Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant 56, took his place on the far right of his Republican opponents on stage and thanked his wife, mother-in-law and voters for making his campaign possible. He was dressed neatly, without overdoing it, for the lively Republican debate backed by the Mississippi Tea Party June 25.
He looked ready for the big leagues.
The Tea Party crowd filling the auditorium of Northwest Rankin High School clearly found him likable. When addressing an audience, Bryant speaks with a run-on sentence quality similar to that of actor Tommy Lee Jones in his "Men in Black" role.
"I'm going to spend the next 30 seconds talking about conservative accomplishments. I'm proud of the six tax cuts we've had since I've been lieutenant governor. I'm proud that with your help and the Tea Party we've had a fair redistricting plan put forward that will be voted on as the (Mississippi) Constitution says next year. I'm going to tell you that we've fought to make sure our illegal immigration laws ... are passed," Bryant said.
The only black person this reporter saw in the 700-person crowd who was not a journalist did not seem as impressed as most in the enthusiastic audience. She spent a good portion of the debate inspecting her thumbnail when she wasn't looking at the floor. She was gone before the end of the event.
Just the same, Bryant was in good form, throwing out memes that clicked with the conservative, majority-white Tea Party voters who consider government to be a kind of pox. Bryant repeatedly criticized "Obamacare" and conveyed to the crowd his opinion that government needs help shrinking.
"We control spending by cutting taxes. You don't feed the beast," Bryant said. "That's the only way to do it. If there's no money, government cannot grow, so you give the money back to the people. That's exactly what we've done."
Bryant quickly declared his intention to help overthrow Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. This was no surprise. Bryant's voice had appeared in a robo-call last year urging people to sign a petition putting the anti-abortion "Personhood" amendment to the state Constitution on the 2011 ballot. The ballot initiative assigns rights to fertilized human eggs, which, if passed, paves the way to a future challenge of legalized abortion. "I am the chairman of that movement, absolutely," Bryant told the moderator at the June debate.
Tort Reform, Again
At the June debate, Bryant used a popular GOP tactic to score points—declaring that the limits to suing companies and doctors for negligence and harm were not enough to stop so-called "frivolous" lawsuits.
"The old English system says that if I sue you, and the judge says that's a frivolous lawsuit, (that) you should've never brought that to court, you have to pay legal expenses. So these guys out here with these big billboards who say 'if you want to sue, call me,' that guy would have to pay your cost if he sued you frivolously," Bryant said. "You're absolutely right. I'm for that."
Bryant's Republican compatriots—including businessmen Dave Dennis and Hudson Holliday—stepped away from his unquestioning fervor, pointing out that Bryant's use of the term "frivolous lawsuit" is a blanket way to politicize an issue that is much more complicated, especially when it comes to people who suffer real harm at the hands of the defendants.
"No one likes frivolous lawsuits, but I think it would keep a lot of people with legitimate claims from trying to get their just reward. ... I'm all for fairness, but I think tort reform needs to be tweaked just a little bit," Holliday said. "People need to have their day in court, as provided by the Constitution. And I don't think people need to be under threat if some jury or judge got paid off and ruled against you."
Even Dennis, a business owner whose company could easily find itself on the bad end of a court suit, said Bryant's plan "would be punitive."
"On the surface it sounds great, but candidly ... you don't know how a jury's going to react. They could not give the right answer. Certain information could be inadmissible, if you will," Dennis said at the debate.
Child of Jackson
Marshall Elementary School principal Tony Yarber said he was surprised to learn Bryant had attended his south Jackson school in the 1960s. The now-Ward 6 city councilman said Bryant's childhood picture hangs on a school wall, and that one school employee still remembers Bryant as a kid walking the halls of the facility when the school was much younger and considerably less black.
Today the school's population is completely African American, the result of white Jackson residents' mass exodus to the suburbs after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered public schools in the south to immediately integrate over Christmas break in 1969. Remaining whites tend to put their kids into privately funded academies either in or near south Jackson—academies that opened wide in the days following the end of government-supported segregation.
