What has been rumored for months was officially confirmed last week when President Donald Trump, as recommended by U.S. Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, announced his nomination of Mike Hurst as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. Trump also announced the nomination of Chad Lamar as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District. I do not know Lamar except for the fact he is highly regarded. I do know Hurst, and I think he will make an excellent U.S. Attorney. I first met Hurst when he served as a top aide to then Congressman Chip Pickering. Hurst left Pickering’s office and became an assistant U.S. Attorney in Jackson. He handled several high profile corruption cases before resigning to run as the Republican nominee for attorney general against Democrat incumbent Jim Hood. Hurst lost that contest but made a good race. In 2019, many expect Hood not to seek another term or run for governor. Hurst was again mentioned as a probable candidate to succeed Hood. In many ways I think Hurst can do more for our state as a U.S. Attorney than he could as state attorney general.
Is Hurst a persecutor or a prosecutor?
Many weeks ago when Hurst was mentioned as a prime candidate for U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, I smiled when I was told one prominent state Republican, opposed to Hurst being nominated, said Hurst was more of a “persecutor” than a prosecutor when he
BIPEC stands for the Business and Industry Political Action Committee. The organization is very powerful in state politics despite the organization’s non-profit 501 (c) (6) status with the Internal Revenue Service. BIPEC gives grades to state legislators and members of the Mississippi Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. The grades are based on legislators and judges who BIPEC says are pro-business and support free enterprise. The organization says it is composed of businesses, professionals and more than 30 trade associations. While BIPEC cannot make contributions, have a PAC or take an active political role, to say it is not a conservative political organization is like saying the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center are not liberal organizations that favor Democrats. The director of BIPEC is a former staffer at the Mississippi Republican Party.
Some Republicans in the Mississippi House got dinged for making the conservative vote
While BIPEC has traditionally been known for its advocacy of lower taxes, the organization’s vote ratings for the 2017 session of the Mississippi Legislature has concerned, and even angered, a number of conservative Republicans in the House. One of the key votes used was HB 480 which would have designated 70 percent of voluntary taxes collected on internet sales by out of state firms to be directed to the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Mississippians who support increased funding for highways and bridges know that a per gallon fuel tax won’t fly with the legislature. Even stranger in the BIPEC ratings is the fact that four House Republicans opposed HB 480 and it was rated a “vote against business.” Yet, these four GOP members received an A grade from BIPEC. Nine other House Republicans voted against HB 480, their only “vote against business” and yet received an overall B grade for the session. BIPEC called this part of their grading as the “subjective portion” of their ratings. BIPEC said that 35 business and professional leaders (mostly lobbyists) participated in the ratings. Nationally there are
First Baptist Church in Jackson offers prime parking across the street from the State Capital for lobbyists and other visitors to the Capital. From the reserved parking signs shown below, the giant law firm of Butler Snow has very special prime parking. Butler Snow has more than 20 offices across the United States in addition to offices in London and Singapore. These “Reserved for Butler Snow” signs turned a lot of heads during the regular session of the 2017 Mississippi Legislature. I assume the reserved parking will still be available to Butler Snow lobbyists during the upcoming legislative special session on June 5. In some political and legal circles, Butler Snow is jokingly known as “The Evil Empire.” The firm is no joke and wields a lot of political power in the state. Former Sen. Trent Lott and former Gov. Haley Barbour are affiliated with the firm. I’ve been told Butler Snow does pro bono legal work for First Baptist and might be the reason for their special parking privileges. I have not been able to determine if that includes special prayers for Butler Snow from the pulpit on Sundays.
