After more than two and one half years, fall of a once prominent political figure is complete

Morgan Shands pleads guilty and goes to prison

Prominent political operative Morgan Shands and his sister were indicted for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars in March of 2014. His trial on the embezzlement charges from a bingo hall operated by an American Legion post in the Mississippi Delta was originally scheduled for early December 2014. After more than two and one-half years, Shands pled guilty to stealing $375,00, was sentenced to five years in prison and was immediately take into custody  The original indictment charged Shands with embezzling almost $600,000. According to judicial guidelines, he might just serve half of the sentence. At a time when many feel politics is too partisan and civility is missing from political life, Shands had a strong non-partisan resume. At one time he was executive director of the Mississippi Democratic Party and worked for Democrat incumbent attorney general Jim Hood and his Democrat predecessor, Mike Moore. In recent years, Shands had impressive Republican credentials. He worked for U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and State Auditor Stacey Pickering. Even earlier, in 2007, he was a key figure in the campaign of current Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney. Shands’ most recent prominent political role was as campaign manager for then state Sen. Billy Hewes, now mayor of Gulfport, when Hewes made a strong Republican primary race for lieutenant governor against Tate Reeves in 2011. Even following his indictment in 2014, Shands had a minor role in Sen. Thad Cochran’s re-election campaign when Cochran was challenged in the GOP primary by state Sen. Chris McDaniel. At one time, it was widely rumored Shands was being encouraged to run for attorney general. How sad someone who was considered a very viable candidate to be the top law enforcement officer in the state is now in prison.

Public corruption is still far too common in Mississippi

As a side note, when it seemed the trial of Shands was stalled and not moving forward,  I wrote several update posts after talking with the DA’s office and county officials in Bolivar County. A couple of people even indicated I was picking on Shands by publicly updating the status of his case. It was very legitimate news when one of the state’s most prominent political operatives embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars. Public corruption is still far too common in Mississippi.

“Ten Percenters” help drive the campaign fundraiser train

The next local, legislative and statewide elections are not until 2019, but the train to raise campaign funds never slows down. Each week many current elected officials have numerous campaign events. It is expected candidates for statewide elected office, incumbents or others with statewide ambition, never slow their efforts to raise money. Most of the events for incumbent state legislators are held in Jackson. These events are not so the good folks back home can contribute to help their political friends or good candidates for legislative office get elected. Legislators from all over the state have campaign events in Jackson so they can tap the pockets of lobbyists and other special interest groups. There are several things that drive these events, even though the primaries are almost three years away and the 2019 general election is even further in the distance. One reason is more than a handful of legislators have ambition to run for statewide office. Even those who just plan to seek re-election to the legislature want to build a big war chest to discourage potential opponents. More important to some incumbent legislators is the fact that under our state’s pathetic campaign finance laws, elected officials frequently use their campaign contributions for personal, non-campaign related expenses. This unethical practice has been well documented by numerous articles written by Clarion.Ledger political editor Geoff Pender and others who write for that newspaper. Even if an elected official spends his or her campaign funds for personal expenses, under current state law all they have to do is report that part of their spending on their taxes as personal income. It would not be a stretch to say a lot of that personal spending is not properly reported when these elected officials file their federal income tax returns. The fourth reason for the endless off-year campaign fundraising events is what I will call the “ten percenters.” These are individuals and firms who make their living, or part of their living, as professional

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Jerry O’Keefe, R.I.P.

One of the giants of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Jerry O’Keefe, passed away at the end of August. O’Keefe, age 93, was a highly decorated Marine fighter pilot during World War II, served in the Mississippi Legislature for one term, was mayor of Biloxi for eight years, was a successful businessman and a tireless community leader. He leaves behind other monuments to his career. O’Keefe was the chief fundraiser for the famed Walter Anderson Museum in Ocean Springs and the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum in Biloxi. Politically, O’Keefe was a very liberal Democrat at a time when not many whites in Mississippi supported politicians who were anywhere left of center. O’Keefe was also a lifetime booster of Biloxi. Even his political opponents will recognize his many contributions to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I may not have been a fan of O’Keefe’s politics, but I salute him for opposing the evils of segregation at a time when very few prominent public figures in Mississippi had the courage to do it. R.I.P.

O’Keefe’s snub of a future First Lady of the U.S.A.