The candidate doesn't speak much about his Jackson childhood years on his website. The man who hopes to be governor was born in the Delta town of Moorhead. His Dad, he has said numerous times, was a diesel mechanic. When his family moved to Jackson, he worked at a tire company until he took classes at Hinds Community College. From there, he attended the University of Southern Mississippi to get a criminal justice degree.
Bryant worked briefly at the Hinds County Sheriff's Department as a deputy sheriff in 1976, prior to the arrival of current Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin. Bryant told the Delta Business Journal this month that meeting then-President Ronald Reagan in 1986 marked a turning point in his life, prompting him to pursue politics. In 1991, he won a spot in the Mississippi House of Representatives, where he stayed until fellow conservative Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice appointed him as state auditor in 1996. Former auditor Steve Patterson resigned after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor for providing a false affidavit to purchase license plates.
Auditor he remained until taking office as lieutenant governor in 2008, but Bryant spent his final years in that job attacking contracts between Attorney General Jim Hood and private attorneys. Hood pays lawyers to sue corporate wrongdoers like MCI/WorldCom, which used a multi-state scheme to bilk the state out of millions in taxes.
Hood contracted attorneys like Joey Langston (convicted in 2008 on an unrelated corruption charge) to haul MCI to federal bankruptcy courts where the company paid more than $110 million in back taxes and property on behalf of the state. Hood argued that Langston and his crew did not charge the state a dime for their services, having instead convinced the court to award their attorneys' fees outside the settlement amount. The arrangement allowed the state to claim $110 million, instead of $93 million minus $17 million in lawyer fees.
Still, Bryant attacked the strategy, helping turn the issue into partisan political fodder, complaining that legislators should approve attorney fees, not the attorney general.
Hood's office also convinced MCI to donate $2.5 million to the state Children's Justice Center Project, a proposed one-stop medical and legal center for abused children. The center, which would have been housed in the Jackson Medical Mall, would offer abused children access to medical facilities, forensic tests, and state and local legal officers. But Bryant demanded the Mississippi Children's Justice Center Board—a 501(c)(3) charity established to fund the Medical Mall's Children's Justice Center Project—return the $4.2 million paid by WorldCom/MCI. His argument was that the money belonged to the state's general fund.
The board complied, turning the money over, dissolving the charity and the state-of-the-art facility it would have produced.
Bryant's unsettling brand of exuberance for emotional arguments has been a hallmark of his career over the last few years. His push as lieutenant governor to tack a photo-identification requirement to voting in the state is a good example.
During the 2009 legislative session, the Mississippi Senate passed SB 2548, a voter-ID requirement, by a vote of 32-to-17. The vote was almost an even split between Republicans and black Democrats. From there, the bill went to the Democratic-controlled House, which killed it immediately.
The House then passed its own version of a voter-identification bill, pressed by House Republicans. But the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus urged House leaders to add a host of new laws to allow practices to encourage voter registration and voter turnout in other states, such as laws extending voter registration time, early voting and even allowing voters to register to vote on the same day of the election.
Rather than striking the parts that encourage voting, Republicans like Sen. Merle Flowers, R-Southaven, and Bryant killed HB 1533 before the March 2 legislative deadline.
"Nobody wants photo Voter ID more than I do," Bryant said in a March 2010 statement. "... However, I am not willing to back down from my Republican conservative principles and accept early voting and other provisions that compromise fair elections."
He did not explain how early voting compromised elections. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia now allow early voting to help ease the strain of Election Day and accommodate working voters.
State residents currently may register to vote either by mail or by visiting the county circuit or municipal clerk. Applicants may also register to vote when applying for or renewing a driver's license, or when applying for some state and federal services. However, voters must register 30 days prior to the election, or have mail-in voter applications postmarked at least 30 days prior to the election.
Bryant told The Commercial Dispatch that he also opposed the House Bill because it allowed convicted felons to vote, even though the felons it pertained to had committed non-violent crimes, including writing bad checks. Writing bad checks, former Hinds County District Attorney Faye Peterson said in 2009, disproportionately plagues black and poor voters. This is a demographic that tends to vote Democratic.
