Editor’s Note: This column was first published on Jan. 4, 1979 as part of Wayne Weidie’s syndicated column series, “The Political Scene,” which ran through 43 newspapers in the state of Mississippi and spanned from 1970 to 1990. Political Scene columns will be periodically republished on The Weidie Report.
JAN. 4, 1979 — Going through my past columns which show predictions gone astray and conclusions proved not to be conclusive, recent political events cause me to go back to a July 1973 column with a little satisfaction. In that month a special election was held in Jackson County to fill the vacancy created following the election of state Sen. Ken Robertson to a chancery judgeship.
A 30-year old Pascagoula attorney made his political debut in that race in a field of five candidates, some with solid credentials. The youthful lawyer not only rolled up 4,042 votes to 1,503 for his nearest competitor, but won 60 percent of the first primary vote against his four opponents. An Associated Press release in July 1973 took note of the election of John “Carlaw” to the Mississippi State Senate. A little over five years later, John Corlew, not “Carlew”, has assumed one of the most powerful posts in state government.
The future of Corlew as a rookie state senator in 1973 was not hard to predict. One who knew Corlew well not only predicted a big future from him, but said that the Pascagoula senator was going to prove to be one of the “most intelligent, honest, independent, sincere and capable men” to come on the state’s political scene.
Why the problems at a hospital in Jackson County are a statewide problem
The only real daily newspaper on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is the Sun Herald. In the newspaper’s reporting and editorials, it has done an excellent job in the best tradition of first-rate journalism. Some readers may ask why this writer and others have devoted a lot of time to an issue that some think is not a statewide problem. Singing River Health Systems (SRHS) in Jackson County is a county-owned hospital system. The secrecy and lack of financial accountability at SRHS is an issue that is important to dozens of other county-owned hospital systems in Mississippi. Sadly enough, if the problems at SRHS had not become such a major issue for hospital retirees, employees, and the taxpayers of Jackson County, the Mississippi Legislature this past session would not have passed a bill to remove the exemptions of county-owned hospitals from the state’s open meetings and public records laws. Many keep hoping to see positive developments on the issue. That is just not happening.
Last week the hospital trustees and officials released the details of a new proposal to save the underfunded pension plan. Active employees enrolled in the plan would be eligible for a retirement plan when they reach age 67 and the benefit would be about 88 percent of what was originally promised retirees. This proposal, which still must be approved by the courts, is still a slap in the face to the retirees and taxpayers of Jackson County. For example, an employee who had been with the system for more than 30 years could have previously retired at an earlier age and received a pension higher than the proposed 88 percent they would get now. But on the heels of the pension plan announcement by hospital officials, in just a matter of days, county supervisors said they will release the “full story” explaining what happened financially at the hospital and the failed pension plan. The footnote was they would explain what they can “legally reveal.” How bogus.
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.
Singing River Hospital System plays a bogus PR game
On December 28 the Sun Herald newspaper on the Mississippi coast posted a video produced for the Singing River Hospital System in Jackson County. While taking a few shots at the press, doctors and nurses working at the hospital stressed the quality of health care provided by the hospital. Everyone knows that SRHS is very important to the citizens of Jackson County. The question of the hospital’s quality of health care and the dedication of the system’s doctors and nurses, etc. has not be the issue and has not be questioned. What has been questioned is the financial problems and mismanagement by some SRHS officials. Those responsible for the financial crisis include hospital administrators, the hospital board of trustees, and the county board of supervisors. In a word, the financial problems of the hospital should not be overlooked by a video parade of doctors and nurses stressing the quality of patient care at SRHS.
All politics is local (and that’s too bad)
“All politics is local” is a common political phrase. Former Speaker of the U.S. House Tip O’Neill is most closely associated with this phrase and anyone who has read his memoir, Man of the House written with William Novak, knows why he is the main architect of this famous phrase. “All politics is local” has almost become one of the “Ten Commandments” for politicians and aspiring politicians. According to Wikipedia, the phrase was first introduced by a Washington journalist in 1932 and O’Neill used it in 1935 when he first entered politics. Maybe it’s time for “All politics is local” to be removed from the political Bible. This nation would certainly be better off if our elected officials, both in Washington and in Mississippi, did what is best for the nation and state, not what is best for politicians’ own re-election.
The Arms Race is On
No, I’m not talking about an arms race between two or more nations for military or weaponry superiority. What I’m talking about is the arms race for 2015 campaign contributions when statewide and legislative elections will be held. Last year the 2015 elections were two years away but most people said they had never seen the number of fundraising events or fundraising letters, etc. that were held in 2013. In the past 30 days or so there’s been a steady barrage by elected officials seeking campaign contributions.
One obvious reason is that the next deadline to report campaign contributions is January 30, 2015 for contributions and campaign expenditures made through December 31 of this year. One way for candidates seeking re-election to discourage opposition is to report a large war chest on hand at the end of year. Some politicians might also have their eye on higher office that will require much larger campaign funding. A lot of legislators not only have campaign events in their district but also will hold events in Jackson — the easier way to tap into contributions from Jackson lobbyists and major companies that have a presence in the state capital.
Last week I received a report that some leaders in Jackson County have found a potentially strong candidate to oppose state Sen. Michael Watson’s bid for a third term in 2015. For many Republicans in Jackson County that would be a welcome addition to next year’s state elections. There’s been no shortage of GOP leaders in that Gulf Coast county who have been trying to find a candidate to face Watson. It’s also no secret that Watson has had far greater ambitions than being a state senator.
However, a strong Republican primary opponent for Watson could find themselves running for an open seat with Watson not in the race. There’s no question that Watson, despite the hits he has taken for his role in fellow state Sen. Chris McDaniel’s U.S. Senate campaign, may run for statewide office rather than re-election. The presumed contest would be to challenge Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ re-election bid. Either way, Watson’s political career could very well be derailed. Reeves would trounce Watson in a statewide race.