The opening month of the state legislature has been hard to watch. Our legislature is sending back federal money, taking away basic rights, and blowing dog whistles sent down from Washington and up from Florida. The Governor, in his State of the State address, assures us this is the best year yet here in Mississippi.
It is all making progressives here want to scream, or move, or at least tweet in outrage. I have had moments of all three of these myself. But it is probably time instead to hunker down and fight. The fight starts in the legislature where gerrymandering, corruption, and vindictiveness add to the problems. It will end at the ballot box. Those of us who don’t work in the legislature need to focus on the end game.
Think what you can do to help: Give money. Talk to your friends and neighbors. Organize a canvas. Raise money. Be strategic. Give more money.
Social media from the last few days is full of ranting and raving – and I have done a little of that myself. But the election will rest on the dynamics of turnout and on a relatively small group of persuadable voters who could go either way. They are not political, partisan, or ideological or they wouldn’t be in the middle. They are also mostly women, to whom neither party in Mississippi does a good job communicating. We need to get their attention without turning them off by how we talk about issues. A few examples:
The legislature’s taking away fundamental rights of self-government from those of us who live in Jackson is enraging me, and of course I see it as racially motivated. But it is also a set up so that we call out racism and Republicans benefit from the polarization. That’s what the whole Gov. v. Mayor fight has been about for them – deepening polarization to the Governor’s political benefit in his base. When you want to call them racists, pull out your checkbook and give to Democratic candidates to make yourself feel a little better. Meanwhile, you can note they are paying double for administration by having two police departments. And in other cities, community-based policing has been more effective than double-cost administrative layering. They are playing politics, not solving problems.
Speaking of playing politics, Republicans are making much of the problem of 11-year olds being forced into gender altering surgical procedures. Now, we all know that’s not happening. It’s an easy one to rant about but think about those persuadable voters. If friends and neighbors bring it up, note its not actually happening (never mind the motivation). Suggest that if the legislature really wanted to help kids they could address the lack of air conditioning/science labs/school nurses/full time librarians/AP Calculus – whatever is applicable – at the local high school. Instead, they are just playing politics by making things up. That’s what they do.
Which brings us to Medicaid expansion. Virtually no one wants to leave federal money on the table that would save local hospitals. But remember that a lot of swing voters – who are never policy wonks – do not know much about Medicaid expansion, although expansion and “medi” sound good together. Here’s what it is: money is available to insure more people treated at the local hospital so it can afford to stay open. The legislature won’t even discuss it. Instead, they are spending time and money on things people don’t want, like administrative costs and corruption. They could take care of the problems in our county/town if they wanted to – and without costing us any more money than we are paying now. But they are playing politics instead.
The legislative session is the first quarter of what will be a long game. In the final quarter, if there is a fight between Jackson and the rest of the state, or about whether minor children can choose surgery without consent, or about federal takeovers of anything, well, then it won’t be a very interesting game. If it is an election between a guy who sounds like a Mississippi version of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and a crass politician playing games with our money, then it could be very interesting indeed.
I’ve long thought that persuadable voters choose the candidate who would be a good neighbor – who can be relied on to feed their cat over the weekend when they are out of town. Let November be about that. If not, come January of 2024 this crowd will strangle your cat for sure.