Mississippi Republicans, including Bryant, pressed hard for the inclusion of voter-identification laws, arguing that the new requirement will discourage voter fraud in Mississippi—while offering no evidence that voter fraud is a problem to justify their call for increased regulation.
Sue Sautermeister, First District election commissioner in Madison County, tried to purge the voter rolls in the months leading up to the historic 2008 election that put President Barack Obama in the White House.
But Sautermeister hit a brick wall after learning that a vote of three of the five election commissioners is required for such an action, and that the purge cannot take place within 90 days of a federal election.
From 2004 to 2009, Attorney General Jim Hood's office conducted fewer than 50 voter-fraud investigations. Almost all of them, "about 99 percent," according to Hood, are related to absentee ballot issues, which are mailed in, and are not the kind of fraud that voter ID would prevent.
Even the convictions and guilty pleas concerning Benton County Supervisor Tate King last year and this year dealt with an elected official buying votes. A Benton County jury found King guilty of one count of voter fraud last fall after Hood's team determined King had paid people to vote for him. More than 10 people have either pled guilty or been found guilty in the case.
Obviously, the presentation of valid identification would not have discouraged this brand of fraud. In fact, most of the fraud that gets a conviction deals with absentee ballots, not in-person voting.
At the June debate, Bryant vehemently denied that he was pushing to use the ballot initiative as a political tactic, even though he told reporters soon after the death of SB 2548 that he would work to include the initiative on the next major election ballot.
The voter ID issue remains close to the hearts of minority legislators, who say the identification requirements would disproportionately discourage voting among the 37 percent of the state's population that is black or poor.
Black Mississippi legislators aren't the only ones nervous about the issue. A 2006 national survey sponsored by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law revealed that 11 percent of U.S citizens, more than 21 million people, do not have current, unexpired government-issued identification with a photograph, such as a driver's license or military ID.
The same survey revealed that 18 percent of citizens age 65 and older, more than 6 million senior citizens, do not have current government-issued photo ID.
The numbers get more worrisome when taking into account minority voters, whom the survey reveals are disproportionately prone to own no government-issued photo identification. In fact, the survey reveals that more than a quarter of the national voting-aged African American population has no government-issued photo ID, compared to 8 percent of white voting-age citizens.
The report also took into account population factors pertaining to income. The 2010 Census showed that 21.8 percent of the state's population lives at or below the federal poverty level, compared to 14.3 percent of the nationwide population. That portion of the population stands to lose big if voter identification becomes the requirement.
"Citizens earning less than $35,000 per year are more than twice as likely to lack current government-issued photo identification as those earning more than $35,000," the Brennan report warned. "Indeed, the survey indicates that at least 15 percent of voting-age American citizens earning less than $35,000 per year do not have a valid government-issued photo ID."
The Census reported that average household income for the state in 2009 was $36,764, putting a very large percentage of the population into the income range impacted by voter ID if the survey results remain true to Mississippi.
"The NAACP had said all along that this statewide effort to impose voter identification is more a push to remove voters than to decrease voter fraud," Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson said.
Ticking off African Americans isn't a rare occurrence for Bryant, who stood behind rejecting unemployment money coming from the federal government.
A recent trip to the Jackson branch WIN Job Center uncovered a host of unemployed black people who believe the economy is their biggest enemy. One woman, Jackson resident LaShara Myles, stood outside the center calling various friends on her cell phone for a ride. Myles was already testy before the interview. Her rancor did not diminish when asked how long she had been unemployed.
Myles, a 24-year-old business professional with experience in office management, said she had been unemployed since last March, when the law office she worked at closed its doors. Ever since then, she says she's been scanning the Internet and want ads daily. During that entire time, she says she received only two callbacks. It does not seem to matter that she says she carries exemplary office experience with no reprimands and worked hard for most of her adult life.
"My friends got at least one callback from employers with most of their resume submissions," Myles said. "I don't know what it is, but I can't seem to get anywhere."
