Girls sports, George Soros and the U.S. Senate

Last week Mississippi’s junior Senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith, came out in opposition to President Biden’s nominee for the U.S. District Court for Northern Mississippi, District Attorney Scott Colom. She expressed concern about his presumed opposition to legislation to protect female athletes and about support he received in his first campaign for district attorney from an independent expenditure financed by George Soros. By traditions of U.S. Senate courtesy, her objection could undo the nomination so that Colom does not get a hearing – much less a vote – and the seat would remain vacant until someone else is nominated.

I hope the U.S. Senate Committee on Judiciary gives him a hearing anyway. They have overridden home state objections in the past. For example, a Republican majority overruled the objections of a Democratic Senator from Wisconsin and confirmed a Trump appointee as a judge in that state. The current Judiciary Committee could do the same on this nominee. I hope they do, especially given the flimsy rationale Hyde-Smith gave for her objection.

Let’s examine her rationale:

I referenced the female athlete issue in my last blog post because Governor Tate Reeves is so prone to discussing it as if it were one of the most pressing issues facing Mississippi. To recap, in May of 2021, the Mississippi legislature passed a law barring boys from playing girl’s sports. ( Reeves always refers to “boys playing girl’s sports” and Hyde-Smith speaks of “protecting female athletes” because these are, apparently, better tropes. The issue is about transgender girls playing on girls teams.

There is a legal issue pending on whether trans girls can play girls sports, although no trans girls are known to be playing girls sports in Mississippi, nor were they at the time of the 2021 law. Colom is a DA and not a member of the legislature and we don’t actually know his position on this issue, although he and other prosecutors around the country did say they oppose criminalizing doctors who perform gender affirming treatment. That is a different issue than trans girls playing sports, albeit loosely related.

Neither is the issue of trans girls sports likely to come before a federal judge in Mississippi. There are no trans girls known to be playing on sports teams here and a West Virginia case may resolve the issue soon. West Virginia passed a law banning trans girls from playing on girls teams around the same time that Mississippi did. A trans girl named Becky in West Virginia has sued that state to play. The U.S. Supreme Court has now upheld a lower court and is allowing her to play until the matter of her rights is resolved. No case is yet pending in Mississippi and there seems little basis on which to pre-judge Colom’s views on such a hypothetical case were one to come before him. The U.S. Supreme Court may well resolve the matter in any case. But if members of the Judiciary Committee want to know Colom’s views on transgender rights in general – or girls sports – they could ask him at a hearing.

Then there is the matter of George Soros who did, indeed, support Scott Colom’s first election as District Attorney through an independent expenditure. Soros is an American citizen who was born to a working class Jewish family in Hungary and lived in England for a time. He made a billion dollars on a short sale at an auspicious moment. A short sale is a perfectly legal venture in which you borrow stock at a lower price thinking the price will decline and sell the borrowed stock at market price, then pay for the borrowed stock when the price goes down. It the price doesn’t go down you are in big trouble but can make a lot of money if the expectation of a reduced price is met. Soros continued to make savvy investments and made billions. He has reportedly given over two thirds of it away to charitable and progressive causes and now, at age 92, is largely retired. Meanwhile, Colom has been reelected since, winning both without opposition and without support from Soros.

So what is Hyde-Smith’s objection to Soros’ earlier support of Colom? Well, if you look at responses on Twitter, many people feel that her criticism of Soros has roots in anti-Semitism, which is prejudice against Jews. I am not willing to say that criticism of Soros alone is proof of anti-Semitism, unless it is part of a pattern of bigotry.

But it does seem unlikely that Hyde-Smith objects to all independent expenditures by people who made money in the banking and securities industries. Her own first election was aided by a significant independent expenditure ( Hyde-Smith had referenced being “on the front row” of “a public hanging,” a remark widely interpreted as a reference to lynching. Hyde-Smith later apologized for the remark and said her words had been “twisted.” The fracas around her remarks was serious enough, however, for the National Republican Senatorial Committee to decide to spend almost two-million dollars on an independent expenditure in her behalf, almost all of it attacking her African American opponent Mike Espy.

