Bill would make it easier to remove racist language from Mississippi property deeds
Legislation that has passed the House and is pending in the Senate would make it easier to remove racist language from Mississippi property deeds.
State Rep. Jansen Owen, R-Poplarville, who also is an attorney, said he authored the legislation after representing clients who were purchasing some land in Pearl River County, when, through his research, he discovered old language in the deed prohibiting African Americans from owning or living on the land.
“I told them the language was not enforceable,” said Owen, who said the African American family still felt uncomfortable having the language in the deed for their property.
Owen said he decided to introduce the bill to make it inexpensive for families in similar circumstances to remove the racist language.
“People take great respect in the property they own,” Owen said. “It means something to them.
“This is just a simplified way for people to show the property they own was once held by individuals who believed they should not own it because of their skin color. It shows that has been removed from the chain of title by the property owner.”
Owen said people purchase property and want to pass it on to their children and such discriminatory language makes them uncomfortable. Owen said his clients who led to his introduction of the legislation expressed the desire to remain unnamed.
In 1948, the Supreme Court ruled such language as discriminatory and unconstitutional, making those deeds unenforceable. Federal laws have been passed to fortify the Supreme Court ruling.
During earlier debate on the House floor, Rep. Randy Boyd, R-Mantachie, and others questioned why the bill was needed since the language is unenforceable. Boyd questioned whether it was “a lawyer’s bill,” giving attorneys an opportunity to make money.
Owen said under current law it takes an attorney to file the motion in chancery court to remove the language, making the process costly. Under his bill, an attorney would not be needed. The landowner could simply fill out a form that is in the bill and a chancellor could sign off on the form without holding a hearing.
Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens, who is an attorney and member of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he thought it would be good to provide a simple mechanism to remove the language.
“I have run across similar language, and I just did not bring it forward,” Clark said. “It is unenforceable. But I could see where real estate attorneys who wanted to be safe would feel they are obligated to” not remove the language from the deed on their own.
Clark voted for the measure. A similar measure passed in Texas.
House clerk Andrew Ketchings takes credit for moving Bilbo statue out of public view
House Clerk Andrew Ketchings said he acted on his own to remove the statue of racist former governor and U.S. senator Theodore Bilbo from public view in the Mississippi State Capitol.
Bilbo, known for his extreme racist rhetoric and views, had been memorialized with a statue in the Mississippi Capitol since the 1950s. Various Black legislators and others have for many years called for the removal of the Bilbo statue, saying it was inappropriate that such a vocal white supremacist was the only governor to be memorialized with a statue in the Capitol.
“Because of everything he stood for, I think this should have been done years ago,” Ketchings told Mississippi Today and the Associated Press on Wednesday. “It was way past time to do it.”
The Bilbo statue is now locked in a closet behind the elevator on the House side of the Capitol and wrapped in a fire retardant. Ketchings declined to open the room.
Mississippi Today reported last week that the statue of Bilbo was no longer in room 113 of the state Capitol, the largest House committee room, as it had been since the early 1980s. Last week, no one would publicly take responsibility for the move. Legislative leaders, including House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, said they did not even know the statue was missing.
“It was purely my decision, 100%,” said Ketchings, who added he did not inform any of the legislative leadership of his plan.
Ketchings said he has since told the House leadership he moved the statue. He said House leaders did not seem inclined to try to restore the statue to public view.
Instead, he hired a crew with state funds through the Department of Finance and Administration to move the bronze statue on a weekend in October. The cost, he said, was between $4,000 and $5,000.
The bronze statue is allegedly life-sized, standing 5 feet 2 inches tall. Ketchings said it is not unusual in his position as House clerk to make decisions over maintenance issues in rooms of the Capitol controlled by the House.
In his capacity as House clerk in recent years, Ketchings has refurbished the chairs and replaced the carpet in room 113. One reason he did not move the statue earlier is that he could not find a suitable storage place. The statue would not fit through many of the doors in the building, Ketchings said.
Bilbo died of throat cancer in 1947 in the midst of efforts by his colleague to not seat him in the U.S. Senate after his most recent election victory. Soon after his death, a joint resolution adopted by the Mississippi Legislature in 1948 established a commission to memorialize Theodore Gilmore Bilbo who “worked unceasingly and often alone to preserve Southern customs and traditions and in so doing sought to preserve the true American way of life…and particularly his efforts to preserve this state and nation by his successful fight against the enactment of national legislation, which would have destroyed the United State of America, if the same had been enacted.”