Unemployment figures for blacks in Mississippi is at 17.3 percent—the rate of unemployment for the average resident of Lithuania—while unemployment for whites in Mississippi averages only 6.9 percent.
During the first quarter of 2010, while unemployment for whites was only about 6 percent (or 45,000 individuals), unemployment struck 20 percent of work-eligible blacks in Mississippi. That figure is roughly 81,000 work-eligible Mississippians telling the U.S. government every Sunday that they were seeking employment in order to qualify for unemployment benefits.
This number does not include unemployed people who have "given up" or who no longer qualified for benefits due to long-term unemployment and who, therefore, did not bother to call the government to provide a weekly update on their search The first quarter of 2010 was also the same part of the year Bryant worked with the governor to refuse government money to, as he put it at the July debate, "pay more people not to work."
The Unemployment Insurance Modernization Act is a component of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill, signed into law in 2009. The program provides incentive funding to states to update their unemployment insurance systems. Had Mississippi agreed to the updates, the state would have qualified for $56.1 million to increase coverage of workers who lose their job through no fault of their own but do not qualify for UI benefits.
Mississippi determines a worker's qualification for unemployment compensation based on a four-quarter fiscal period. Basically, the state looks at the first four of the last five completed quarters to determine if an individual has worked long enough to qualify for unemployment insurance compensation. To make matters worse, if you only recently found employment inside that four-quarter period you will not qualify for unemployment at all You have to have worked four of the last five quarters to qualify for unemployment payments.
The tactic also carries the downside of potentially omitting wages earned up to six months prior to filing a claim. An unemployed person earns one-quarter of their pay at the time of dismissal (capped at $235 a week), but any raise within the last six months that falls inside those first four quarters is not factored into dismissal pay. Instead the state will base the amount of your unemployment on your previous pay earned outside the four-quarter window.
Barbour's then-spokesman Dan Turner told the Picayune Item at the height of the battle in 2010 that accepting the stimulus money meant allowing part-time workers to have access to UI benefits, and that this would cost the state more than it was worth.
"Governor Barbour has said repeatedly that changing our regulations to allow benefits to part-time workers would force a tax increase on businesses once the stimulus money runs out," Turner said. "A tax increase is certainly not an incentive for businesses to start or expand and hire new employees."
But House Labor Committee Chairman Rufus Straughter, D-Belzoni, complained that the six-month determiner mixes badly with the corporate habit of firing the most recently hired employees first. In 2010, Straughter held hostage a Senate bill re-authorizing the Mississippi Department of Employment Security until the state addressed the $56.1 million in federal stimulus money. Straughter said Bryant used his power over the Senate to quash attempted at concession.
"Nothing was changed. Nothing," Straughter told the Jackson Free Press. "The governor told the House that if we'd pass that re-authorization bill out of the House, he would sign it. But saying he would sign it if it got to his desk was a loss from the get-go if he was knowing it would never make it out of the Senate (with UI changes). I think if it had gone to the floor, something might have happened, but Bryant wasn't going to let that get to the floor, and the governor knew that."
Although several gubernatorial candidates talked to the JFP, Bryant did not consent to an interview. But he bragged about this issue at the June debate while beating on national health-care laws that lower Medicaid eligibility enrollment requirements and mandate many to purchase health insurance.
"I'm going to stop 'Obamacare' because, you see, it would add 300,000 Mississippians to the Medicaid roll along with the 647,000 we have now. That would break us. That's why I filed a lawsuit to stop Obamacare. And we sent back $50 million (Obama) wanted to pay for unemployment, to pay more people not to work," Bryant proclaimed. "We turned it back."
Aside from neglecting to tell the audience that the federal government is reimbursing the state for almost 100 percent of the new Medicaid costs, Bryant snipped an exposed nerve with that "pay more people not to work" comment. Straughter said he takes Bryant's quip particularly hard.
"Most people who are out of work want to work," said the black representative, whose Delta district in Humphreys County suffered 15 percent unemployment in May 2011 and ranked at some of the highest unemployment figures in the state throughout the recession. Bryant's own Rankin County suffered only 6.1 percent unemployment on the same chart. "He wants to make it look like folks don't want to work, but that really cut deep at me—real deep," Straughter added. "What kind of world does he think he's living in where people want to be poor as dirt? Nobody wants to be broke."