Pettus column – “New Yuletide lyrics to mark Trump regime” – Over the line and tasteless
Gary Pettus is a regular contributing columnist for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. For many years, Pettus was a member of the newspaper’s staff. At the end of his Clarion-Ledger columns, it notes “Gary Pettus is a Jackson-based journalist and contributing columnist.” It should also be noted Pettus is a state employee and works in the public affairs office at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Why is this relevant? On Dec. 19, Pettus wrote a column entitled, “New Yuletide lyrics to mark Trump regime.” He suggests revised lyrics for a very popular Christmas season song. Pettus’ revision is entitled, “It’s the Most Trumper-ful Time of the Year.” Here are just a few of the comment Pettus labeled as the “new code” for president-elect Trump: “There’ll be few books for learning, Cause most will be burning – good times for bigots – Muslims they’re jailing, Latinos expelling – great times for the sociopath. – It’s beginning to look just like the Third Reich – A swastika there and here – Christians kissing a tyrant’s rear, Burning churches all aglow – It’s going to look like Nagasaki August of ’45 – The prettiest sight to behold is not traffic on the road, Cause no one is left alive.” The “lyrics” of the Pettus column go on with more lack of taste, but I think you get the idea about the column. Hillary Clinton calling Trump supporters “deplorables” is mild compared to Pettus tossing out terms like book burners, bigots and writing about swastikas and the Third Reich. Because the anti-Trump column crosses the line, it is logical to ask other questions. Why was the column published in the Clarion-Ledger in the first place? The obvious answer is that the executive editor of the newspaper, Sam Hall, is a Democrat partisan. Unlike most editors, Hall probably didn’t bat an eye if he reviewed the column by Pettus. Pettus has taken other cheap shots at president-elect Trump. Perhaps even more significant is he has taken similar shots at Gov. Phil Bryant and Republicans in general. Reminder: Seven of the eight statewide officials in our state are Republicans and the GOP has solid majorities in both the state Senate and House. Another reminder: The Senate and House make appropriations for state government and Gov. Bryant signs the appropriation bills.
Biting the hand that feeds you in a tasteless way
The next obvious question is if I raise an issue about Pettus being a state employee, what about Charles Mitchell and Sid Salter, two other former journalists who are state
Will legislators put an end to “legalized bribery”?
The upcoming 2017 session of the Mississippi Legislature will face the usual mix of key issues: funding for public education, transportation, meeting the needs of state agencies while balancing the state budget despite stagnant revenues, providing much need health care for Mississippians, job creation and on and on. The ugly issue of political ethics (i.e. campaign finance reform) will again get much needed attention even if it will not be a favorite issue with many legislators. The past Sunday Clarion-Ledger political editor Geoff Pender reported that House Speaker Philip Gunn says campaign finance reform will be a top priority. Gunn should have, and could have, done something about campaign finance reform during the 2016 session when the bill died a shameful death in the House. Gunn claims he had nothing to do with the disgraceful failure of campaign reform during the last legislative session. That is either a lot of bull or Gunn is admitting he is a weak leader of the Mississippi House. Campaign finance reform unanimously passed the Mississippi Senate before being killed in the House without even a roll call vote. Pender’s excellent column pointed out our current campaign finance laws and how campaign expenses are reported are nothing short of “legalized bribery” paid for by lobbyists and other special interests. He wrote, “As long as they avoid tax scrutiny (reporting as taxable personal income), Mississippi politicians can spend campaign money in ways that would land them in jail in most other states.” Pender noted a Clarion-Ledger investigative series earlier this year showed “many politicians – legislators in particular – use lax campaign finance laws, farcical reporting regulations and nonexistent enforcement” to spend campaign donations “on clothes, cars, groceries, apartments,
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
Dr. Marty Wiseman is a longtime political professor at Mississippi State and the former director of the John Stennis Institute of Government at MSU. Wiseman has also been a personal friend for many years. Wiseman is also an ultra-liberal Democrat. Last week Wiseman Tweeted the following: “Secretary Hosemann deserves a great deal of credit for engaging in a process leading to these meaningful election reforms. The legislature deserves credit for listening and acting. Now you can register on line and you can go to the courthouse and vote early. These are good things.” The legislation proposed and supported by Secretary of State Hosemann was also endorsed by the left-wing American Civil Liberties Union. As one conservative said to me, when the ACLU and Marty Wiseman praise something it probably is time for Hosemann and Republican legislators to rethink their position.
In March 2014, well-known political operative Morgan Shands and his sister, Rachel Shands Buser, were indicted by a grand jury in Bolivar County on felony charges of embezzling more than $600,000 from an American Legion post in the Mississippi Delta. Shands, a former executive director of the Mississippi Democratic Party, has worked for current Attorney General Jim Hood and Hood’s predecessor Mike Moore. In more recent times, before his indictment, Shands had numerous political ties to prominent Republicans. He was on the staff of U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and State Auditor Stacey Pickering. Four years ago, Shands was the state campaign manager for current Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes when Hewes ran unsuccessfully against Tate Reeves for lieutenant governor. In 2007, Shands worked in the campaign of Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney. Now, almost 19 months since Shands and his sister were indicted, the trial has not started. The trail was originally schedule to start on Dec. 8, 2014. The docket page of the Bolivar County Circuit Clerk shows no action since legal motions were made in July 2014. A few days ago, I spoke with the assistant district attorney who is handling the Shands case. Leslie Flint told me that while the Shands case is still on the docket, so are a lot of other cases. She added that it is a “big docket” and that murder cases and other violent crimes take precedent on the docket. Flint cautioned me that nothing should be read into the fact that the Shands case has not gone to trial since Shands and his sister were indicted in March 2014.