The resolution calls for the statue to be placed “in a prominent place on the first floor of the new Capitol building.”
Ketchings said he does not know if the resolution is still binding, but opted to keep the statue on the first floor as the resolution mandated.
On the same day that the statue was moved, a bust of Thomas Bailey, who served as governor in the 1940s, was transported from room 113 back to the state Department of Archives and History, which owns the bust.
There are no other statues in the Capitol other than a bust of Lt. Gov. Evelyn Gandy in a second floor Senate committee room. Gandy served in various public offices in the state and is one of the few women in Mississippi elected to statewide office.
All the governors, including Bilbo, have portraits in the Capitol.
The clerk is elected by the House members to oversee the day-to-day operations of the chamber. Ketchings has been the House clerk since Gunn was elected speaker in 2012, becoming the first Republican presiding officer of the chamber since the 1800s. Ketchings previously served as a House member representing Adams County and also served in the Gov. Haley Barbour administration.
For years the statue was displayed prominently in the Capitol rotunda, but according to various accounts in the early 1980s during Capitol renovations then-Gov. William Winter had it moved to room 113.
At the time, room 113 was not used as much as it is today. Multiple House committees meet in the room. In addition, the Legislative Black Caucus and the Republican caucus also meet there.
Bilbo served two terms as governor. After that he was elected in the 1930s to the U.S. Senate where he fought against anti lynching laws and advocated for the deportation of Blacks to Africa.
During a filibuster to try to block Senate passage of an anti lynching bill, Bilbo said, ”If you succeed in the passage of this bill, you will open the floodgates of hell in the South. Raping, mobbing, lynching, race riots, and crime will be increased a thousandfold; and upon your garments and the garments of those who are responsible for the passage of the measure will be the blood of the raped and outraged daughters of Dixie, as well as the blood of the perpetrators of these crimes that the red-blooded Anglo-Saxon White Southern men will not tolerate.”
Why is Sen. Roger Wicker so picky about SCOTUS picks all of a sudden?
Roger Wicker, Mississippi’s senior U.S. senator, made national headlines last week when he criticized President Joe Biden’s promise to nominate an African American woman to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
During a recent interview on Mississippi’s statewide conservative radio network, Wicker said the nominee would be “the beneficiary” of a “quota.”
Wicker offered nary a single word of criticism in 2020 after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when then-President Donald Trump promised to nominate a woman to the nation’s highest court.
Wicker’s comments beg the question: Why is he OK if a president promises to nominate a woman, but he’s not OK when a president promises to nominate a Black woman?
Is the problem, from his perspective, one of race and not of gender?
When asked that question a few days after the radio interview, Wicker said in an e-mailed response: “When Mr. Biden was trailing in the primaries, he made a promise to consider only Black females for the Supreme Court vacancy. Some 76% of Americans disagree with such a position, saying it is best for the president to choose from among all qualified applicants for the job.”
Former President Trump also was in the midst of a presidential campaign — for re-election — when he made the commitment to nominate a woman to replace Ginsburg.
And in 2016, during his first campaign, Trump released a list of potential nominees for the Supreme Court who consisted solely of white people. Wicker also did not have a problem with that list. Was the all-white list a “quota?”
It must not have been in Wicker’s eyes.
Later that summer at the Neshoba County Fair, Wicker offered a full-throated endorsement of Trump and offered no thoughts on the list of solely white people he had offered as potential Supreme Court nominees should he win the presidency, which he did later that year.
In recent years, Wicker, a former state senator and U.S. House member who was elected to the U.S. Senate is 2008, has taken some brave stands — stands that many believed could hurt him politically.
In 2015, Wicker and Thad Cochran, then the state’s senior U.S. senator, on the same day announced their support for changing the state flag, which incorporated the Confederate battle emblem in its design. Their announcements came in the wake of the shooting at a Charleston, S.C., church killing nine African Americans by a white supremist who highlighted the Confederate flag on his social media page.
Wicker and Cochran were among the first Republican politicians in the state to take such a stand.
He said, in part, at the time: “I have not viewed Mississippi’s current state flag as offensive. However, it is clearer and clearer to me that many of my fellow citizens feel differently and that our state flag increasingly portrays a false impression of our state to others.