In any case, unemployment benefits compensate people who have "been dismissed from their job through no fault of their own," said Ed Sivak, director of government watchdog group the Mississippi Economic Policy Center. Bryant callously mischaracterized the nature of the money by painting it as free cash for people who do not care to work However, you had to have a job first to be eligible for it, and you had to have that job taken from you.
Nearly 20 percent unemployment among a population that makes up 37 percent of the whole state's population (just under 1.1 million people) is nothing of which to be proud. Straughter said this was one of the reasons he and other black legislators in the House and Senate fought against Bryant's desire to send back the federal unemployment extension.
But siding with legislation that disproportionately helps the state's unemployed black population comes difficult to Bryant, whose District 20 has one of the lowest voting-age black populations in the state, according to the 2002 current legislative district maps. In fact, only three districts managed to have fewer black voters in a state with the highest black population in America.
A Mess of Mexicans
You see them among the many faces crowding the Hinds County Five Points Clinic at the Jackson Medical Mall. They tend to stand out in a state with a population almost evenly divided between blacks and whites. Often they come in fours—usually a young mother, a father, and two small children who are frequently under age 3. While they speak English when addressed, Spanish is the language that jumps between them when they talk or laugh with one another.
Of the five different Latino families approached on their way to the clinic on a Wednesday morning, only one dared to respond to the inquiries of a reporter.
"We're here to get our shots," said the mother, who lovingly cradled her nervous 2-year-old toddler. By "our" shots, she meant, of course, "her" shots.
Mom, who says she is not a permanent citizen of the country but has a temporary work visa, rejects the reduced cost services the clinic provides. She doesn't want to sign her name to any more clipboards than necessary to avoid unwanted attention. Her daughter, however, is an American citizen by birth and gets the same benefits and protection as anybody else born in the country.
Jackson immigration attorney Abigail Peterson said I was lucky to get that much out of her. "I think most people in the Hispanic community are well aware of what's going on in this country. They hear it on the local news, on Telemundo. They know what's happening, and they're terrified," Peterson said. "When the Arizona bill was going through the Legislature in Mississippi, I had a ridiculous amount of calls and appointments for people who worried how this would affect them and their kids. They even worry if hospitals will report them, which has happened in other states. They have a lot to worry about."
Bryant appears to be fine with this. "Six years ago when I was state auditor, I looked into this before anybody started talking about it. Now it seems like everybody wants to get on the bandwagon after we determined that it costs us $25 million a year for illegal immigration in the state of Mississippi," Bryant declared in Flowood last month.
Indeed, Bryant was one of the first statewide politicians who saw the undocumented immigration issue as a valuable political wedge issue capable of igniting the passion of older, white Mississippians who fear losing their racial majority to a tide of blacks and browns. After all, the state is already almost 40 percent black, and the Latino population in the state rose to 2.7 percent of the total population, according to the 2010 Census. In 2000, the Hispanic population comprised only 1.4 percent of the population, which Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance Executive Director Bill Chandler says gives many white people a creeping sense of transience.
Chandler helped organize cross-border actions with Mexican and American workers in an effort to support the United Farm Workers. With workers in two different countries refusing to provide cheap labor, grape farm owners faced the possibility of their product rotting on the vine. Unhappy with that prospect, they relented and signed contracts providing workers with benefits such as safe working conditions, clean drinking water and basic health care.
Organized labor finds fewer success stories today, which may be fueling Chandler's rancor toward Bryant and the GOP, both of whom shows no love for workers' rights.
"They know the population trend in this country. They see more browns and blacks taking up space every day," said Chandler, who then referenced recent news that there are more minority children being born in the country today than white children.
"It's obvious to them. Even the president is black, and that's stings them really hard. It stings to know that they won't always be the majority."
"That's what Bryant represents to them," Chandler added, staring off from behind his desk at a picture of posing migrant organizers. "Bryant comes off as somebody who can turn back the clock and take things back in time. But that's not going to happen. You don't go back in time."