One of the largest contributors to Republican Party independent expenditures is hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, who last year alone contributed over 18 million dollars to an effort to to put Congress in Republican hands. Hyde-Smith has not been heard criticizing Griffin. (

Hyde Smith’s objections to Soros could be to his progressive politics, implicating Colom through guilt by association, which is a weak argument to apply to a judicial appointment as it would not implicate someone under the law. Again, if the Judciary Committee thought Colom’s political views relevant to the judicial nomination, they could ask him about that. Finally, it may be that Hyde-Smith may just not like Soros. I don’t know that they have ever met but she does exhibit behavior that seems a bit ill-mannered at times. When she won re-election to the U.S. Senate, she ungraciously declared that the only thing better than beating Mike Espy was beating him twice.

So what is Cindy Hyde-Smith’s real objection to Colom, whom she acknowledges is smart and well-liked? We are left with her objecting to hypothetical views he has not expressed, and support Colom received from a significant donor, now retired, during his first election as District Attorney several years ago. I cannot definitively say that either anti-Semitism or prejudice against Colom, who is African American, were part of Hyde Smith’s calculus. Her stated rationale, however, does not hold up well to examination.

I hope Colom gets a hearing.

Democracy and Barking at Box Turtles

So, Gavin Newsom has launched a new Campaign for Democracy to invest in change in Red States. Now, I am all for Democratic donors from California and elsewhere giving money to Mississippi organizations and candidates. Mississippi has a Governor’s race in 2023 in which a strong Democratic candidate, Brandon Presley, faces an unpopular Republican Governor, Tate Reeves. All public polls show the race as highly competitive. Mississippi also has a strong network of not-for-profit and grassroots-based organizations working in its local communities. They all need support.

And Mississippi needs donors. There are only 45 thousand millionaire households in Mississippi. It has the lowest percent of millionaire households of any state ( Many made their money by supporting the current oligarchy that runs the state and they donate copiously to preserve it. California, in contrast, has more than 885 thousand millionaire households. Definitely send your money to support progressive democratic change in Mississippi.

But there is nothing democratic about Californians telling Mississippians what to do, and nothing new about wealthy people thinking their wealth gives them that right. Supporting democracy in a progressive way means supporting grassroots and local efforts that lead people from where they are. There is a lot of trust involved in democracy but I do believe in the process.

I am not part of the Presley campaign but I have been watching it closely. Presley supports addressing most of the critical needs of people here in my view. Our Governor could expand Medicaid with the stroke of a pen, as Presley vows to do, and which most voters support. Instead, people in Mississippi die every day because they don’t have access to health care. Mississippi is 47th in the country in per pupil spending on education, and its low state expenditure means it gets fewer dollars per pupil from the federal government than low income states that invest more. Presley – and voters – support greater investment in public schools. Presley is also pro-life on abortion, which can slow down Democratic donors who aren’t from here, where fewer than four in ten people believe abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances (

Living in Mississippi has not weakened my personal support for legal abortion and it has strengthened my support for social justice. But it has also given me a far greater understanding of the culture here, which is not the one I came from. That’s ok, I have much to learn from this one and much hope for how it may evolve over time.

The evangelical Christian tradition that predominates in Mississippi is more pluralistic than the stereotype imposed on it by some outsiders. Some Pentecostal and evangelical traditions have been a democratizing force for over a hundred years with deep elements of social and racial justice. The adherents of those traditions, however, don’t support abortion morally and only sometimes support it legally. Abortion rights language is increasingly insensitive to that difference. “Safe, legal and rare” has been replaced with a moral neutrality in messaging that is very distant from popular attitudes here.

In addition to having different religious traditions, Mississippi is one of the most rural states. It has low population density even in its urban and suburban areas. One result is that I am impressed by the variety of birds in my yard even here in Jackson. And every spring I need to rescue box turtles crossing my yard as my Mississippi-bred dog barks at them furiously. The dog expects a fight or flight response. Instead, the turtles close up and hunker down until I take the dog inside or move the turtles to the other side of the fence.

Mississippi is a state of small towns and small communities where everybody knows each other. Even in the metro area, many people are from rural Mississippi. They are often tolerant of those who act differently – God made us all, as they will explain – but they don’t always celebrate the differences. I wish there were more dialog.

Instead, the oligarchy demagogues the cultural differences. The Governor gets self-righteous about eliminating problems that don’t exist and the legislature won’t allow ballot initiatives because they might create dialog. The oligarchy is thrilled to have the Governor of California take sides. It gave the Governor of Mississippi an opportunity to trumpet his own opposition to “letting boys play girl sports,” something he talks about every chance he gets, believing, I suppose, that the problem is greater than that of hospital closings for lack of Medicaid dollars.

