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
It is no secret that incumbent State Treasurer Lynn Fitch is making noise about running for attorney general in 2019. On May 1, Clarion.Ledger political editor Geoff Pender, one of the state’s best journalists, wrote an early preview about the possibilities for the 2019 statewide races. He mentioned Fitch is said to be “all in” to run for AG. But at the end of his column about the 2019 contest for AG, Pender wrote something that had to make Fitch cringe. He said former AG Mike Moore and some other Democrats might feel that for Democrats, the AG’s race three years from now might be a “lost cause” for their party. Hood and his predecessor as AG, Mike Moore, might consider supporting Fitch. This is based on the assumption incumbent AG Jim Hood is testing the water to run for governor but is unlikely to seek a fifth term as AG. Given the scenario that some Dems think no other member of their party could win the 2019 race, there have been numerous reports that both Moore and Hood would support Fitch and she would welcome their support. In that event, Fitch would certainly solve a lot of fundraising problems in a statewide race for AG. Moore and Hood would be in a position to raise a lot of campaign money for Fitch from their trial lawyer buddies, both inside and outside of Mississippi. However, even quiet support from Moore and Hood would also be a very tricky situation for Fitch in a Republican Primary. With no incumbent running for AG three years from now, the GOP will have a very competitive primary. There’s little doubt Mike Hurst, the Republican nominee against Hood last year, is expected to be a candidate. There would certainly be other strong Republicans, such as Rankin County DA Michael Guest, who would enter the race. Fitch’s election as AG would certainly solve a personal problem for Fitch. Her current salary as treasurer is $90,000 per year. AG pays $108,960. That would almost be a $20,000 per year increase for Fitch. Along with State Auditor Stacey Pickering, Fitch has made it known that both of them are claiming they have a hard time making ends meet at their current salaries. For that, I don’t have much sympathy. They knew what the jobs paid when they ran for their respective offices. I have commented to several people that outside of some school administrators like superintendents and principals, there’s not one K-12 teacher in the state making $90,000 per year. Usually the
Vote “NO” on Initiative 42
Except for the seriousness of the issue, the actions by supporters of Initiative 42 would almost be laughable. The 42 supporters wrap themselves in a cloak of self-righteousness. You would almost think they are transporting the Holy Grail and any opponents of 42 are nothing more than heathens and barbarians. In a word, passage of 42 would be very bad for Mississippi from several aspects. There are plenty of reasons to oppose 42. The best reasons are in a column last Sunday by Clarion.Ledger political editor Geoff Pender and an earlier syndicated column by Sid Salter. Pender is one of what is unfortunately just a handful of first-rate journalists in Mississippi while Salter, who now has a PR position at Mississippi State, had a long career as one of the state’s very best journalists. Pender, Salter and others have made a solid case against 42. The most publicized debate between a proponent and opponent of 42 came almost two weeks ago before an audience at Capital Press Club sponsored by the Stennis Institute of Government. Speaking in support of 42 was attorney Jim Keith of the Adams and Reese law firm. Opposing 42 was House Speaker Pro-Tem Greg Snowden of Meridian. Despite my bias against 42, I think Rep. Snowden clearly bested Keith in the debate. Keith started his comments by saying he was a conservative Republican. If that is the case, being one of the more public and vocal 42 supporters, Keith has jumped into a political bed with trial lawyers, Democrats and other liberals. Keith also mentioned his friendship with Republican House Speaker Phillip Gunn and other prominent Republican legislative leaders. A few months ago Keith commented to someone, not from Mississippi, that he had breakfast with Speaker Gunn and their relationship was fine. That’s a little odd since at about the same time a North Mississippi newspaper reported comments by Keith saying Gunn and Lt. Governor Tate Reeves are not friends of pubic education. Keith represents the Mississippi School Board Association and many school districts in the state. With his very prominent and visible role supporting 42 and being the lead attorney in a lawsuit against the Mississippi Legislature, it would not be a stretch to speculate that on any legislative matters wanted by Keith and his clients, the issues would be DOA in the Mississippi Senate and probably the House as well.