Toying with the Numbers
As state auditor, Bryant published a 2006 report "The Impact of Illegal Immigration on Mississippi: Costs and Population Trends." That report concluded that the state's undocumented Latino population cost the state considerable money in terms of public education. Bryant offered no real numbers on the cost of educating your average immigrant student. He merely pointed out how much the state spends on K-12 education and declared that immigrant children were a part of that problem.
"In Mississippi, illegal immigration has a significant impact on the K-12 school system. The estimated cost to Mississippi in 2004 (for providing everybody with an education) was $23.7 million. It is expected that as the illegal immigrant population grows, this cost will rise," Bryant wrote.
The auditor had no numbers to prove his argument, except for a U.S. General Accounting Office report saying, "Total K-12 school expenditure for illegal immigrants costs the states nearly $12 billion annually." Bryant added that "when their U.S.-born siblings are added, the costs more than double to $28.6 billion." The GAO did not break down numbers specific to Mississippi.
It was a hard case to prove, even in Bryant's world, since all the numbers reflecting Latino population growth in the state reveal that growth to be minimal. While Census figures offer the raw numbers, public schools provide a more relevant source, since Latinos—legal or not—are required by law to put their kids in public school.
Information from the Mississippi Department of Education shows that Desoto County Public Schools contained 753 Hispanic students when the department began keeping track of subgroup data during the 2003-2004 school year.
By 2010, the Hispanic student population increased to only 1,773. The white student population, comparatively, jumped by 1,800 students, from 17,773 students in the 2003-2004 school year to 19,643 in the 2009-2010 school year.
The same data reveal that Bryant's own Rankin County Schools experienced an increase in the Hispanic student population from 148 students in 2003-2004 to 371 students in the 2009-2010 school year. Were Bryant serious about controlling school costs he should target the county's white student population, which increased 1,631 from 12,283 in the 2003-2004 school year to 13,914 in 2009-2010.
Chandler says Rankin County trailer parks and apartment complexes represent some of the state's most significant Latino population expansions in the state.
But these numbers do not even address one of the more heartless aspects of Bryant's argument: He's lambasting U.S.-born citizens for going to school. He is attacking people who are just as American, by constitutional standards, as Bryant's own children, Katie and Patrick, out in Rankin County.
The same goes for the almond-eyed infants staring nervously from their mothers' arms at the Five Points Clinic. Bryant was quick to skewer them in his 2006 report, arguing that the American Hospital Association reported that its member facilities provided $21 billion in uncompensated health-care services in 2002. How does that connect with immigrants? Well, 68 percent of undocumented immigrants, Bryant reported, "had no health insurance."
And that's it. Bryant inserted in his report that "not all of these costs are attributed to illegal immigrants." But that's not a very generous statement, especially considering that in 2009, whites were less likely to have employer-sponsored insurance than in 2007. Urban Institute Director John Holahan wrote that the uninsured rates for whites increased by 15 percent, during the most recent economic downturn, while blacks' and Latinos' income reductions were not as dramatic as those of whites—who had a lot further to fall economically. Holahan wrote that most of the increase in the number of uninsured people in the U.S. was among native-born U.S. citizens, rather than immigrants.
Even before the recession whacked the country, Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy revealed in a 2006 report that 41 percent of unauthorized adults and 75 percent of native-born children of unauthorized parents do have health insurance. Bryant likes to claim that "illegals" commonly resort to forged documents to gain employment, but the Udall Center said those same immigrants are apparently using those forged documents to obtain insurance through an employer.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office, after attempting to gather patient data linked to false social security numbers, threw up its hands in 2004 and declared that sufficient data did not exist to make accurate estimates of illegal immigrant impacts on U.S. health-care costs.
But why let the absence of numbers get in the way of a good argument against Latinos when you can resort to calling them disease-ridden?
