From staff and wire reports
PHILADELPHIA — Fairgoers at the opening day of festivities from the state’s premier political stump at the Neshoba County Fair’s tin-roofed pavilion heard state leaders talk about education reform, Medicaid expansion and the impact that might have on the state budget during Wednesday’s political speeches.
Republican first-term Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves focused on education reforms, including charter schools, changing the current school ratings system, and fiscal issues during his speech. But it was on charter schools and the issue of changing the culture in public education that Reeves was most forceful: “Public charter schools will provide a choice for parents and students — a choice that could help keep more of our children in school, that could help increase our graduation rates, that could help increase student achievement and that could help increase the overall education attainment level of our citizens.
“I have a message for people in both parties who are scared of the future of education reform: buckle your seat belts. Reform is coming to Mississippi.” Reeves said the state could not afford an expansion of the Medicaid program as sought by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as the Obama health care reforms.
The lieutenant governor also addressed an issue closely watched by the Mississippi State University community when he talked about his role in blocking a bond bill that, in part, would have been of major benefit to the state’s colleges and universities.
“For the first time in the memories of most people, we did not have a bond bill this session. It was time to draw the line and take a break from the borrowing,” Reeves said. “There are some good projects, some projects that we need. And I hope we get some of those funded next session. But I can promise you this — just like the Senate did this year — we are going to offer a conservative borrowing plan for only the most essential needs.
“We must permanently change the mindset in the Legislature about borrowing money. Every dollar we commit to servicing debt is a dollar that can’t be invested in public safety, health care and education every year,” he said.
Reeves, the former state treasurer from Florence who cruised to a general election win as the leader of the state Senate without Democratic opposition, gave fairgoers an account of what he deemed a successful first year in that new position.
Praising the efforts of fellow Republicans Gov. Phil Bryant and House Speaker Philip Gunn, Reeves said that “working as a team, we saved you money and produced a balanced budget and got our work done on time,” said Reeves.
Reeves also talked about the upcoming 2012 presidential election, the possible impacts of the Obama health care reforms on the state’s budget if the Medicaid program is expanded, and recounted what he said were the efforts of the Republican legislative leadership in both houses to implement “fiscal responsibility” in state spending.
Veteran Attorney General Jim Hood made no reference to legislative action regulating the power of the attorney general to enter into so-called “outside counsel” contracts during his remarks. Hood, the only Democrat among the state’s eight statewide elected officials, talked about his efforts to recover $71 million in consumer protection dollars from corporate wrongdoers.
“I worry about the electronic onslaught that confronts my daughter and the children of this state,” said Hood. “Cyber-bullying on Facebook and other social media result in many cases of young girls having their reputations beaten down. It’s something kids have really never faced before.”
GOP State Auditor Stacey Pickering of Laurel, who is beginning his second term in that post, told fairgoers about his work in recovering over $5 million in embezzled, misspent or misappropriated funds — $1 million in the last year alone.
Pickering also talked about his desire to have the Legislature pass a bill to prohibit state and local governments from hiring a convicted felon, a practice he claims is happening with some frequency in the state. Pickering also addressed his status as a state chairman for the presidential campaign of former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney. Pickering told fairgoers that the 2012 election “is the most important presidential election in the nation’s history since Ronald Reagan campaigned” at the Neshoba County Fair in 1980.
“I’m asking for your vote on behalf of Mitt Romney,” said Pickering.
Republican Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall of Jackson renewed his call for raising the state’s 18.4 cent gasoline tax as a means to fund highway and bridge construction and maintenance. The tax rate has not changed since it was implemented in 1987. Hall said the revenue from the gas tax wasn’t keeping pace with inflation in construction and maintenance costs and that the consumption-based tax was flawed given technical improvements in the fuel efficiency of modern vehicles.
Hall said: “Exxon can raises prices 10 cents per gallon overnight and nobody says a word,” said Hall “But if somebody asks for a 5-cent increase in the gas tax, people start jumping out of the windows down at the Capitol.“
First-term Republican Central District Public Service Commissioner Lynn Posey of Union Church talked about rate decreases for some electric power customers, the Kemper County Integrated Gasification Combine Cycle (IGCC), and his ongoing efforts to thwart energy scammers and unscrupulous telemarketers.
“People need to remember that this is a 40-year project to provide electricity to the area for years to come,” Posey said. “This is about providing stable rates for ratepayers and we are all working hard to resolve the issues. I want to assure you that the costs associated with the project will be monitored and the costs verified.”
Other speakers included state Sen. Giles Ward, R-Louisville, and state Rep. C. Scott Bounds, R-Philadelphia, who represented Neshoba County in the Legislature. Both were elected along with the slate of statewide official during the 2011 statewide elections and both won’t campaign again until 2015.
Fairgoers also heard local jurists speak including Eighth District Circuit Post One Judge Marcus Gordon of Union, Eighth District Circuit Post Two Judge Vernon Cotten of Carthage, and Sixth District Chancery Judge Joey Kilgore of Philadelphia.
The Fair’s speaking program will resume at 9 a.m. on Thursday and culminate with a speech by Gov. Phil Bryant at 10:40 a.m. Other speakers on the schedule for Thursday include U.S. Senate candidates Thomas Cramer, Shawn O’Hara and Albert Gore Jr., state Supreme Court candidates Bill Waller Jr., and Earle S. Banks, State Treasurer Lynn Fitch, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith, House Speaker Philip Gunn, and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
For more information, access http://neshobacountyfair.org/politics .