People in Mississippi need outside support to stand up to the oligarchy and make their their own decisions at the ballot box. Outsiders may not always agree with their decisions but having two dogs bark at the box turtles doesn’t help them find their way across the yard.

So I hope people from elsewhere contribute to Mississippi candidates and progressive organizations with roots in the ground here. You may not agree with it all – or understand it all – but the lines that have been drawn here this year are clear and stark. I hope supporting democracy can mean supporting Mississippians as we find our own way to the other side of the fence.




Presley’s Path To The Governorship

Not a full post but a more than Twitter-length response to the Magnolia Tribune piece on Brandon Presley’s path to the Governorship.

1. Not everyone is a Republican or Democrat. Much of the piece is about Presley needing to prove conservatism to win Republicans. The reality is that many Mississippians are neither Democrats nor Republicans but are about living their lives and taking care of their families. They may default to one party or the other but it is not a lifelong commitment. They really don’t much like politics.

Voters do need to believe Presley shares their values and perspectives. In Mississippi that means the importance of family, church and community – values that are shared broadly. They apparently already believe Governor Reeves isn’t quite with them on those.

2. Low Name ID. The Magnolia Tribune piece noted that just over half the people in polls showing Presley ahead knew much about him and that the Reeves campaign has the money to define Presley before he defines himself. Now, that is a good reason for those who do not like Reeves to contribute to Presley. It is also a reason for the Reeves campaign to proceed with caution here. It is pretty easy to respond to nastiness from someone people don’t like. Oftentimes, you can just shrug it off.

3. Comparison with Hood. The notion here is that both are white men from NE Mississippi and that Hood had more of a political base while Presley is more likable. I don’t know either man but that all seems true. It also may be that people want someone who is not a typical politician and that Hood’s “advantages” actually weren’t. Except for the money – which is correctable.

4. The National Democrats. The Magnolia Tribune piece says national Democrats, whose views are different than most of Mississippi, will not support a candidate who, like Presley, is pro-life and socially conservative. Don’t bet on that. Those decisions are pragmatic and political, not values-based approbations. That section read as a set up for a later suggestion that national support means closet liberalism. It doesn’t. Just good investment strategy.

Three points beyond the article: The first is a problem for Presley to which I am contributing. That is, that process stories help the incumbent. If the race is about polls and strategy, it makes it harder to make the necessary points about values and issues. A contest about dueling polls and pocketbooks doesn’t help Presley.

The second point is about gender. The voters in Mississippi who are not firmly aligned to either party are disproportionately white women. They are less aligned for a variety of reasons, including that many care more about their families than about legislation and that most candidates in Mississippi don’t do a good job communicating to them. I won’t say more about that in a public space but they are a big factor here. (Hint: They find neither nastiness not ads with trucks very relatable. They also aren’t interested in process stories.)

The final point is about race, on which the Magnolia Tribune story is characteristically oblique. So, yeah, Presley needs to generate depth of enthusiasm in the African American community and grow support among white voters (and mostly white women, I suspect). Got it. Some have looked at that as two campaigns. Another losing strategy. What I hope we have here is a candidate who communicates effectively about family, church and community versus one who continues to look like politics as usual. A lot more nuance to it that will, I’m sure, unfold. But seems to me Presley starts in a pretty good place.

Mayhem and Message in Mississippi

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.

The Midterm Election: Beware the “Normal” People

If you are reading this, you are not one of them. The “normal” people, for want of a better term, aren’t interested in politics. Normal people don’t see why anyone gets as excited as they do about candidates, parties, politics or issue positions. Normal people have their own ideas, but they aren’t passionate about them. They are passionate instead about their family, their hometown, their local football teams, and their hobbies. They vote – it’s something you are supposed to do – like going to church at least on holidays, or stopping at stop signs – but they don’t obsess over their vote; sometimes they don’t decide until they get to the booth.

Normal people used to find politics more interesting back when they could have a civil discussion about it. As I said, normal people have points of view. But they feel now its just so hysterical and overwrought – and that goes for both parties. Normal people may or may not have voted for Trump but now he seems to them to have lost it. A lot of people can get that way when they lose something they once had. But the Democrats are screaming all the time too. They are always crying racism, even when normal people don’t see it, not that they look that hard. And on abortion, they feel its better when abortion is legal because the sorrow of an unwanted pregnancy does happen, even among normal people. Abortion is not right, they say, but we can all forgive people who make mistakes. Still, women can walk, and talk; they haven’t lost control of their bodies and, really, people should be more careful.