Mike Hurst within striking distance of upsetting Jim Hood
Other than the vote on Initiative 42, the most closely watched statewide race is Republican Mike Hurst’s challenge of incumbent Jim Hood. While the odds still favor Hood winning
In the interest of disclosure, this is how I will vote next Tuesday. In the past I have seen most journalists regard it as some sort of journalistic sin to reveal how they might cast their ballot. On one hand, knowing the political leanings of many reporters it is not hard to figure how they will vote. Disclosure of how I will vote is a form of transparency for readers to judge my commentary on various candidates and public officials. On Tuesday I will vote in the Republican Primary. Actually, my vote will match the GOP endorsements on Sunday by The Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
Easy vote – Mayor Mary instead of incumbent Stacey Pickering
The contest for state auditor is easily the most controversial statewide race for Republicans because of reports that incumbent Stacey Pickering’s campaign account is being investigated by the FBI. Mayor Mayor Hawkins Butler of Madison is still considered a longshot to upset Pickering, but on Sunday she was endorsed by The Clarion Ledger. The newspaper’s endorsement of Butler seemed a little hesitant, almost like Mayor Mary is the lesser of two evils. For this writer, voting for Butler is easy. There is no question that Pickering’s campaign finance reports are questionable with little doubt that he has been using campaign donations for personal use. There are several outside contracts that Pickering has executed as auditor that are equally questionable. However, in my opinion the biggest reason to vote for Butler is because I have little doubt that Pickering has been very selective in the targets of his audits to uncover wrongdoing by public officials. While the honesty of all elected officials should be beyond reproach, the conduct of the state auditor should especially be beyond reproach. That is not the case with Pickering.
The easy choice: Re-elect Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney
Mike Chaney is one of the very best elected officials we have anywhre in Mississippi. He is honest, humble, dedicated and has worked very hard for the benefit of Mississippi consumers. Mississippians should wish they had more public officials like Chaney. Chaney’s opponent is body shop owner John Mosley of Clinton. To say that Mosley is a
More than eight months ago I wrote that the campaign finance reports candidates must file with Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, especially the reports on candidate expenses, are all but worthless. Because no real documentation is required candidates can use their campaign contributions to pay personal expenses instead of legitimate campaign expenses. All that blew up in the headlines this week with an excellent story by political editor Geoff Pender of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. The story was first posted online early Thursday evening and headlined that the FBI is probing State Auditor Stacey Pickering’s campaign funds. The story raised a lot of serious questions and could certainly become an explosive issue that could seriously hurt Pickering’s re-election campaign. The issue regarding Pickering’s campaign expenditures was first raised a few weeks ago on the Gulf Coast by his Republican primary opponent. Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler raised the issue of the state auditor’s campaign disbursements being used for personal expenses. The original story in a Gulf Coast newspaper did not receive widespread coverage. That certainly won’t be the case with Pender’s story. Pickering can talk all he wants about “negative campaign tactics” and last minute dirty politics, but a capable reporter like Pender does not play a political game against any candidate or for the benefit of any candidate. Anyone who has bothered to review Pickering’s campaign finance reports for several years knows there are some very obvious questionable items regarding his campaign expenses. Forget about all the BS about last minute dirty campaign tactics. Just read Pender’s story about the FBI probe of Pickering in the newspaper or go to the Clarion-Ledger online and read the story. Too often reporting about campaign finances only deals with the big question of how much money a candidate has raised or how much cash they have on hand for the rest of their campaign. That is not the case with Pender’s story. Remember, Chicago mobster Al Capone eventually went to prison for tax evasion, not the many murders he was alleged to have been involved with. If Mississippi candidates are taking money for personal expenses out of their campaign accounts they should be reporting it on their federal and state taxes as income. (Editor’s note: The column above was written prior to Pickering’s written response to the article by Geoff Pender. In a word, Pickering’s statement can only be described as weak and still left unanswered questions. His statement would almost indicate that the Clarion-Ledger article about the FBI probe of his campaign finances was written by his opponent, Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler, rather than by Pender.)
Valid campaign expense reports issues raised in Republican Sen. Will Longwitz’s re-election campaign
While Pender’s story of the alleged FBI probe of Pickering’s campaign is making the big headlines, campaign finance reports of state Sen. Will Longwitz are also a legitimate campaign issue. As I noted last December, Mississippi campaign finance reporting laws are so weak that one could report a $2,000 campaign check to American Express. No
Correction: It is more than pathetic
Several months ago, a citizen in Jackson County told me the county supervisors and board of trustees for the Singing River Hospital System (SRHS) were going to keep kicking the can down the road. The reasoning was if the can were kicked far enough down the road, the issue would go away or county supervisors could secure re-election. This bizarre situation in Jackson County took a new turn recently when Billy Guice, an attorney hired by the supervisors, announced that his investigation of the hospital’s failed pension plan had found no theft or embezzlement. Most people did not think the hospital system’s mess involved theft or embezzlement. There is no question, however, that the problems of the hospital involved mismanagement, arrogance, a lack of transparency, and a lack of accountability.
