Updates from across Mississippi and beyond for the week of January 30th. In this edition, we say goodbye to a legislative legend, address a kerfuffle with Gov. Reeves, cover bills that are still alive (and some that died), plus MORE.
Farewell Fair Lady
State Rep. Alyce G. Clarke (D-Jackson) announced from the well of the House floor this week that she was retiring after a legislative career that spanned four decades. Rep. Clarke drew strong praise from her colleagues on both sides of the aisle. It was well deserved. She was the first African American woman elected to serve in either chamber of the Legislature. A fierce and persistent advocate, Clarke simultaneously demonstrated great love and respect for those around her. Speaker Philip Gunn spoke of Clarke’s “dignity” and “class.” Much respect for her.
The sixth annual Mississippi Top 50 Event honoring the most influential people in the state is approaching on February 23rd. Rep. Clarke was one of two Hall of Fame inductees in 2022.
The Dude Abides?
Yesterday, former University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones joined Mississippi Senate and House Democrats to call on the state to expand Medicaid. Dr. Jones was Chancellor in Oxford until early 2015, when the IHL Board made the decision not to renew his contract. In a Mississippi Today interview, Jones recounted for the first time an alleged conversation with then-Lt. Governor Tate Reeves. According to Jones, Reeves admitted to him in 2015 that Medicaid expansion would be good for the state, but that Reeves was not going to support it because it was not politically advantageous.
In court, this would be called hearsay. Journalists are not required to abide by the rules of evidence in reporting. But I think it would be fair to have some skepticism about whether a notoriously guarded Reeves would have nonchalantly admitted to an outgoing Chancellor a damaging political position, that before yesterday, no one had ever claimed to have heard from his lips. The timing and circumstances are interesting, too, given that it comes 8 years after it was supposedly said, 8 years after Jones was dismissed by the state, and in conjunction with a Medicaid expansion rally.
The Governor took to Twitter, calling Jones “this dude” and saying it was “obviously a lie.” In the cult classic The Big Lebowski “the dude abides.” Dan Jones apparently abideth not.
Silly Season Has Arrived
Wednesday was the qualifying deadline to run for office in Mississippi. As Frank Corder discussed on our candidate tracker, the most interesting races are at the top of the ticket starting with a brewing Reeves-Presley showdown. Reeves did not draw a serious primary opponent, despite considerable speculation he would. He opens with $7.9 million in the bank, more than ten times Presley’s cash-on-hand. I’ve said it elsewhere, though, Presley is a serious candidate. He may not have Jim Hood’s statewide name ID and we will see if he can raise money, but he is a better natural candidate than Hood.
Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann drew a Republican primary opponent in conservative firebrand Chris McDaniel. Hosemann starts the presumptive favorite with basically five times the amount of cash in the bank and multiple statewide election wins under his belt–something that has eluded McDaniel. The only other mildly interesting race is at the Secretary of State post where Incumbent Republican Michael Watson has drawn Democrat Shuwaski Young as an opponent. I expect Watson to dispatch Young with relative ease, but Young is at least a legitimate candidate. The remainder of the down ticket officeholders will easily maintain their seats, either because they are unopposed or because they have drawn unknowns as opponents.
In both statewide races and the Legislature, the real story is the Democratic Party’s inability to field candidates. So few Democrats qualified for the Legislature that even if they won every single race in which they fielded a candidate, they would not have a majority.
A word of caution for Republicans. First, this 21st Century dominance is as much a byproduct of candidates who have an old-fashioned Democratic worldview realizing that they needed to run Republican to win as it is some consistent ideology. Second, dominance can breed intellectual laziness. In environments in which there is real competition, people have to understand what they believe, why they believe it, and be able to defend it. Complacency can yield people who either cannot or will not defend conservative thought in public, which bodes poorly long-term.
How Bout that Hamilton 68?
Speaking of complacency, an incredible story broke on the national stage this week. A government-funded think tank run by a bunch of D.C. technocrats started a project called Hamilton 68 to fight Russian disinformation. It identified 600 Twitter accounts that were supposedly subversive Russian bots. Its research and findings were referenced and republished across the global media as proof of a massive conspiracy of Russian interference in domestic politics.
