Celebrate the Facts!
Mississippi is a failed state. The reasons why are obvious – failed governance at every level. If Mississippi was a sovereign nation America would consider economic sanctions to compel equality and sponsor UN resolutions in favor of free elections overseen by UN observers. Mississippi Apartheid perpetuates poverty creating a state that serves few of its citizens regardless of race, and there is little hope for improvement and the end of Apartheid is the required predecessor to the welfare of the state.
The eye-popping realities:
The first strike at reform of Apartheid in Mississippi was when a federal court ordered the University of Mississippi to admit its first African American student, James Meredith, in 1962. The action, widely reviled by the populace, started a grudging acceptance of the need to obey, in some semblance, the requirements of federal law.
Historic and anachronistic racism lurks in the populace. In a poll taken this year by Public Policy Polling, 46% of Mississippi Republican voters believe that interracial marriage should be banned, with 24% undecided. The racism has fundamental effects on public welfare – for instance, school district boundaries are drawn and designed to separate the wealthy (white) from the poor (black) so furthering discrepancies in educational funding and attendant attainment.
The proximate causes of the appalling state of the state of Mississippi are rooted in leadership at the local, state, and federal level that perpetuates policies that do not serve the constituents of the state. For any hope at a turnaround, public health, education quality, and real wage growth change must occur and that will require changes at every governmental level.
Despite having the highest percentage of African American population of any state at about 38%, Mississippi’s congressional delegation is dominantly white and consists of two white Senators, three white House representatives, and one African American member of the House.
The senior Senator, Roger Wicker, is a 69-year-old Sunday School Teacher, former Air Force officer, and a career politician. Wicker has sponsored legislation that has helped Mississippi, and occasionally has engaged in co-sponsoring legislation such as working with progressive Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. However, Wicker votes with President Trump’s positions 93% of the time, at the high end of the Republicans, so he is a partisan.
Cindy Hyde-Smith is the junior Senator, also a career politician is affiliated with extremely conservative groups, and is best known for her dog-whistle comments on race and staunch opposition to reproductive rights. As a Mississippi State Senator, she authored a bill requiring that all abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy be performed in a hospital or ambulatory surgical facility. That bill was blocked by federal court action. In 2014 Hyde-Smith posted a photo of herself on Facebook at Jefferson Davis’s home, Beauvoir, wearing a Confederate cap holding a rifle, with the caption “Mississippi history at its best!” The three white House representatives are similarly extremely conservative while the lone African-American is known as a moderate Democrat.
Hyde-Smith, who won the remaining two years of an open seat in 2018, is in a tight race with Mike Espy, a former Secretary of Agriculture in the Clinton Administration. Espy is also a career politician with a long record of reform initiatives in the state and is an African American. Hyde-Smith defeated Espy in the runoff election in 2018 by 7 points but the rematch looks tighter.
There is little polling on the 2020 Espy vs. Hyde-Smith race, but what there is indicate while Hyde-Smith’s victory is likely, it is not certain. An Espy election could balance the federal representation and so could help most residents. The two are about head-to-head in funds raised but Espy is getting little financial support from the Democratic Party. Hyde-Smith seems to be settling in for a lifetime position. The Democratic party is pouring money into the Amy McGrath vs. Mitch McConnell race in Kentucky which is almost certain to end in a McConnell blowout and Mike Espy is arguably a much stronger candidate with Hyde-Smith being a relative weak candidate resulting in a much closer race. The why behind this logic is difficult to discern and brings into question the Democratic Party’s leadership decision making criteria and priorities.
Both Mississippi Senators will undoubtedly vote for the seating of Amy Coney Barrett as the next Supreme Court Justice. Barrett’s presence on the Supreme Court will almost certainly result in the conservative majority necessary to further limit on reproductive rights for women if not a complete overturn of Roe v. Wade, increased support for business interests over labor, and the end of the Affordable Care Act – any of which would accelerate Mississippi’s descent into deep third-world status.
The federal congressional delegation’s largely dogmatic and inflexible alignment on cultural lines is directly oppositional to deal-making necessary to send much-needed federal funding for public works and infrastructure development, further worsening the situation.
The state-level is more representative but offers little support for reform. Mississippi has never had an African American governor. The most recent governor, Tate Reeves, is a 46-year-old more-or-less career politician, and a graduate of Millsaps College, a small liberal arts school located in Jackson, Mississippi. Reeves’s Millsaps College fraternity, Kappa Alpha, was known for overt racist actions, including using racial slurs and hosting events where attendees dressed in Confederate-themed costumes, although Reeves denies wearing blackface or the like. To his credit, he did not oppose the state legislature’s move to retire the Confederate-related flag. As he has essentially no tenure, his future actions and quality of his leadership are hard to predict.