“In I Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul said he had no personal objection to eating meat sacrificed to idols. But he went on to say that ‘if food is a cause of trouble to my brother, or makes my brother offend, I will give up eating meat.’ The lesson from this passage leads me to conclude that the flag should be removed since it causes offense to so many of my brothers and sisters, creating dissention rather than unity.”
Then in 2021, Wicker was the sole Republican in Mississippi’s congressional delegation to vote to certify the presidential election over the protests of Trump, who argued despite no evidence that he had won. Trump was in essence calling for the overthrow of the U.S. system of government. Wicker would have no part in it.
And more recently, Wicker was the only Mississippi Republican to vote for the landmark Biden infrastructure bill.
“I served with Roger Wicker,” said state Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus, referring to when Wicker was a state senator. “I know he is not a racist. I like Roger, but his comment sounded racist. He is better than that.”
Perhaps talking on the conservative radio show, Wicker felt he needed to try to build his credibility with Trump supporters when he spoke of quotas — to save face politically with hardcore conservatives after some of those brave stands.
On the radio show, Wicker proclaimed the Biden nominee “will probably not get a single Republican vote” in the U.S. Senate.
But speaking days later in response to questions, he took a more moderate tone.
“I will review the president’s nominee on the basis of her qualifications and judicial philosophy,” he said. “Republicans will accord her all the courtesy and respect that was not shown to (Republican judicial nominees) Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Miguel Estrada, and Janice Rogers Brown.”
Where’s Bilbo? Statue of racist former governor missing from Capitol
The statue of one of Mississippi’s most outspoken segregationist politicians, former Gov. Theodore Bilbo, has quietly been removed from public view in the state Capitol.
The bronze, allegedly life-size statue of the diminutive Bilbo, standing with his right hand pointing toward the sky as if delivering one of his fiery speeches, apparently has been missing for the entire legislative session which began Jan. 4, though its disappearance was not noticed by most people until this week.
On Thursday, no one would publicly take credit for the removal. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said he did not know the statue had been removed. A spokesperson for the state Department of Finance and Administration referred questions to House members since it was in a House committee room.
“I don’t have any idea,” House Speaker Philip Gunn said Thursday afternoon. “I heard about it at lunch.” Gunn said he would investigate.
House Pro Tem Jason White, R-West, who chairs the Management Committee that administers House staff and the House’s portion of the state Capitol, also said he did not know about the disappearance.
Rep. Lee Yancey surmised that the removal of the statue was not an easy task.
“He is 5-foot-2 and weighs 1,000 pounds, so he did not go willingly,” Yancey, R-Brandon, said. “I don’t know anything about it.”
“I guess it is like where’s Waldo,” said Rep. Tom Miles, D-Forest. “That is the mystery.”
The controversial Bilbo, who fought off bribery charges to be elected governor twice and later to the U.S. Senate, died in 1947 in the midst of a standoff on whether his fellow senators would seat him after his re-election.
During a filibuster to try to block Senate passage of an anti lynching bills, Bilbo said, ”If you succeed in the passage of this bill, you will open the floodgates of hell in the South. Raping, mobbing, lynching, race riots, and crime will be increased a thousandfold; and upon your garments and the garments of those who are responsible for the passage of the measure will be the blood of the raped and outraged daughters of Dixie, as well as the blood of the perpetrators of these crimes that the red-blooded Anglo-Saxon White Southern men will not tolerate.”
Some said they hope the statue ends up in a museum.
“I haven’t heard anything about it being gone,” said Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens, whose father, Robert, broke barriers in 1967 when he became the first African American elected to the Legislature since the 1800s. “Hopefully, he has been removed to a museum where he belongs.”
While no one would take credit for the removal of the statue, whispers from various sources indicated that it is still in the Capitol.
State Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune, who hails from Bilbo’s home county of Pearl River, said on social media, “It was removed by a House staff member without the authority to do so from what I gather.”
A joint legislative resolution passed in the early 1950s called for the statue to be displayed prominently on the first floor of the Capitol. Clark said his father recalled when the statue was located in the Capitol rotunda.
“It was the first thing you saw when you walked in,” Clark said.
But in the early 1980s, the Capitol was closed for renovation. During that time, the Legislature met in the old Central High School building blocks from the Capitol. When the building was reopened, then-Gov. William Winter — or at least his administration — had moved the statue to room 113, the largest House committee room in the building.
