[Fleming] Is Mississippi Awash in Ignorance? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

[Fleming] Is Mississippi Awash in Ignorance?

This is how you start a firestorm. Nolan Finley, a columnist for The Detroit News, wrote this in a column dated May 1, 2005:

"Michigan is doomed to be the new Mississippi. A backward state locked to a last-century industry, awash in ignorance and unprepared to seize the opportunities presented by new technologies and scientific advancements."

As an elected official, I was outraged by that statement. But then I got to thinking: What was I outraged about? Was I mad because this Finley guy has this perception about our beloved state, or was I mad because we kind of resemble that perception?

I disagree with Finley about being locked in to our agricultural heritage, although it is still our predominate industry. I mean, somebody has to feed and clothe this country of ours, right? However, the Nissan plant in Canton, Northrop Grumman Shipyard in Pascagoula, the expansion of the NASA plant in Picayune, the new SteelCor plant going up in Columbus and all of these burgeoning casinos surely indicate that we have diversified our economic base and are seizing every opportunity we can in new technologies, especially better than Michigan. Word is that we are also a finalist for a new Airbus factory as well.

In my 22 years in Mississippi, I have seen true economic growth, no doubt about it. However, in all fairness to Finley, he was angry about a poll done in Michigan by his paper that said that only 27 percent of the adult population believed that having a good education was essential to a successful life. He also railed on the state's apparent lack of commitment to expanding educational opportunities for all of its citizens.

Hmmm. Now that is interesting. We have been stymied this legislative session by the low priority we put on education, especially from a monetary perspective. There is always the argument that you can't fix education with money alone. I agree with that, but I know that you can't fix it by under-funding it, either. Until we can come to some meeting of the minds, the best we will do is the same that we have always done—do enough to get by.

Whereas I do not believe that we are totally awash in ignorance, I do believe we are too content with mediocrity. Accepting our place and perception in the world and being satisfied with "getting by" defeats the essence of our existence on this earth. For too long, we have held our political leadership to a very low accountability standard on how they deal with crisis management and hot-button issues, as opposed to the standard of visionary statesmen.

Like the emotions they generate, issues like gay marriage and hunting rights ebb and flow. However, issues like true economic development, education reform and health care are relegated to what minimum standard can we survive on. Therein lies my frustration.

Mississippi's politicians, as a collective, have mastered the art of making the trivial relevant and the essential passé. In order for us as a state to get past the negative perceptions that Northerners easily convey without fear of retribution, then we have to change our thinking toward what is really important.

If we put as much energy in making sure that a Mississippian has a decent job or an opportunity to create jobs as we did in keeping our state flag, change will come. If we put as much energy into improving our educational system as we did placing plaques in the classroom, change will come. If we put as much energy in making sure that every one in this state has access to health care coverage as we did in banning same-sex marriage, change will come.

Let us not fall into the trap that Michigan is trending toward. The time now is not about angry reactions, but positive, visionary action. Let us show the world that we care about what is important, our quality of life, and let those who are not from here wallow in their own perceptions, frustrations and mediocrity.

Erik Fleming represents District 72, Hinds County, in the Mississippi House of Representatives. He's a frequent columnist for the Jackson Free Press.

Previous Comments


Is Mississippi Awash in Ignorance? It's not awash...IT'S FLOODED

Black Man

"Mississippiís politicians, as a collective, have mastered the art of making the trivial relevant and the essential passÈ." --- Which, if Mr. Fleming is correct, might actually promote some of the Flood of Ingnorance.


"Mississippiís politicians, as a collective, have mastered the art of making the trivial relevant and the essential passÈ." That's because the Mississippians who have enjoyed wealth, power and privilege for generations want to keep things exactly the way they are. Oh they like progress, but not if it means losing their hold on things.

El Canario

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