As for the midterms, normal people aren’t sure what they will do. The Republicans really do seem to be on some kind of power trip but normal people have always worried about the Democrats on taxes, and the Democrats do seem to be on their own kind of power trip too – much more about screaming at the Republicans than saying what they will do about anything, except maybe abortion. Most normal people voted for Biden because they thought he would settle things down but things don’t seem very settled right now. Maybe its better to have Republicans in Congress so the Democrats don’t get out of control. On the other hand, they will all just scream at each other all the time and no good will come of it.

These days, normal people don’t take polls much. You hear a lot about the hard right anti-institutional crowd avoiding polls so everyone knows to make sure they have “enough” Republicans. But normal people don’t want to talk politics with a stranger for 15 or even 10 minutes either. And if they know your focus group is about politics, they really would rather not participate. Whatever they do in the midterms, it won’t be far off their center line, and they wont feel all that strongly about it. It’s football season, after all, and time to start planning for Thanksgiving.

To be clear, I’m not normal myself. I never have been. But they used to be willing to be in focus groups “about the community” and even to take polls. And while much of Mississippi is not normal by these definitions, a lot of it is – and more normal than Washington, although both D.C. and Jackson are football towns.

My Vote in the MS-3 Run-off

Throughout my 40ish years in political consulting, I heard at least hundreds of times voters tell me they chose a candidate as “the lesser of two evils.” There was one they saw as “just a politician” to whom they didn’t relate, while the other was generally someone who by flaws of character or understanding would do them active harm.

Those who didn’t vote at all explained that there was no one running who had anything to do with them. There is an assumption that not voting means someone isn’t paying attention or doesn’t care. That is sometimes true. Other times people know and care but choose not to participate because they do not relate to either candidate.

I understand these rationales better than ever before as I contemplate whether to participate in the June 28th run-off election between incumbent Congressman Michael Guest and ultra right challenger Michael Cassidy.

Here in Mississippi, there is no party registration and so registered voters can participate in primary and run off elections if they “intend to support the nominee.” Despite that little clause about intent, people cross party lines for strategic reasons and vote in primaries and run-off elections in either party with impunity. Democratic participation on behalf of Senator Thad Cochran was likely decisive in his victory over ultra right challenger Chris McDaniel in 2014, although many of those Democrats may indeed have supported Cochran in the fall given that the Democratic challenger fell short of 40 percent.

This year, many people I know who often vote Democratic plan to vote for Guest in the run off because Cassidy is a newcomer to Mississippi, reputedly a McDaniel protege, and vows to make Marjorie Taylor Greene a role model should he be elected to Congress.

Given that Cassidy is of questionable legislative competence and shows signs of being a pro-violent crazy, I have little doubt who is the (slightly) lesser evil. Cassidy’s main complaint against Guest, a former prosecutor, is that Guest voted for a bipartisan January 6th Commission on the recommendation of the ranking Republican of the Homeland Security Committee on which he sits. To Cassidy, that makes him a RINO. Guest also, however, applauds overturning Roe v. Wade, voted against certification of the election, and is running in the runoff on his conservative credentials, which are ample, tweeting right-wing language and no doubt figuring that if he reassures Republican voters on his MAGA-ness, he might still pick up some more progressive votes given that Cassidy is Greene-lite.

I am frustrated by the situation. I am angry at the legislature who for politically unsavory reasons carved out my little blue Jackson precinct and kept it in the 3rd CD with some of the most conservative counties in the state. I am a tad annoyed by what seemed a random article in Mississippi Today, arguably our best press outlet, that if the NAACP redistricting plan had succeeded, Guest might have lost outright. He might have won outright if he had campaigned, even without his having a couple moderate Jackson precincts where voters disagree with him, so why point to the NAACP? And I am frustrated that one of these two men – Cassidy or Guest – is likely to represent my blue precinct in Congress given the nature of the district as a whole and the (thus far) lackluster campaign of the Democratic candidate who will almost certainly get my vote in the fall. Of course, I chose to live here so that’s on me. I wish I could move my house two blocks to the west to the state’s one Democratic district.