Multiple legislators who had attended committee meetings in room 113 this session said they did not realize it was missing. A bust of Thomas Bailey, who served as governor in the 1940s, is also missing from room 113. But apparently it had been returned to the Department of Archives and History, which owns the bust.
Besides room 113 being used for House committee meetings, the Republican caucus of the House and the Legislative Black Caucus often meet in the space.
“The Black Caucus for years has asked that the statue be removed,” said Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez, the House Democratic leader. “We have never gotten a response.”
Johnson added, “We do not need a statue of Theodore Gilmore Bilbo, or whatever his name is, who said Blacks should not be educated and who reveled in racism in a place of prominence after we have changed the state flag and after all the progress we have made.”
Rep. Zakiya Summers, D-Jackson, said, “Every time I go in room 113, I look at the statue of former Gov. Bilbo, and I say to him as if he can hear me: ‘I am meant to be here and you can’t stop me.’”
Summers nor anyone else can tell him that at the time of this article’s publication.
How Black senators controlled the narrative on a historic day at the Capitol
Note: This analysis first published in Mississippi Today’s weekly legislative newsletter. Subscribe to our free newsletter for exclusive early access to weekly analyses.
Sen. Derrick Simmons sensed his Black colleagues were growing more and more frustrated.
During Jan. 21 debate of a bill that seeks to ban the teaching of critical race theory, white senators were arguing that the existence of systemic racism was “a subjective myth.” They argued that Mississippi children should not be taught about how racism permeates society, that the teaching of racism was similar to the teachings of Karl Marx.
The personal, emotional pleas of Black senators during the debate were being ignored by their powerful white colleagues.
So Simmons, a Black man from the Mississippi Delta who serves as the Senate Democratic leader, hatched an idea. One by one, he approached the desks of his 13 Black colleagues and got their approval.
When the vote for final passage was called, Simmons stood up and requested a roll call vote. That meant instead of a typical voice vote, each senator would be called upon individually to vote yea or nay.
As the Senate clerk began calling the roll, all 14 Black senators stood up and walked off the floor. The decision by Black senators — all Democrats — to walk out ultimately meant nothing for the final outcome since Republicans alone have enough members to pass any bill they want. But the symbolism of their decision ran deep.
In the state with the most sordid and violent history of racism, Black lawmakers employed a principal strategy of the civil rights movement — organizing a walkout — to protest passage of a bill that threatened the teaching of that very history.
It was an unprecedented moment in Mississippi history. In 1993, Black caucus members left before then-Gov. Kirk Fordice delivered his State of the State speech in protest of his policies. But no Capitol observer can recall an instance of members walking out in protest before a vote on a bill.
“The greatness of America is the right to protest for what you think is right,” Simmons told Mississippi Today. “Together we believed that this was the right thing to do, to walk out. So that’s what we did. We decided that nonsense wasn’t worth our votes.”
One great irony: It could’ve been a historic day for such different reasons.
A few minutes after the critical race theory bill passed, the Senate passed what would be the largest pay raise for public school teachers in decades — a critical moment for the nation’s lowest-paid educators.
The teacher pay plan was Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s top legislative priority in 2022, one he and his staff had worked on for months. Hosemann, who did not preside over the debate of either bill on Friday, sent a press release following the eventful day touting passage of that bill.
But Hosemann garnered few accolades about his teacher pay plan on Friday because the Black senators had complete control of the narrative of the day.
They owned the headlines across Mississippi, and television stations across the state led with B-roll of their walkout on primetime news. The walkout went national and international. Simmons appeared Saturday on MSNBC to discuss the implications of the bill and the historic decision by Black lawmakers to skip the vote.
“The people who threw rocks at Ruby Bridges for trying to go to school are now upset that their grandchildren might learn that they threw rocks at Ruby Bridges for trying to go to school,” Simmons said. “To improve Mississippi and America, the truth must be told. White children, Black children, my children, your children should hear the history of slavery, the civil rights movement, the uncontrolled killing of Black Americans. They should hear that history and decide they want to make Mississippi a better place together.”
Simmons continued: “Racism is part of our history. We have to acknowledge it exists, and we have to talk about it.”
Several Black senators went to the well before the final vote, laying out clearly where they stood on the bill and what they thought of its passing.