"[T]he social costs of illegal immigrants can be deadly. Because of the lack of insurance and their citizenship status, illegal immigrants are less likely to be treated for infectious diseases, and because they have not gone through the proper channels, they have probably not undergone standard health exams or checks that legal immigrants have before entering the United States," Bryant also wrote in his report.
The former auditor then stated the same document that diseases such as polio, "which had been eradicated from the United States, now reappears in illegal immigrants, as do other conditions such as intestinal parasites, malaria and the infectious malady called Kawasaki disease."
Chandler said that it's not often a statewide elected official can get away with pointing his finger at a local segment of the population and shouting "cooties."
But that's Bryant, the same candidate leading the Republican pack in terms of fundraising. Bryant reported more than $1.8 million in total contributions last month, which put him ahead of Dennis and Holliday, who had $559,851 and $549,775, respectively, in total contributions by June.
A Tendency to Tamper
The lieutenant governor has big plans for the Mississippi House when he gets into the governor's office. At the height of the 2003 gubernatorial election, Republicans ranted about the possibility of Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove forming an unholy alliance with Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Sen. Barbara Blackmon of Canton. The argument was that if both achieved victory, the two Democrats would melt two branches of legislative government into one, with Blackmon leading the Senate in lock-step compliance with the Democratic-controlled House and Musgrove's agenda.
Musgrove and Blackmon both lost in 2003, but ever since Barbour took the governor's office and Bryant claimed the Senate, the two have formed an alliance to reduce the state's three branches of government—executive, legislative and judicial—to two. Through redistricting, Bryant has tried to keep the House in step with the conservative governor's office and the Senate.
The Senate, with Bryant appointing committee chairmanships, has rarely produced legislation that Barbour staunchly refused to support. Nor has it ever mounted a successful veto-override, even for widely popular legislation such as a tax increase on tobacco products and legislation limiting the state's power to snatch private property for corporate profit.
With Bryant as the Senate leader, the conservative-controlled Senate has worked to pass several pieces of legislation that would have challenged Roe v. Wade, and the federal government's exclusive right to enforce immigration control and would have made drastic cuts to public education.
The only power working against the Senate/Governor merger was the Democrat-controlled House, under House Speaker Billy McCoy. McCoy—who is actually conservative on the national political spectrum—found himself pigeon-holed as the nutty lefty in a game commandeered by Barbour and Bryant. It was McCoy who appointed committee chairmen who ignored unconstitutional Senate entreaties to turn Mississippi police into immigration officials, and to jettison legislation pushing public schools to treat evolution as no more than one theory to explain the existence of monkeys and man.
McCoy was also the politician in a position to put his foot down on the Senate and Barbour's repeated attempts to raze funding for the public school system, or to kick 65,000 poverty-level aged, and disabled Mississippians from the Medicaid rolls in 2004. However, the Democrat from Rienzi won a very difficult election to the speaker's seat in 2008, and announced he is retiring from the House this year.
Bryant wants to make sure Republicans run the government in both chambers in order to avoid opposition of the kind posed by a future McCoy, and he's using the fear of brown people to back his endeavor. "One of the reasons we fought so hard on the redistricting plan is we're going to change the leadership of the House and we're going to pass that Arizona-type bill in the House. And we're going to send the word that ... we're going to stop illegal immigration in Mississippi," Bryant said at the debate.
"Illegals will not take jobs in Mississippi when I am governor."
Bryant fought hard in the redistricting battle this year. Earlier this year, the NAACP asked a federal court to convene a three-judge panel to restrict state legislators from running in their current districts in August, arguing that the districts no longer fairly represent black voters.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson said his group sued Barbour and the state to impose better-proportioned districts after talks broke down between the Mississippi House of Representatives and the Senate on a House redistricting plan near the end of the legislative session. Those talks broke down because the Senate, under Bryant, refused to approve a House redistricting plan that Bryant complained does not create enough majority-Republican districts in the House. Put simply, he wanted to create fewer black districts.
When the Senate voted down the House redistricting map for the second time, McCoy refused to set up a conference with senators to hash out their differences because they would likely accept nothing less than a House map creating fewer black-majority (thus, fewer Democratic) districts.