But I just can’t vote for the lesser of these two evils. He is not lesser enough. And while the clause on intent is toothless, and Mississippi tradition almost invites my participation in the run-off, a vote for Guest would be to my mind just wrong for me. I would squirm every time he posted some racially tinged tweet, or went on an irrelevant diatribe about socialism (which is no threat here). I would remember with each squirm that I had used the little power I have – my vote – in his behalf. Cassidy would be worse, but only a little, and maybe people here would be embarrassed either by his rhetoric, or by his inability to deliver for the district (although probably not).

I respect the fortitude of those of my friends and neighbors who agree with me on issues but will vote for Guest. Maybe I will build such fortitude over time. But I just can’t do it this time.

I will take my guidance from those who don’t vote. Neither of these men have anything to with me. And I can’t support either one of them. I will stay home June 28th. And I understand better than before why some people don’t vote. Not voting is a statement too.

Law, order, and dishonor

Many Republicans seem to me to be confused about law and order. I am hearing decidedly mixed messages on public safety and public corruption both here in Mississippi and from Washington, DC. It’s hard to figure exactly where that party is coming from.

First, here in Jackson the Governor used his line item veto to take money away from the local planetarium because there is too much crime in Jackson. The connection between crime and star gazing is loose, unless you know that the Governor likes to criticize the City of Jackson where the planetarium is located.

To be clear, the Governor (and the Republican state legislature) have a pretty soft commitment to public safety outside of the planetarium threat. State policies around COVID contributed to among the highest death rates in the world here in Mississippi and the near collapse of the health care system, which is starved for resources in part because of opposition to Medicaid expansion. The legislature is slow to spend infrastructure funds which could help provide reliable and safe water service in Jackson, nor does it do much for the city except occupy it a few months a year when the legislature is in session.

I conclude that these Republicans care about public safety from some threats but not from others. They like beating up on the majority African American capital city but don’t do anything helpful about public safety unless it helps make their, shall we say, “anti-urban” argument.

Next, two of the three Republican members of Congress from Mississippi were forced into run-off elections for what appear to be opposite reasons. Representative Steven Palazzo has been the subject of multiple accusations that he struggles with both truth-telling and campaign finance law. His failure to win 50 percent was predicted, although he came in first. He faces a local Sheriff in the run-off.

Representative Michael Guest, on the other hand, in whose district I reside, was forced into a runoff by a newcomer to Mississippi, Michael Cassidy, who accuses Guest of being a RINO because he voted for a January 6th Commission. So Guest, a conservative former prosecutor is accused of failing to represent Mississippi by a guy from the DC area whose principal complaint was that the prosecutor wanted to investigate a crime. Whatever.

That brings me to the main event of the week, the January 6th Committee hearings. Dramatic. Fact-based. Headed by a Mississippian (a real one; not like me and Cassidy) who acknowledged in introducing himself that Mississippi’s history and his own had prepared him for the moment. The hearing also featured two very tough women: the extraordinarily clear-headed daughter of a Republican Vice President, and a law enforcement officer who had put her life on the line for her job and for her country. The Committee presented hard evidence of a carefully planned and executed coup against the United States government and its peaceful transfer of power.

The Republican leadership response? They would rather address inflation than sedition. That seems non-sensical. Like announcing they can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Or that Jackson’s crime rate means it can’t have a planetarium. High inflation does not make the attempted coup OK.

Representative Cheney’s statement that their dishonor will remain was the central quote of the night. And I really don’t know what the Republicans think they stand for. Its not public safety. I am clear on that. Chaos and violence? Greed and unchecked power? Or what I have euphemistically called here “anti-urbanism”? They really aren’t leaving themselves with much else.

At least most Republicans aren’t leaving themselves much else. I am sure I have many disagreements with Representative Cheney on matters of policy. But I admire her courage, toughness, clarity, and patriotism. I hope in the coming months to see that our country and my adopted state honor those qualities.

The Press, the poll, and the Governor

So, for those who aren’t from Mississippi, here is the state of play: The state is about to overtake Louisiana, if it hasn’t already, as the number one COVID hotspot. Our Republican Governor, Tate Reeves, has been very clear that he will not issue a statewide mask mandate including in schools, although he does (kinda) encourage vaccinations and allow local mandates. Then there is Dr. Dobbs, our telegenic and media savvy State Health Officer who encourages mask-wearing, sporting one at press conferences while standing right next to the naked-faced Governor.