“There are 14 Black senators in this chamber, and these 14 are telling you that this bill is morally wrong,” said Sen. Barbara Blackmon, D-Canton. “Yet you ignore the thoughts, positions of these 14 members of this body. So it must be something if all 14 of us feel or think that something is wrong with this bill.”
Perhaps the most powerful plea made from the floor was from Sen. David Jordan, a freedom fighter during the movement. The 88-year-old Jordan taught for 33 years in Mississippi public schools — and 20 of them in integrated public schools.
As Jordan put it, many white Mississippians didn’t want him teaching their children. But he taught them the way he’d taught all his students: by providing facts, science and truth.
“It’s sad we’ve wasted so much time on something that’s not necessary,” Jordan said from the floor before the vote. “Mississippi has come a long way together. If anybody has suffered from racism, it’s people of color. We feel that we don’t need this bill. We are satisfied without it; what do you need it for? We have been the victims of it (racism). We cannot continue, Christian friends, stumbling into the future backwards. That’s what this bill does for us. We have more important things to do. We need to show more cohesiveness and progress.”
State of play and what to watch for:
1) The consideration of critical race theory legislation stands to jeopardize relationships between white and Black legislative leaders.
In the Blackest state in America, where a major constituency is often ignored or left behind by policy passed in Jackson, these relationships are a very big deal. Black leaders have continued to project good will toward white leaders following the June 2020 state flag change. After decades of effort from Black lawmakers, white leaders finally chose to work with their Black colleagues to change the flag, the last in the nation featuring the Confederate battle emblem.
“You couldn’t help but to feel good after what we did together in June 2020,” Simmons said. “You had this mindset as a Mississippian that we can move forward in a spirit of being inclusive, not exclusive. And then here we are less than two years later, we allow what goes on in the nation (critical race theory debate) to come into the state to divide us. We had so much hope and optimism after the flag. But on Friday, you almost feel completely deflated.”
2) What will the House do?
The Senate critical race theory bill was relatively mild compared to legislation proposed in other states. And the House is led by Speaker Philip Gunn, who has made his intention to address critical race theory very well known. Will the House bill be more restrictive in terms of what Mississippi teachers can or can’t teach? Having seen the broad public outcry from the Senate vote, will House leaders accept the Senate version and move on to other issues?
Black caucus members in the House have a big head start now to prepare for how they’ll respond to whatever happens. The debate will almost certainly be more dramatic in the House, where pretty much everything is more dramatic.
3) Is this all worth it?
This push to ban critical race theory is rooted in national political rhetoric — a red meat issue pushed by out-of-state interest groups. Republican Sen. Mike McLendon, the bill’s author who defended it on the floor last week, said himself that his constituents pushed the issue based on what they saw on Fox News. McLendon nor any other politician can point to a single instance of critical race theory being taught in the state — a fact confirmed by state education officials.
White Republicans are pushing this bill knowing definitively that it will hurt their relationships with Black colleagues and their Black constituents. That harm cuts deep, and it will linger for a long time. In November 2023, when those Republican lawmakers are running for reelection, will their constituents remember or even care about this hot-button issue that’s gotten play on Fox News in recent weeks?
4) Mississippi teachers are, once again, caught in the middle of a major political fight at the Capitol.
Another great irony of all this is white legislative leaders are simultaneously pushing massive pay raise proposals for teachers while effectively telling them what they can and cannot teach. That reality could stand to further sow distrust of lawmakers among educators, who already deeply distrust lawmakers.
There are more than 30,000 educators (plus their families and loved ones) in Mississippi. That’s a major voting bloc that could remember all this when legislative and statewide elections come up in 2023.
Every Black Mississippi senator walked out as white colleagues voted to ban critical race theory
Every Black Mississippi senator walked out of the chamber Friday, choosing not to vote on a bill that sponsors said would prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in the state’s public schools and colleges and universities.
The historic, unprecedented walkout came over a vote on the academic theory that state education officials and Republican lawmakers acknowledge is not even taught in Mississippi. Republicans hold supermajority control of the Senate, meaning they can pass any bill without a single Democratic vote.
“We walked out as a means to show a visible protest to these proceedings,” state Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, said of the unprecedented action.