Former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter was the longest of longshots when he first announced he would seek the 1976 Democrat presidential nomination. I had heard Carter speak to a very small group of journalists at Millsaps College and was impressed. I had also met the husband of one of Carter’s nieces who was working for the seemingly hopeless presidential campaign. John Corlew, now a prominent Jackson attorney, was a state senator from Pascagoula at the time. I got a call from Corlew asking me to have lunch with him and the candidate’s wife, Rosalynn Carter. While having lunch at Mary Mahoney’s in Biloxi, Mayor O’Keefe was dining in another room. Corlew asked O’Keefe to come over to our table to meet Mrs. Carter. O’Keefe would not budge and refused to be introduced to the wife of the longshot presidential candidate. At the time I remember being amazed that O’Keefe would not even leave his table to show a simple courtesy to the wife of a former governor and fellow Democrat running for president. A few months later, Carter won the

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Sept. 11, 2001 – My Day in D.C.

A horrible day we should never forget

I have a framed memento of that horrible day in our history, Sept. 11, 2001. It is a White House pass issued to me for the morning of 9/11. Prior to the changes made after that fateful day, Members of Congress were able to secure tickets for constituents to visit the White House. Even more in demand were so-called VIP passes to the home of the President of the United States. U.S. Representatives and Senators could take visitors to the White House and if you were a chief of staff for a member, which I was at the time, you could also, for a limited number of times, take people to the White House for a VIP tour. If my memory serves me, a VIP tour of the White House only allowed visitors to see one more room than a regular White House tour ticket. Of course, since it was called a VIP tour, the demand from constituents, most who considered themselves VIPs, was high. Early on the morning of 9/11 I picked up a constituent and his grandson at their hotel and drove them to the White House parking lot across the street from the U.S. Treasury building. After showing my pass and ID, the German Shepherd bomb sniffing dog and uniformed Secret Service checked my vehicle, we were allowed inside the White House gates. Unlike members of Congress who could just drop off a constitutent, a chief of staff was supposed to take the constituents inside to the White House visitor’s office. I had previously found I could avoid that step, so I dropped off my two visitors from Hattiesburg and headed back to my office. I decided to eat breakfast first. As I drove into the Rayburn House Office Building garage, by cell phone rang and I noticed it was my wife. I wondered why she was calling since she knew I had gone to the White House. I decided to eat breakfast. Kim called again and told me what had happened. I quickly walked to the office. I did not see any of the rest of the staff. I soon found them huddled in the back room, watching television showing shots of the first plane to hit the Twin Towers.

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Well Dan, if your team is “young”, whose fault is that?

Prior to the start of the 2016 football season, MSU coach Dan Mullen frequently talked about his young team. After last Saturday’s embarrassing loss to South Alabama, a 28-point underdog, Mullen’s postgame press conference was almost a joke. It seemed like 8-10 times Mullen referred to his “young” players or “young team.” This is Mullen’s eighth season as head coach of the Bulldogs. After leading the Bulldogs for eight years, if his team is young and inexperienced, whose fault is that (note: recruiting)? This week a prominent sports show host said State has ConferenceUSA quarterbacks, a C-USA offensive line, a C-USA running back and C-USA cornerbacks. Bo Bounds was right on target. Of course, the problem is State plays in the SEC not C-USA. Even worse, South Alabama is a member of the Sun Belt Conference.

The real reason for Ole Miss’ collapse against Florida State

After leading Florida State 28-6, the Ole Miss Rebels collapsed in the third quarter against the Seminoles. Following the game, the lead sports columnist for the Jackson Clarion.Ledger listed a number of concerns for Ole Miss in the wake of the defeat. Hugh Kellenberger ignored an additional concern that was promptly called to my attention. The major reason for the loss to FSU is that the Ole Miss band is now prohibited from playing

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Like NASCAR, Mississippi politics has its “Silly Season”

NASCAR stock car racing has its annual “Silly Season” following that final race of the season at Homestead, Florida and the grand opening of the next season in February with the Daytona 500. NASCAR rumors fly left and right about drivers changing teams, changing sponsors, changing crew chiefs and even the paint schemes being changed. Mississippi has a similar political “silly season.” Everyone has accepted the fact that our next statewide elections, while three years away, will be a real political shootout. There’s been an assumption that only one of Mississippi’s eight statewide elected officials will seek re-election. That would be Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith. Gov. Phil Bryant is term limited, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves will run for governor, Attorney General Jim Hood will either run against Reeves or retire from public life, State Treasurer Lynn Fitch will be a candidate for attorney general and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is expected to run for lieutenant governor. It was widely assumed that Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, who was 72 when re-elected last year, would not seek another term and that State Auditor Stacey Pickering will not seek re-election. The leading silly political rumor is that the “Never Delbert” or “Anybody But Delbert” crowd is promoting Hyde-Smith to run against Hosemann for LG. You can bet the house that Hyde-Smith will not oppose Hosemann and will instead seek at third term. Despite his statewide popularity there are a number of prominent Republicans who do not care for Hosemann. There could be several reasons. In Jim Hood’s first race for attorney general when his mentor Mike Moore did not seek re-election, Hosemann withdrew as a candidate at the very last minute. It left Republicans with a much weaker candidate to oppose Hood when Hood possibly could have been defeated. Some Republicans were also upset when Hosemann made noises about opposing Sen. Thad Cochran even if Cochran decided to run again as he eventually did. Then, Hosemann did not endear himself to Tate Reeves and Reeves’ supporters. Hosemann reportedly gave some consideration to opposing Reeves last year for re-election or possibly challenging Reeves for governor in 2019. Reeves is known not to take

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Is State Auditor Pickering Double-Dipping?