Some of the state press are going ballistic on Reeves. I appreciate our more progressive press – they make it a lot easier to know what’s going on. They clearly care about the crisis we are in – and, perhaps, care more than the Governor does. I fear, however, that they are giving him the upper hand. Some elements of that:

1. Readers of this blog know I get frustrated by bad polling. That is no less true when it is making a point I agree with. Trumpeting an opt-in poll, with a non-representative sample really doesn’t help your credibility.

2. Reeves impresses me as very smart. He seems generally well informed but is making ideological decisions I disagree with. He is unwilling to take federal money if it requires even a small state expenditure; he doesn’t believe the state should mandate individual behavior; and he sees his job as running the mechanics of the government rather than leading people toward better behavior. He basically articulated all of those policy-laden precepts in his last press conference but because he also said one of you was “virtue-signaling” you gave him a free pass on the rest. Perhaps you took his bait?

3. Y’all seem to love Dr. Dobbs, and he does speak for the science and is far better than the Governor at demonstrating empathy. But it also appears to me like a well-orchestrated dance. He is a state employee – appointed by the Board of Health, although most of its members were appointed or re-appointed by Reeves. Dr. Dobbs took a good long while to address the equity issues in vaccine distribution, and his dance with the Governor serves to limit political opposition to Reeves. Looking at them as some kind of yin and yang, fails to lift up other political voices that may be critical of Reeves. Rely on Dobbs for the science, by all means, but maybe give a few column inches to political opposition as well – like the Mayors, supervisors, and school board Presidents who might just tell you Reeves is making their jobs harder.

The bottom line for me as a reader is that there is a lot I would like to know that I am not hearing about. Reeves is not the worst Republican Governor – a toss up between his colleagues in Florida and Texas in my view. But he is also using the polarization of the moment to avoid discussion of some basic issues of governance. While there is a squabble about virtue signaling, he is failing to use resources available to him, and defining state government responsibilities as narrowly as he can. If he believes in local decision-making, how do local leaders respond to those policies? At least one enquiring mind would like to know…

Two States of Mississippi

Earlier this month I offered some reflections on Mississippi and why I am here. There are many things about the state and about living here that I love – the music, story telling, hospitality, and food – several of which derive from the cultural heritage of African Americans. The statewide politics and leadership sadden me all the more as a result of what I love about living here.

Just this week the Jesuit Social Research Institute of Loyola University published a new report on Mississippi ( Here the most common job title is “cashier” and the median household income is one third lower than the national median – and less than half the median income in Massachusetts. Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation, more than 10 percent of its people have no health insurance whatsoever. The state is 50th in education attainment, in part because so many young people with college degrees leave the state.

Just about the same time this report was released, Governor Tate Reeves gave his State of the State address.  Since he couldn’t point to much success, he praised the state’s resilience. The few straws of improvement at which the Governor did grasp, do not stand up well to a fact check (  The Governor’s main policy initiative was to call for ending the state’s income tax, which would effectively reduce Mississippi’s already low investment in its people.

How did we get here? To some degree, the problems of Mississippi reflect the problems of the south, but more so. The south was left with a decimated economy after the Civil War. The federal government truncated Reconstruction after the election of 1876 (the same election Senator Ted Cruz referenced in the lead-up to violence at the Capitol). The end of Reconstruction meant the military no longer monitored Mississippi elections. The white minority then led violent efforts to suppress the black majority and deprive them of the right to determine the future of the state. White violence against black people was worse in Mississippi than elsewhere because it had a black majority, which was more threatening than the black minority in other states.

The south did not benefit from the Gilded Age of the second industrial revolution as it still had a primarily agricultural economy and lacked the natural resources to make steel or the infrastructure for manufacturing. And the federal government and big business allowed the economy to languish and invested instead in the west.

Some southern states thrived in the latter half of the 20th Century and since then through state and local investment – the Research Triangle in North Carolina, the Atlanta airport, Historic Charleston, in South Carolina, as examples. In contrast, Mississippi had slow growth throughout the 20th century ( Its population did not quite double while the national population quadrupled. Mississippi’s GNP growth rate is barely half the national average as it turns out that population growth is good for the economy and vice versa.

Voter suppression efforts continue as Mississippi was the only state where there was no option for no-contact voting during the pandemic and, just today, the House Apportionment and Elections Committee voted for a purge of the voter rolls. Mississippi is almost 40 percent black, but no African American has represented the State of Mississippi since Blanche K. Bruce left the U.S. Senate in 1881. If there is voter fraud, it’s pretty clearly not from black people.