After University of Missouri, campus copycats in full swing
After the incidents at the University of Missouri where the president and chancellor resigned, inmates wanting to run the asylum are in full action at campuses throughout the nation. Two in particular are very interesting. As was the case at Mizzou, a University of Kansas student has started a hunger strike – not to force any school administrators to step down, but to force the resignation of three members of the student leadership at Kansas. The student on the hunger strike and other protestors want the student leaders to step down because they are accused of “not standing in solidarity with their black peers.” The Kansas protest is not receiving the vast publicity as the one at Mizzou because the student
Many political veterans in Mississippi will recognize the name Wiley Carter, even if they were not fortunate enough to know Wiley personally. Wiley worked for Lt. Gov. Carroll Gartin and U.S. Rep. John Bell Williams before Williams was elected governor. More importantly, Wiley was a top aide to Congressman and later Sen. Thad Cochran for 23 years until Wiley’s untimely death in 1997. When I first moved to Washington, D.C. more than 25 years ago, one of the first calls I received was from Wiley. After working for Cochran in his Capitol Hill office, Wiley was then working in Cochran’s Jackson office. Wiley promptly told me that if I needed any help or information getting settled in D.C., he strongly recommended I call a certain lady who worked for Sen. Cochran. That lady was Kay Webber.
I can’t remember what I asked Kay when I called, but I remember she was very kind and helpful. After Sen. Cochran’s wife died in a nursing home last December due to a very long illness, Sen. Cochran married Webber on May 23 in a private ceremony on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Having known Webber since I moved to Washington and Cochran since his first campaign for the U.S. House in 1972, I was very excited for both of them. Of course, when the news of their marriage broke, all the stories of Cochran and Webber’s relationship brought out during Cochran’s tough re-election campaign against state Sen. Chris McDaniel were rehashed again in both the national and local press.
The actions of some Chris McDaniel supporters during the campaign reached a new low in Mississippi politics. Even worse, after the wedding of Cochran and Webber was announced, some very nasty comments were made in the print media and in some political blogs. The lawyer for the man accused of taking pictures of the bedridden Rose Cochran in her nursing home room even added his own stupid comment. He said Cochran’s marriage to Webber would help the defense of his client. Many comments expressed best wishes for Cochran and Webber, but almost as many fell far short of common decency. The fact of the matter is this: Cochran’s first wife Rose died in the nursing home after 13 years. As very sad as it may be, Cochran lost his wife long before she actually died. Kay Webber has been very good for Thad Cochran. We should all be very happy for them and wish them the best for years to come. They are both very decent people.
House failure on hospital open meetings, public records could reflect poorly on Gunn and GOP leadership
When the Mississippi House of Representatives voted to restore statewide transparency for hospitals, there was applause and cheering that I presume came from both the floor of the House and from some of those in the gallery. Let’s hope that applause and newspaper headlines heralding the vote were not premature. SB 2407 had previously passed the Senate unanimously, but there was a lot of concern when the House Public Health Committee reported out the bill with the provision that it only applied to the Singing River Health System in Jackson County and not all publicly owned hospitals in the state. The amended bill that was later passed by the full House restored the statewide provision, but there was a catch. The House included a “reverse repealer,” which in short meant that the bill would have to go to a Senate-House conference committee instead of going to Gov. Bryant for his signature. Now the wait is on for Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn to appoint conferees to determine the final fate of SB 2407. There’s no question what the Senate will do, so the ball rests in the court of Gunn. Anything less than the conference agreeing to the clean Senate bill would look as if Gunn caved to the Mississippi Hospital Association. There were reports at the Capitol this week that the House conferees would agree to the original Senate version of SB 2407. That would be a turn of events from the bill that came out of the House Public Health Committee and what was later passed by the full House. After Gunn and the House Republicans lost this week on the tax cut compromise and because of their narrow majority in the House, taking a hit on transparency and accountability would not be good.