Current state law sets the number of senators at 52 and representatives at 122 and the term of office for senators and representatives is four years, with no term limits. One in three state lawmakers is a white male age 55 or older. Compared to the state’s overall demographics, that cohort is just 9 percent of the population. In terms of race, the Legislature is 71 percent white and 29 percent black compared to the 57-38% split of white and black residents in the state overall, asymmetric, and not high enough to enact substantial reform. The share of women in the Legislature reveals the largest imbalance: just 14 percent of lawmakers are women, compared to 52 percent of the state.
Mississippi has been subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because of a history of racial discrimination against minority groups. Per Section 5, Mississippi was required to receive preapproval from either the Department of Justice or a federal court for any change to its redistricting plans. This next ten years will be the first period without those protections and it is reasonable to predict further gerrymandering efforts to suppress minority enfranchisement. To add to the avalanche of other anti-democratic issues, Mississippi recently implemented a voter identification law for the first time, culminating a long political fight and further suppressing enfranchisement of the poor.
Leadership has stalled federal Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, limiting access to health care by the poorest contingent of the population. There is an initiative on the 2020 ballot to extend Medicaid expansion which would immediately help over 300,000 citizens. Projections indicate that would funnel over $8 billion in medical aid into the state and create 20,000 new jobs. Opposition to Medicaid expansion is difficult to understand as poor public health inhibits economic growth, is a humanitarian consideration, and would benefit all citizens of the state regardless of race.
The state has a staggered flat state income tax with taxes starting at $10,000 income per year. Flat tax structures are by nature regressive further mitigating wealth growth in lower-income groups, and the state’s 5% rate of unionization does not support the creation of a middle-class. Reform of labor laws and tax policy are functions of representation at the state level.
The state has few elemental strengths from which to build. The State eliminated Confederate imagery in its state flag in 2020, albeit being the last state to do that. Its educational attainment ratings, while not respectable, aren’t the worst in the country. Its low-wage rates and low thresholds on permitting are attractive to business, albeit low-wage predatory organizations looking to relocate for wage advantages. Core mental health indicators such as alcohol consumption per capita look decent.
The lack of investment by the Democratic party is baffling. A legal ground game countering gerrymandering, voter suppression, registering minorities, and developing bench strength in candidates at the state level would do the population well. In an era of billion-dollar presidential campaigns that seem like big bang for few bucks, but as the Democratic party drifts toward leadership by liberal elites courting other constituencies, Mississippi has been forgotten.
No matter how attractive the business environment is, endemic poverty, low educational levels, social problems, and intractable racism are not attractive to the high-wage industry seeking to expand. After the end of Apartheid in South Africa, the actual rate of real GDP growth rose to nearly 3%, from 1.25 percent during 1980–94. Like South Africa, an end to Apartheid is the predecessor to the economic betterment of the citizens of Mississippi.
Much health data is available at https://datausa.io/profile/geo/mississippi#health. Poverty by race and ethnicity is presented at https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/poverty-rate-by raceethnicity/currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D. Information on demographics of populations is found at https://worldpopulationreview.com/states/mississippi-population. Demographics and other information on prison populations is provided by https://www.prisonpolicy.org/graphs/disparities2010/MS_racial_disparities_2010.html. Poverty and hunger information can be found at https://frac.org/research/resource-library/state-of-the-states-profiles?post_type=resource&p=4483&state=Mississippi. SNAP statistics were obtained at https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/a-closer-look-at-who-benefits-from-snap-state-by-state-fact-sheets#Mississippi. Information on Wicker’s voting record can be found at https://justfacts.votesmart.org/candidate/key-votes/21926/roger-wicker. Information on women’s reproductive rights is available at https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/state-facts-about-abortion-mississippi#. Segregation in the drawing of school district lines is reported at https://hechingerreport.org/economic-segregation-how-mississippis-districts-are-separated-into-haves-and-have-nots/. Gerrymandering discussions are discovered at https://ballotpedia.org/Redistricting_in_Mississippi. Voter identification requirements are found at https://www.governing.com/news/headlines/Voter-ID-Law-Debuts-During-Mississippi-Primary.html. Data on GDP growth in South Africa is found at https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/nft/2006/soafrica/eng/pasoafr/sach2.pdf.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.