In 1993, Black caucus members left before then-Gov. Kirk Fordice delivered his State of the State speech in protest of his policies. But no Capitol observer could recall an instance of members leaving en mass in protest before a vote on a bill.
“We felt like it was a bill that was not deserving of our vote,” said Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville. “We have so many issues in the state that need to be addressed. We did not need to spend time on this.
“Even the author of the bill (Michael McLendon, R-Hernando) said this was not occurring in Mississippi,” Simmons continued.
McLendon, who handled the bill during more than 90 minutes of debate on the Senate floor, did concede that he could not point to an instance of critical race theory being taught in Mississippi.
He said he heard from many of his constituents who had learned of critical race theory “on the national news” and wanted to ensure it would not be taught in Mississippi.
McLendon said all his bill does is “prohibit a child or a student from being told they are inferior or superior to another.”
He said the bill would not prevent the teaching of history and of multiple instances of racism, segregation and violence that have occurred against African Americans and other minorities.
One flashpoint in the debate on Friday is that members, based on their life history, had differing definitions of critical race theory.
In general, critical race theory is an academic discipline that explores the impact of racism on society. But many in the conservative media have said critical race theory attempts to teach white students they are inferior to minority students.
Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, said critical race theory does not deal in facts, but instead in subjective theory. He said facts should be taught in public schools.
“Our kids need objective facts and not subjective notions of theory,” McDaniel said.
Black members said it was not supposition that systemic racism existed in America and still does in health care, the criminal justice system and in many other areas.
“We are the only state in the country that does not have a fair housing law,” Horhn said.
Sen. Barbara Blackmon, D-Canton, asked members why they would not listen to the concerns of the Black senators if all 14 of them were expressing doubts about the legislation. Still, no white Republican voted against the bill. A few did not vote. The only two white senators to vote against the bill were Democrats David Blount of Jackson and Hob Bryan of Amory.
“It is sad we are wasting so much time on something that is not even needed,” said Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, a veteran of the Civil Rights movement and son of a sharecropper.
Jordan, a former public school teacher, added, “If anybody is suffering from racism it is people of color and we feel we don’t need this bill … We are satisfied without it. What do you need it for? We have been the victims of it.”
The fact that the Senate leadership took up the bill on a Friday was surprising. Often, legislative leaders avoid debates on controversial topics on Friday as they prepare to return home for the weekend.
Simmons said African American members did not know until Friday morning that Education Chair Dennis DeBar was taking up the controversial bill. They expressed concern that the bill erases the good will created in 2020 when the Legislature voted to remove the state flag that contained the Confederate battle symbol as a prominent part of its design.
“We cannot continue to stumble into the future backwards,” Jordan said. “That is what this bill does.”
Senate passes teacher raise
The state Senate on Friday with no debate unanimously passed a $210-million teacher pay raise, but the entire Black Caucus did not vote because its members walked out in protest of a critical race theory bill passed earlier.
Senate Bill 2444 would provide an average teacher salary increase of $4,700 over two years and restructure the way teachers are paid to provide higher salaries in the long term.
With the state budget flush largely from federal government pandemic spending, the state Senate and House now have competing teacher pay raise bills. Either would be one of the largest teacher pay raises in state history, with the House proposal at $219 million, providing raises of $4,000 to $6,000 a year.
“This will hopefully incentivize people to go into the teaching field and incentivize those already teaching to stay and to stay in Mississippi,” said Senate Education Chairman Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville. He said teachers and experts have called for lawmakers to “remove some of the stagnation” in teacher salaries. The House plan would provide sizeable pay increases for teachers at five-year intervals.
After DeBar introduced the bill on Friday, Sen. Philip Moran, R-Kiln, successfully offered a motion to prohibit debate and vote immediately. Senate Bill 2444 then passed unanimously, 35-0, but with 14 members of the Senate’s Black Caucus having left before the bill was taken up.
Mississippi’s teacher pay by several metrics is the lowest in the nation and the state has been grappling with a teacher shortage. Nationally, nearly 50% of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.
Both legislative proposals aim to increase starting teachers’ salaries, and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Gov. Tate Reeves have all promised “significant” teacher raises. Reeves proposed a smaller, $3,300 increase over two years.
On Friday, Hosemann in a statement said: “Teachers open the gates of the minds of our future. I am thankful for the work of Chairman DeBar in listening to teachers to devise a pay system that begins the long necessary journey to monetarily rewarding their efforts.”