State Auditor Stacey Pickering is currently serving six months active duty with the Air National Guard. His spokesperson originally announced that he would serve three months. For that he should be congratulated and we appreciate his military service. But serving on active duty for six months is not the same as other Mississippi National Guard members who are called to active duty to serve overseas in combat situations or those who fulfill their duty by serving one weekend a month and a two weeks each summer. Pickering is an Air Guard chaplain serving in Nevada, not overseas in a combat zone. There is also an assumption that as a chaplain Pickering requested his active duty status rather than being called up. While Pickering should be commended for his service in the Air Guard, he is AWOL from the fulltime job he was twice elected to by Mississippi taxpayers. Pickering’s annual salary as state auditor is $90,000. With his officer’s rank, years of service and allowances, his total military pay while serving on active duty is easily a minimum of $70,000 per year. Add his Guard pay to his salary as auditor and Pickering is making $160,000 per year during his six months of active duty. Some private sector companies, when guardsmen or reservist employees are called up for active duty, pay the difference between what the employee makes while on active duty versus what their salary would be in the private sector. Again, it is worth noting these persons are being paid by the private sector, not taxpayers. It is also no secret that both Pickering and State Treasurer Lynn Fitch, prior to the legislative session earlier this year, lobbied for a pay increase for their current positions because they were having trouble “making ends meet”. One response is pretty obvious. While I agree all statewide officials’ pay should be increased, both Pickering and Fitch knew what they would be paid when they became candidates for their respective state offices. Another point is that even if the pay is increased for all statewide elected offices, it should not be increased during the terms of current incumbents. Several times I commented to people that outside of some school superintendents, principals and other public school administrators, not one K-12 teacher in our state earns $90,000 per year. Some of responded to my comments by noting that not many Mississippians, period, make $90,000 per year. Pickering pulling down at least $160,000 per year while he is on

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Ole Miss favorite son strongly criticized for interview with Bobby Jindal

I have never been a fan of Louisiana Republican Bobby Jindal. When I worked on Capitol Hill, I was not a fan when the super ambitious Jindal was a member of the U.S. House. I was not a fan when he was elected governor, and before he dropped out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination, he was near the bottom of the list of original 17 Republican candidates. However, I was all on board with Jindal when the former governor was interviewed by Ole Miss alum Shepherd Smith of Fox News after three Baton Rouge police officers were ambushed and murdered. Regularly when on the air Smith, who leans to the left, makes no secret of his love and loyalty to the Rebels. He attends Ole Miss football games and has appeared on the giant video board at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. He did nothing to enhance his journalistic reputation when he interviewed Jindal. Several times during the interview after the police shooting, Jindal used the phrase, “all lives matter.” Almost in anger, Shepherd said the term “all lives matter” was “derogatory” and was a “very divisive phrase.” Jindal, to his credit, stuck to his guns and said we should value all human lives. In the wake of the interview and his treatment of Jindal, many conservatives strongly criticized Smith. Jindal was accurate and correct using the phase, and Smith should receive low journalistic marks for the way he the handled the interview.

Ted Cruz still doesn’t play well with others

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is still catching flak for his snub of Donald Trump and his non-endorsement speech at the Republican National Convention. Some conservatives have gone so far as to label the speech as a F Trump speech. During a recent meeting of some of the major financial backers of Cruz’s presidential campaign, many voiced their objections to his speech at the convention. Cruz still harbors presidential ambitions for 2020 or beyond. A lot can change in the future, but in my opinion, Cruz’s presidential ambitions have been rightfully crushed. His convention speech was not different from his entire career as a member of the U.S. Senate – he doesn’t play well with others.

