. Department of Census website, https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LASST280000000000003.
Along with employment, the total labor force is also down about 40,000 over the last 10 years. That indicates that people are moving out of the state to find jobs or leaving the workforce by retiring. This seems to corroborate the census bureau’s finding of state population declines over the last three years.
Reeves shoots the messenger: “There is a reason why the census only comes out every 10 years,” Reeves told the forum. “Even the census bureau admits that year-to-year data is very inaccurate. The census typically underestimates in rural areas, especially the African American population, both of which we have a large number in our state.”
Reeves also blames the problem on Delta outmigration. “If you look at from 2000 to 2010 in Mississippi what you see is an outmigration of about 70,000 people from the Mississippi Delta. Now some of those have moved within the state of Mississippi and some of those have chosen to move outside the state of Mississippi. The important trend to note, which is nationwide, is that people are tending to move away from rural areas into urban areas. Mississippi has had a disadvantage because of that trend compared to our neighboring states because we only have one major metropolitan area.
“Louisiana to our west has New Orleans, which is a major metropolitan area, but to a lesser extent Shreveport, as well as a growing vibrant college community at Baton Rouge. Alabama not only has Birmingham but obviously Montgomery is a thriving metropolitan area along with Mobile and Huntsville. Tennessee has Memphis and Nashville. If you look at the huge increases in the state of Georgia, most of the people who have moved into Georgia over the last four years have moved to Atlanta.”
Reeves’ basic argument is that you can’t blame Republican public policy for these population declines, if they are even real, and that it is caused by demographic forces beyond the party’s control.
Reeves added that because millennials are contributing to these trends, it is important to ensure that our one metropolitan area, Jackson, is developed to the maximum extent.
“We need to make sure our public policy goals are structured in such a way as to see improvement in our capitol city. I think it’s vitally important for the long-term viability of our state that we have a growing downtown Jackson and that’s one of the reasons I was very supportive last year of the Capitol City Improvement District, which will allow for the state to partner with Jackson in downtown revitalization.”
Reeves defended the repeal of the corporate franchise as necessary to be competitive in attracting new industry, noting that neighboring states don’t have this tax.
In essence, the Republicans have done what they promised to do: cut taxes and cut government, including turning down a billion dollars a year in federal aid to expand Medicaid for lower income working families.
“There are those on the other side of the aisle who believe government is entitled to 100 percent of what you make and anything government allows you to keep, you ought to be thankful for. Then there are those who believe that government does not have anything that it does not first take from someone else.”
So there you have it in a nutshell. The only problem with this is that Mississippi has historically been a huge beneficiary of federal largesse, receiving 2.5 dollars in aid for evey dollar of federal taxes paid. Attacking this federal support is cutting off a lifeline to our rural areas.
David Baria, the opposition leader in the state House, took a different approach in his talk.
First Baria warned about the problems of a one-party state. He said he didn’t like it when the Democrats dominated and he doesn’t like it now that the Republican party is dominating. He complained that some of the best minds in the House are being shut out of leadership positions because of their party affiliation.
Baria talked of growing up in a Mississippi where working people realized the need for good government.
“Where I grew up, people knew you had to have good factories providing high paying jobs, good roads and bridges. I crossed a bridge nearly everyday driving into Moss Point and Pascagoula. Factories need these roads and bridges to ship their products. We also knew we had to have a good hospital where we could go when we were sick or our little bother or sister was being born. We knew we needed good schools to educate us in a way that prepared us for jobs and the world we would inherit.
“Fifty years later. I know these basic necessities are vital everywhere, in every community, everywhere in the world, for families to survive, for companies to thrive and for our country to compete internationally. And we haven’t done the job here at home. We’ve dropped the ball. We have not improved on these basic ingredients necessary for success in Mississippi for the last 30 years.
“We hear that the economy is doing well and that unemployment is low but do you feel like it’s getting better? Is the lower unemployment rate related to fewer people in the workforce? Are our wages rising fast enough to keep up with inflation? Why do we have a brain drain? We are losing an entire generation of young entrepreneurs, doctors, computer scientists, future leaders because we have failed to create the kind of place where they want to live and work.
“If we are to address these issues we need to fight together as Mississippians, for if this ship is sinking, it affects every one of us. There can be no more us and them when our jobs, infrastructure, schools and hospitals are failing. It’s all ‘us.’ The time is ripe to fight like our children’s future depends on it because it does.
“Mississippi needs a viable two-party system. Democrats and Republicans need to set aside partisan battles and work together and do what’s right for Mississippi.”
Two state leaders. Two distinct views on the state of Mississippi and what needs to be done. There are no easy answers, but I do agree that two viable, competitive political parties is better than one party domination.