The Senate plan would bring the starting salary for teachers up to $40,000 and includes raises of $1,325 to $1,624 at five-year intervals as teachers gain more experience. The House plan includes a starting salary of $43,000 and a $2,000 raise for teacher assistants. The House plan would boost starting teacher pay above the Southeastern and national averages.
Each chamber has passed its own measure, sending it to the other. Most likely, a combination of the two will ultimately pass in the 2022 legislative session.
Inside Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s relationship
Note: This analysis first published in Mississippi Today’s weekly legislative newsletter. Subscribe to our free newsletter below for exclusive early access to weekly analyses.
A politician with more power than anyone in the state can have what he thinks is a good policy idea. But without decent relationships with other power brokers in Jackson, the idea will never survive the legislative gauntlet.
It takes savvy and skill to move policy through the Capitol, but the most important factor is relationships. The best ones in Jackson are built over time, during hard-fought battles and over late-night steak dinners. The worst ones jeopardize major legislative proposals and kill chances to make Mississippi a better place.
Any given legislative session, the relationship between a speaker and lieutenant governor is the most important in Mississippi politics. Some of the most transformative legislation this state has seen was passed because these two leaders were on the same page.
On the other hand, some of the most epic political fights in the state’s history have occurred between these two leaders. Party affiliation and the will of voters often mean nothing in this relationship; instead, large egos and defiant personalities often bubble to the surface.
We’ve now had two years to see how Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann work together. But as major policy proposals loom over the potentially historic 2022 legislative session, where does their relationship stand today?
Here’s what several politicos and lawmakers said about it.
This week, Philip Gunn enters his 11th year as speaker — the third-longest tenured Speaker of the House in Mississippi’s history. Delbert Hosemann is still a new lieutenant governor, though his first two years have certainly been formative.
To this point, Gunn’s experience has clearly given him the upper hand at the Capitol. He is decisive and he’s built strong coalitions. Gunn and his top lieutenants in the House have built relationships with Democratic and Black Caucus leaders and even Senate leaders over many years. Some of those Senate relationships may even trump the ones that they have with Hosemann, their own presiding officer. Gunn has a caucus of House uber-conservatives who dislike him, but their bloc is small and ineffectual.
Hosemann, meanwhile, has appeared passive and indecisive at times during his first two years. He and his staff are still learning how the building works, and legislators of all parties on both sides of the building have picked up on that. He also has a handful of Republican senators who have remained close with Gov. Tate Reeves, who preceded Hosemann as lieutenant governor. Several times, that reality has created tension and uncertainty within the Senate Republican caucus about key Hosemann proposals.
There has been some tension between Gunn and Hosemann mostly behind closed doors, but nothing that proved detrimental to major policy proposals. The two meet and talk regularly, having become especially close during 2021. Sources from both sides say their relationship entering the 2022 session is as good as it’s ever been.
But several politicos are on the lookout for some erosion of their relationship this session.
Gunn’s top agenda item this session is eliminating the personal income tax, which accounts for about one-third of the state’s general fund revenue. Hosemann has never been a big fan of this proposal for several reasons, though he has been having regular talks with the speaker about how it could work.
Gunn wants to raise some other taxes to offset the revenue holes this tax cut would leave, but sources say Hosemann remains skeptical about whether this tax cut during the rare time Mississippi is flush with cash is the best long-term move for the state. If Gunn doesn’t get cooperation from Hosemann on the tax cut, how will that affect many of Hosemann’s priorities? Some in the Capitol fear broad policy gridlock between the House and Senate if the two can’t agree on some variation of Gunn’s income tax cut proposal.
In the upper chamber, Hosemann has made his top priority the spending of Mississippi’s historic surplus in revenues, bolstered by federal stimulus cash. He’s toured the state in recent months — visiting more than 50 of the state’s 82 counties — talking to local leaders about how lawmakers should spend their $1.8 billion pot of American Rescue Plan Act funds.
Hosemann wants to take the best ideas of local government leaders and match the funding with American Rescue Act Plan funds that the state received. Additionally, he’s privately told state agency heads and other government leaders that he can get their wish-lists funded. He’s done all of this, seemingly, without Gunn’s blessing.
Gunn seems to be fine slow rolling the federal spending. He has said publicly that lawmakers have several years to spend the funds, so there’s no need to rush. That hasn’t seemed to sit well with Hosemann, who believes the financial need across the state is great and the time to spend the funds is now.