Bryant complained that the House plan did not reflect population expansion in Republican districts, and warned Tea Party members that the new House plan improved the chances of maintaining a Democratic House speaker. "This means not another Republican would get elected to the House of Representatives for the next decade—(they) gerrymandered it so they made sure that that doesn't happen. We make sure we got a Democratic speaker for the next 10 years," Bryant said at a March 8 Tea Party appearance at Eudora Welty Library, in Jackson.
The three-judge panel kicked the issue down the road, saying legislators could fight about the new maps, which must be revised after every 10-year Census count, next year.
Bryant will likely get the map he wants next year, if the trend continues as it has. With a Republican or conservative Democratic ally leading the House, Bryant—as governor—will work to undercut the political interests of the state's black voters, who rightfully should have nothing to do with him. Black legislators say Bryant has shown little interest in black interests as head of the Senate. They don't believe he would change his policy as head of the state.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said the only thing preventing Mississippi from following other southern states into an anti-government, under-funded mess is the fragile bond between centrist white Democrats and the Legislative Black Caucus. "I've done everything in the world to like Phil, and I do, but the prospect of him being governor is about as frightening as anything I can think of," said Holland, who may seek the speaker's seat at the start of the new legislative session, along with Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, and other potential candidates. "He means well, but he drank the punch a long time ago, and he's inebriated by it."
Holland said when Democrats and the state's black population abdicate their rights by not voting in the next election, Bryant will take his first few steps toward turning the state into another Texas or a South Carolina, or any southern state without the benefit of a large minority population carrying the economic interests of the middle class.
With Bryant in charge and a compliant Republican such as lieutenant governor candidate Tate Reeves over the Senate, Bryant has made clear that the state will launch challenges to a woman's right to decide the fate of her own body, as won by Roe v. Wade. We will have constitutional challenges to what exactly makes an American an American. Police will be pressed, barring a Supreme Court order, to target brown people with questions over their citizenship.
Finally, we are likely to face a stagnant, kill-the-government mentality that has dominated American politics since the success of Ronald Reagan and his southern strategy to get the racist vote for the GOP—a practice that then-Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman apologized to the NAACP for in 2005.
Bryant does not hide his plans. At this point, the challenge may fall upon the state's younger and minority voters to ask themselves if they really want him in the governor's seat, and to realize what will happen if he's there. "Personally, I don't know what it's going to take to fire folks up," Holland said.
"Even if public schools fall to bits, I don't know if that will get them caring. It's been hard enough to struggle these last eight years, but at least we've dealt with a man (Barbour) with some vision and some sense—he's just cold-hearted as f*ck. But Bryant is cold-hearted with no vision."
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I can appreciate your concern, Lauren. I have the same response to articles I feel like are one-sided on the right-wing end of things. But it's facts that matter. Which ones are inaccurate in this story?
Lauren, first I will say that I probably wouldn't have done the story exactly as did Adam (who is no longer with the JFP). However, I think he makes it clear that the people attending the debate is pleased with Bryant's position, no? We're not the kind of paper that collects a lot of obvious quotes; we try to focus our research and quotes on the stuff that other media don't bother to cover, and wherever that falls on the political spectrum, it falls. And I don't know if you noticed, but there are very disturbing things about Phil Bryant to pay attention to. Yes, it matters that Bryant is playing to an overwhelmingly white audience, especially since he is playing the race and immigration cards every chance he gets. He's obviously courting the racist vote. Why in heck wouldn't that be relevant? No, this isn't a story about how Bryant's positions and campaign affect "blacks and Democrats," who you know are citizens, too. It is exactly a story about how he as governor will affect the state of Mississippi, not to mention our standing nationally. Also, I don't know if you know that but "blacks and Democrats" make up more than 37 percent of our population; not all blacks are Democrats and vice versa. You might be doing a touch of stereotyping here. Congratulations on going back to school and getting a job. I'm not quite sure the relevancy of that in this thread, but I am happy for you. And we're very proud of your military service. Thank you.
You tell her Donna! C'mon Lauren! No stereotyping! There's no "I" in "TEAM"!