By: Sid Salter
The so-called “jungle primary” to choose a successor to retired Republican Mississippi U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran took a truly strange turn in downtown Oxford last week.
That Nov. 6 U.S. Senate special election race pits appointed Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven against former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Espy of Madison, Gulf Coast municipal official and military veteran Democrat Tobey Bartee, and flamboyant Republican State Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville. Unless one candidate gets a 50 percent plus one majority on Nov. 6, a runoff election looms for the top two candidates on Nov. 27.
When asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” television talk show last Friday by Moss Point native and Princeton University Religion and African-American Studies Professor Eddie Glaude Jr. about his public record on several racially-sensitive issues and what he would say to black voters who had concerns about that record, McDaniel gave a stunning answer – even for him.
Citing the fact that 38 percent of Mississippians are black, Glaude asked: “How do you convince black folks in this state that you’re not a danger to them?”
State Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, replied: “I’m gonna ask them, I’m gonna ask them after 100 years, after 100 years of relying on big government to save you, where are you today? After 100 years of begging for federal government scraps, where are you today? We’ve been dead last for 100 years.”
The audience in Oxford reacted viscerally to McDaniel’s remarks. He was loudly booed by the show’s audience in the locale of his alma mater.
McDaniel attempted a reset: “I mean the State of Mississippi. I’m talking about the State of Mississippi. We’ve been dead last for 100 years. And what happens is, if we keep dependent on that economic model, we’re always going to stay last.”
Later, McDaniel would defend the gaffe by blaming the news media, his Republican political opponents, and argue that he meant to talk about the impact of free markets on the economy. Trouble is, McDaniel didn’t mention free markets during his exchange with Glaude.
In a Tweet, GOP Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant slammed McDaniel’s on-air remarks: “I condemn and reject in the strongest possible terms Chris McDaniel’s characterization of African-Americans as beggars. This does not reflect the beliefs of the Mississippi Republican Party or the average Mississippian.”
I haven’t the foggiest idea what Sen. McDaniel “meant” to say, thought he said, or wished he said on the MSNBC broadcast. All I could interpret was what was seen and heard coming out of his mouth.
Regardless, McDaniel’s “begging for scraps” gambit ignores hard economic reality in Mississippi. Mississippi is indeed one of the U.S. states most dependent on federal transfer payments and much of it is directly related to Mississippi’s deep and lingering poverty. Only West Virginia and New Mexico are more dependent on federal dollars than Mississippi.
Imagine Mississippi without the SNAP or food stamp program and imagine Mississippi without Medicaid or CHIP to offset public health care costs. In the state with the lowest per capita income, who picks up the tab for the elderly, the sick, and the hungry? It certainly won’t be state or local governments here. Mississippi just enacted massive tax cuts that have yet to reach full impact.
“Begging for scraps?” Federal dollars make up 42.1 percent of all state revenue in Mississippi and federal transfer payment account for 26.3 percent of all personal income in the state. Take that money out of the state’s economy and the only alternative is crippling state and local tax hikes.
“Scraps?” Frankly, the racial implications of that blithe McDaniel comment isn’t as concerning as the fuzzy math.