There are many other examples of the two leaders being seemingly out of sync on policy ideas, but none are bigger than these two — the top priorities for both. And given how much both leaders have worked on and publicly touted them, there might not be much room for compromise on either plan.
The consensus among political observers is that if we look back on the 2022 session and see that Gunn and Hosemann’s relationship began to unravel, these are the two issues that we’ll have to examine most closely.
Can Brandon Presley be the statewide winner Democrats can’t seem to find?
Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley cited the red letters in the Bible (those of Jesus) as he spoke of the need to use some of the billions in Mississippi’s federal funds to ensure all Mississippians have access to high speed internet and safe public water systems.
Presley, speaking this week in Jackson, cited studies indicating people suffering from addictions during the COVID-19 pandemic had a much better chance to succeed if they could access online counseling.
Presley said he is not saying a good internet connection will end the problem of addiction, “but I am saying if we believe the red letters in the good book, there ought to be enough of us to say we care about putting those tools in our people’s hands…
“We have to make sure as Mississippians we continue to love and care for the unborn, but care also for the born and those who are struggling in life.”
Presley can relate to the average Mississippian, especially rural residents, like few modern politicians. His father was murdered when he was young, and he’s spoken of periods when his family didn’t have water or electricity because his mother couldn’t afford to pay the bills.
He can speak in everyday terms about complicated public utility regulatory issues he deals with as a Public Service commissioner and how those issues impact people.
Because of those communication skills and his ability to easily win what is likely the most Republican of the three Public Service Commission districts, Presley is often touted as something the Mississippi Democratic Party is short of: an attractive statewide candidate.
In 2019, four-term Attorney General Jim Hood was believed to be that person. Yet he could garner only 47% of the vote in losing to Republican Tate Reeves.
“I think Brandon could be a good candidate,” said former state House Democratic leader David Baria, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2018. “But I thought Jim Hood was a good candidate. I’ve been chasing for some time what Democrat could win statewide.”
Presley has toyed with running for a statewide post in the past, but has ultimately returned to the safety of re-election to the Public Service Commission. There will be pressure in 2023 for him to be the Democrat to step forward to challenge the Republican nominee for governor — whether it be Reeves or someone else.
In recent years, some white statewide candidates have struggled to earn the trust and support of Black Mississippians, who make up more than two-thirds of the Democratic Party’s voter base. Presley, however, has worked intentionally for years to build relationships among Black leaders from the local to federal levels.
State Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville, said he believes Presley would have strong support from members of the Legislative Black Caucus if he ran for statewide office.
“If Brandon does run for governor, he would be good. He has the heart, the concerns and compassion for the people of Mississippi. He wants people to have access to opportunities,” Hines said.
In the fall of 2003, Presley, then a 25-year-old mayor, met at the Tupelo airport with Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, his campaign staffers and the small group of reporters covering Musgrove’s ultimately unsuccessful re-election bid.
Presley served as one of the hosts as Musgrove campaigned in various locations in northeast Mississippi.
The political novice, in his second year as mayor of Nettleton, which straddles the Lee and Monroe counties border, regaled Musgrove’s staffers and reporters as he would mimic Musgrove’s high-pitched voice and then the deep, slow southern drawl of Musgrove’s Republican opponent Haley Barbour.
But Presley also would provide political insight saying the election was pivotal as it would determine political control of the state for years to come. He said a Musgrove defeat would spell the end of the line for a long time for Democrats as a ruling party in Mississippi.
The 25-year-old was prophetic. Republicans now control all aspects of state government, holding all eight statewide elected posts and maintaining supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature. On the state level, there is nothing that Republicans do not control.
Presley, now 233 pounds lighter, no longer does impersonations, at least not in public. On occasion he has displayed a respectable singing voice. After all, he is related to another northeast Mississippi native, Elvis Presley.
“I’m a Merle Haggard Democrat,” Presley has joked.
He also is non-committal when asked about his political future.
”That log will shake itself out between now and election year,” Presley said recently on Mississippi Today’s The Other side podcast.
In the coming months, perhaps when annual campaign finance reports are filed in January, Presley’s political future could become clearer — as well as whether he might be aiming to reverse that political trend he predicted would happen way back in 2003.