I don’t believe the state’s leadership wants economic growth. New people would change the politics so current leadership has a stake in the status quo. Taxes are low here now, with no real upper bracket, which voters virtually everywhere support. There is no tax on retirement income regardless of the amount. The only high tax is the tax on groceries, which at 7 percent is the highest in the country. If low taxes and lack of investment were a successful growth strategy, Mississippi would be booming.

The second paragraph of the JSRI report reads: “Mississippi is among the states with the highest unemployment, poverty, and uninsured rates and the lowest wages, education spending, and educational attainment. Such statistics are a recipe for poor statewide economic development and long-term hardship for workers and families even before the health and economic onslaught of COVID-19.” The report ends with a series of recommendations that have the potential to transform the state and grow its economy through investment in its people and its infrastructure.

After 150 years of the same policies, it might be worth exploring a little change – perhaps investing in the people who make the state so special. Otherwise, while the state may remain a good place to retire, Mississippians shouldn’t expect their kids to stay where there is little opportunity for growth.

P.S. Earlier this week, my friend Debbie Weil interviewed me for her podcast. She asked great questions about polling, politics, and living in Mississippi. Do check it out:

Georgia, the mob, and Mississippi

The picture of the horrific mob that attacked the United States Capitol – encouraged by the President of the United States – will be the indelible after image of his presidency. There is irony in mob violence the same week in which the Democrats won the Senate and Georgia elected its first black Senator, the scholarly minister of Dr. Martin Luther King’s church. Among the underpinnings of the Trump presidency is a late growl of white supremacy as the demographics of the country change. The old still clings to power over the new but it gave way to change in Georgia.

Senators-elect Warnock and Ossoff won because Georgia grew and changed, and with the leadership of Stacey Abrams’ New Georgia Project and the African American community. The Georgia win also traces back to Mayor Maynard Jackson. Atlanta’s first African American Mayor, Jackson helped build Atlanta as a mecca for the black middle class by spurring minority contracting. He invested in the airport, creating tremendous growth for the whole region. ATL wasn’t always the biggest airport in the world. Maynard Jackson did that. And Atlanta grew and prospered and Georgia with it. That would happen in other southern states if they elected more people like Maynard Jackson.

The peaceful transition of power in Georgia this week is such a stark contrast to what happened in Washington.

Which brings me to Mississippi. Mississippi was majority black until the 1940s and now has a larger percent black population than any other state. It has also historically had the most concentrated racial violence in the country and even now seems to have the fewest progressive white people (although there are lots of progressive white people here, and strong and dedicated African American leaders).

If you are unclear how to reconcile those things, ask the mob. Like the Trump mob, there are too many white people in Mississippi who feel threatened by the notion that it might become a black state. So one of our two Senators and three out of our four members of the House voted not to certify a 7-million vote win by President-elect Biden. That same crowd, while crowing about voter fraud, approves of the state’s ongoing voter suppression techniques. Mississippi was the only state in the country that had no option for no-contact voting during the pandemic. We have among the worst schools and health care following a myth that investing in those things would somehow help the black minority more than the white majority.

So if I feel this way, why am I here? I love the state – the peace and quiet, the rural nature, the warm winters, and large parts of the culture, which is arguably rooted more in West Africa than Western Europe.

People here love southern food, including grits which have their origins in Native American hominy and West African fufu. Fried chicken has some claim to Scottish ancestry because the Scottish fried their chicken in fat but batter dipped fried chicken is West African. So are greens. Mississippi had “Birthplace of America’s Music” on its license plates for years, and it is: the rich traditions of gospel and blues music, often with West African syncopation; then combined with Appalachian hill country music (accompanied by banjos – a West African instrument) gave birth to rock and roll.

There are more extraordinary writers from Mississippi than most anywhere else – from Richard Wright, to William Faulkner; Eudora Welty to Jessmyn Ward. One reason is that the state gives them so much to write about but also the rich storytelling tradition of the South flourishes and it, too, has its roots in West Africa.

Mississippi is already black. But instead of Maynard Jackson, we have elected leaders who vote with the mob.

Demographics are on the side of progressive change in America – and in Mississippi. But demographics are not destiny. We have not seen the last of reactionary governance. Not all the people who voted for Trump are part of the white supremacist backlash – economic stagnation and the elitism of Democrats also contributed – but it could all happen again. Georgia is the hopeful sign. With a little help, other southern states will follow. And, like the poet said, America can be America again.