Even before the SRHS’s pension plan failed, this had been the hospital’s way of doing business for many years. And going back to Guice’s announcement that there was no theft or embezzlement, I think the final conclusion on that should come from District Attorney Tony Lawrence, State Auditor Stacey Pickering or the U.S. Attorney’s office, not Guice. However, don’t hold your breath expecting the DA or Pickering to be aggressive on this matter. Almost as sad was a Sun Herald newspaper interview with Guice. In an online Sun Herald video, Guice commented on the newspaper’s reporting and editorials about the SRHS. He made a crack about the Sun Herald just wanting to sell newspapers. That is a common refrain from public officials and others about newspapers whenever something is reported that should be reported, but the officials don’t like to see it reported. The public has a right to know.
In sports, the “silly season” is used most often in reference to NASCAR’S offseason when rumors about drivers switching teams, crew chiefs switching drivers, etc. are in full swing. There’s little doubt that Mississippi politics is having its own version of a silly season with only a few days to go before the Feb. 27 qualifying deadline for statewide, district, legislative, and local candidates. Even in many legislative districts the list of qualified candidates is thin and there will certainly be more candidates jumping into contests before the end of the day next Friday. Here are some of the big “ifs” and discussions that are prime topics for the political silly season…
The qualifying deadline for statewide, district, legislative, and local candidates is February 27. At this writing, four of the eight statewide incumbents have qualified for re-election. They are State Treasurer Lynn Fitch, State Auditor Stacey Pickering, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, and Commissioner of Agriculture Cindy Hyde-Smith. That leaves Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Attorney General Jim Hood, and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann as the four who have not filed their qualifying papers for re-election. There’s no question that at some point before the deadline Bryant and Reeves will qualify to seek re-election, which leads to some speculation regarding the 2015 plans for Hood and Hosemann.
Although Pickering has qualified to seek another term as auditor, you might also put a question mark by his name. It is no secret that Pickering has told numerous people that he would like a higher paying job in either the private sector or even state government. The state job most often mentioned is that of commissioner of the Department of Revenue, which pays about $50,000 more per year than he makes as auditor. The term of Ed Morgan, the current commissioner of the department, expires in June of 2016. Current rumors speculate that Pickering could withdraw his qualifying papers, take a job in the private sector for a year, and then be appointed by Gov. Bryant to take Morgan’s place next year. That would allow Bryant and tea party favorite (and Chris McDaniel sidekick), state Sen. Michael Watson to run for auditor. The other scenario is that Pickering wins re-election, resigns later to take the Department of Revenue job, and Bryant could appoint Watson to serve out the remainder of Pickering’s term. The engineer for this train would be kingmaker and Bryant insider, Prince Josh Gregory.
And if county supervisors don’t take strong action, it should be 2015 campaign issue
Some people might ask why the financial problems of the Singing River Hospital System (SRHS) in Jackson County on the Gulf Coast is receiving so much attention from the press and several bloggers. One reason is that the county-owned system is just one of many county-owned hospital systems throughout Mississippi, and they all have one thing in common: a lack of transparency and financial accountability to taxpayers.
Almost a year ago I told State Auditor Stacey Pickering that if he really wanted to dig into a big mess at a county owned hospital, he should target the Singing River Health System (SRHS) in Jackson County. That system was ripe for an audit. At the time Pickering was conducting a review of the financial stability of county-owned rural hospitals. None of them had a greater need for a state audit than SRHS, the second largest employer in Jackson County, next to industrial giant Ingalls Shipbuilding. SRHS has 2,400 employees. It was not long after my conversation with Pickering that a new accounting firm found an $88 million shortfall which consisted of unpaid bills over several years that the hospital would never collect. Since that time, thanks to an excellent investigative series by The Sun Herald of Biloxi-Gulfport, numerous other problems of the hospital system have come to light. There is no question that the hospital’s finances and employee pension plan have been mishandled. As people recall, the scandal at the Mississippi Department of Resources (DMR) on the Gulf Coast resulted in the former DMR director Billy Walker being sent to federal prison; his son, Scott, also sentenced to go to prison and several others, including a former state legislator; and six other ex-DMR employees pled guilty to various fraud charges following a federal investigation. The problems at SRHS have the same rotten smell as those at DMR.