By Alan Lange
Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI, was once famously quoted, upon being alerted that the peasants had no bread, as saying “let them eat cake” . The phrase has always symbolized the insensitivity and tone deafness of the rich to the needs of the poor.
In an MPB interview this week after the School Choice rally at the Capitol, Rep. Jay Hughes amazing had his own, “let them eat cake” moment when he said, “Choose where you live. That’s how you pick a school system and if not then make your local school better. Be a part of the solution, not leaving and being a part of the problem.”
Hughes represents Oxford, which by all accounts, has an outstanding school system (although even the good school systems have bumps in the road). But for a guy who may reportedly be asking hundreds of thousands of non-Oxonians in Mississippi for their votes in 2019, many who do not look like him or share his privilege, the callousness of his remarks are pretty staggering.
My honest first reaction was that it was a misprint. However, when I reached out to Hughes to verify that he said it and he meant it, he replied, “A key point I tried to make is that school choice is not really a choice for all. Rather, it is a choice for few. Choice does not come with transportation, which would exclude tens of thousands of students who have no way to get to school without a bus. Do the schools get to choose who to accept? If so, that isn’t really choice for the families. Also, many school districts are busting at the seams. If hundreds of students come to your full school district, do you have to use local dollars to build bigger schools to accommodate the students from other counties? Or, do you draw a line, and if so, when and who gets to choose.“
Reaction to Hughes’s comments quickly poured into us at Y’all Politics.
Americans for Prosperity Head Russ Latino said, “Telling families who want better for their children to just move reveals a mind-blowing and elitist disconnect from the real world. In the real world, real people who struggle to make ends meet, can’t just load up and move. That’s why we’re fighting for those families to have more options.”
Empower Mississippi’s Grant Callen was equally as incredulous. “That’s the most elitist, tone-deaf, comment I’ve ever heard. Families can’t just move tomorrow if their child needs a better educational setting today. Moving to neighborhoods with better district schools is often impossible for low-income families. And why should families have to leave their home just to find the right school.”
There are tens of thousands of families in Mississippi trapped in failing school districts. They may be single parent families. They may own their home, but be unable to sell. They may be geographically restricted by their job or by the needs of caring for families. They may not have time to go to PTA meetings because they’re too busy making ends meet and caring for their families.
But the most glaring thing about this comment is the silence in the Mississippi media about it. Mark my words, if Phil Bryant, Tate Reeves or Philip Gunn had uttered the same words, the Capitol Press Corps would have descended into an apoplectic fit. It would have been above the fold in every newspaper in the state and they’d be excoriated on the op-ed pages.
Hughes likely won’t pay any sort of short-term political price because the larger media in Mississippi nor those in his own party won’t hold him to account. But my sense is that he’ll likely see these words again in an election campaign in 2019.