Lynn Fitch sounds like a Democrat at NCF; maybe rumors are true she will be supported by Jim Hood and Mike Moore

Several people attending the Neshoba County Fair for all the political speeches commented that State Treasurer Lynn Fitch sounded more like a Democrat than

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Hottest Gay Bar In The Nation’s Most Homophobic State

Fiction in the news pages of The Washington Post

Recently I received an email from a college fraternity brother who lives in Charleston, attaching a Washington Post story written by Neely Tucker. He commented, while the Post does not seem to tire of bashing Republicans and Donald Trump, while praising Hillary Clinton, The Post still found time to publish an extensive story titled, “Inside the hottest gay bar in the most homophobic state in the nation.” The story by Tucker noted that the “hottest” gay bar is in Jackson, and of course, the “most homophobic state” is Mississippi. What is not mentioned is that Tucker attended both Mississippi State and Ole Miss although he remains a faithful supporter of Bulldog athletic teams.  Tucker’s late father, Dr. Duane Tucker, was long associated with MSU. Before his retirement, Dr. Tucker rose to the number two position for MSU’s extension service. Prior to being with The Washington Post for almost 15 years, Neely Tucker also worked for the Miami Herald and Detroit Free Press. First let’s start with the headline on Tucker’s story, the “hottest gay bar” in Mississippi. WonderLust is the name of a bar located in north Jackson. Funny, living in Jackson for about eight years I have never heard of WonderLust. Neither had several other people I contacted who have lived in Jackson for all or most of their lives. However, I must admit that I am not inclined, or do not have any desire to frequent the “hottest” bar for the LGBTQ community. The headline also notes that WonderLust is located in the “nation’s most homophobic state”, which according to Tucker, would be Mississippi. I wonder what factual basis or documentation there is for that assumption? I would guess the assumption is because Mississippi is often noted to be located in the so-called “Bible Belt” and is known, as Tucker points out, as a very religious state. Of course, labeling someone or a state as “homophobic” is sort of a liberal’s version of McCarthyism. Just because a person does not endorse or approve of the LGBTQ lifestyle does not mean they are homophobic. Tucker further writes that WonderLust is located in the Fondren section of Jackson. WonderLust may technically be in the boundaries of Fondren, but the location is actually in a seedy, high-crime area.

Fondren is not Jackson’s “gayborhood” or “predominantly black”

Despite the many problems of Jackson, Fondren is a trendy, artsy, developing section of Jackson that features many popular restaurants, bars and retail shops. It is not known, as Tucker writes, as Jackson’s “gayborhood” and a “magnet for a good bit of openly LGBT

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New Orleans is a great city, but crime is out of control

(Editor’s note: Packing up, moving, unpacking and getting my computer on line again has prevented any recent commentary from being published. I apologize to readers of the WeidieReport and I’ll do better now that I’m up and running.)

[Statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee at Lee Circle, erected in 1884 on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. Mayor Mitch Landrieu wants to remove the statue of Lee and three others in the city. As the statue of Gen. Lee overlooks the city, he doesn't see any Union troops but it witnesses a lot of criminal violence.]
[Statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee at Lee Circle, erected in 1884 on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. Mayor Mitch Landrieu wants to remove the statue of Lee and three others in the city. As the statue of Gen. Lee overlooks the city, he doesn’t see any Union troops but it witnesses a lot of criminal violence.]
New Orleans is truly one of America’s great cities. While I have lived the majority of my life in Mississippi and Washington, D.C., I was born in New Orleans. I graduated from both high school and college in Mississippi, but also attended high school and college in Louisiana as well. My oldest son was the first member of the Weidie family to be born outside of New Orleans (Pascagoula). In many ways, post-Katrina, New Orleans is better than ever. After the devastation of Katrina, the economy has roared back and thanks in no small part to charter schools, K-12 public education has made great strides. Tourism is booming and major conventions are booked far into the future. However, a very serious and dark threat hangs over the city. Violent crime in NOLA is out of control. Unlike some cities, the violent crime does not know the usual boundaries. In Mississippi, south Jackson and parts of west Jackson are very high crime areas as opposed to the rest of the city. Even in Washington, D.C., the worst crime is mostly confined to southeast D.C. and those areas south of the Anacostia River. In New Orleans, violent crimes frequently occur in very nice neighborhoods such as the Garden District, along beautiful St. Charles Ave., Uptown, on Canal Street and in the main areas of the French Quarter. Mayor Mitch Landrieu should worry about major crimes in NOLA instead of spending $1 million dollars to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee and even more money to take down more statues honoring other Confederate generals. Just a few months ago some of NOLA’s famous restaurant and lounges were the scene of armed robberies. The restaurants, as well as their customers, were victims. This is not to even mention the more than $5 million it cost to fix a huge sinkhole at the foot of Canal Street. Sooner or later there is going to a terrible tragedy involving numerous tourists or others attending one of the many conventions that are held in the city. NOLA is on borrowed time if something is not done to bring violent crime under control.

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