But as it turned out, almost none of these accounts were bots, or even Russian. Most were conservative Americans with decent-sized followings. In one of the most recent “Twitter file” dumps, Matt Taibbi went through internal emails where Twitter executives revealed that they knew that Hamilton 68’s claims were bogus. They were cautioned against rocking the political boat, and so a group allegedly started to fight “disinformation” was allowed to continue its disinformation.
Perhaps people have become accustomed to these stories. Maybe they no longer know what to believe. Maybe no one cares. This big story drew very little attention.
To Be or Not to Be
Finally, let’s talk policy. Lawmakers hit their first major deadline this week.
Every general bill or constitutional amendment that did not pass out of committee by the end of day on Tuesday died. And as is usual with the number of bills that get introduced each year, most died a quiet death.
Revenue bills and “local and privates” both have a later deadline, but here is a look at the general bills still alive, and some of the notable bills that died:
A handful of bills that seemingly target some of Jackson’s woes are still alive. House Bill 698, authored by Rep. Shanda Yates, who represents North Jackson, would require water billing to be based on water usage. This is notable because Ted Henifin, the third-party administrator in charge of Jackson’s water system, has proposed a water billing system that charges you not on water usage, but on the value of your house. It is moving after clearing the House Public Utilities committee.
Yates also proposed legislation to authorize a recall of municipal officials. While this would be the same process currently available to county officials, many see this as a target at the current officials in Jackson who are less than a year removed from Jackson’s water system failing. After quickly clearing Judiciary B, it has been tabled in the House and can be brought up at any time before the deadline for a floor vote next Thursday.
Certainly the most controversial, however, is House Bill 1020, authored by Rep. Trey Lamar. It would expand the current boundaries of the Capitol Complex Improvement District and create two court systems that would have jurisdiction within those boundaries, rather than the current Hinds County officials. Judges would be appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Parents’ Bill of Rights
There were various parental “bill of rights” type bills introduced in both chambers, even a bill from Speaker Philip Gunn. They all died.
But a bill from Rep. Gene Newman, House Bill 1125, would, among other things, prohibit someone from performing a gender transition procedure on a minor and would restrict any taxpayer funds or deductions for the procedure as well. Another bill that made it is House Bill 1045, authored by Rep. Jill Ford, which would prohibit libraries from targeting children with sexually explicit content.
But any type of “parental empowerment” revolving around school choice either was not introduced or died. This is even as Iowa and Utah have already adopted universal school choice bills this year. A number of other states are well positioned to act, as the issue has sped up across red states. Just not here.
Most of the bills to expand Medicaid died, but legislation to expand postpartum coverage for up to 12 months continues to be a popular idea, at least in the Senate. Senate Bill 2212, authored by Sen. Kevin Blackwell, cleared the Medicaid committee. The Senate is also looking at a couple bills related to local hospitals. Senate Bill 2372 would provide $80 million for hospitals. Senate Bill 2323 would allow community hospitals to collaborate and consolidate with non-profit entities, a bill that was blasted by many on the right, including the House Freedom Caucus.
On the healthcare access side, all bills to provide full practice authority for nurse practitioners again died. As did everything related to Certificate of Need reform.
- Legislation to restore the ballot initiative process is still alive, with Senate Bill 2638 passing the Senate Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency committee.
- A bill to prohibit the use of TikTok on government devices is moving.
- Mississippi won’t get online betting this year, but a bill was watered down to authorize a task force to study the issue.
- Fentanyl testing strips, which could play a major role in preventing overdoses, may soon become legal with House Bill 722 moving.
- Digital asset mining is moving forward. Eric Peterson recently wrote a column for Magnolia Tribune on this issue.
- Senate Bill 2361 would provide grants to school districts that want to adopt modified school calendars.
- Cosmetologists and Barbers may soon be under the Department of Health with Senate Bill 2160 advancing out of committee.
- You may be able to purchase alcohol on Sunday’s pretty soon. House Bill 384 is advancing. Just don’t plan on getting wine shipped to your house or finding it at the local grocery store. All those bills died.
Thursday, February 9 is the deadline for each chamber to act on bills that came out of committee in their respective chambers. Then the bills get sent to the other side of the building for the next round of consideration.