If 2020 taught us anything in Mississippi it was that when Republicans come together and lead, big things can happen in the Magnolia State.
We saw that with the change in the state flag.
Both chambers of the Legislature, led by Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann and Speaker Philip Gunn, determined it was time to act on the state flag. Hosemann and Gunn came together, as did their chambers, to craft legislation that achieved a goal many Mississippians have long sought but failed to get across the finish line. It took bipartisan action, unified from the private sector to the state Capitol, to make the historic change.
Republicans advocated for the change. Republicans drafted the legislation. Republicans led the debate in their chambers. Republican majorities passed the measure. Voters rallied support at the ballot box and in their communities. And a Republican Governor signed it into law.
But there has been something missing since voters chose to put Republicans fully in charge of state government in the 2019 elections, handing the GOP the keys to all eight statewide offices, supermajorities in both the state House and Senate, and the majorities in the two regional commissions. Voters did not bargain for the functional unwillingness and/or inability for the three top leaders in the state Governor Tate Reeves, Lt. Gov, Hosemann and Speaker Gunn – to get along on a basic level.
It just does not seem to be a high hurdle for those three people to get in a room alone – without handlers, staffers or lieutenants – prior to the legislative session (and throughout the session), pick out the two or three top priorities that absolutely have to get done, and effectively orchestrate their passage.
Instead, bills or initiatives are lobbed haphazardly from one area of influence onto another, becoming a public race for everyone to demonstrate their conservative bona fides. Mississippians have now seen it on display, from the fight over the COVID relief funds to the hold out of funding for the Department of Marine Resources to the lawsuit filed by Speaker Gunn against Governor Reeves over his veto, and so on.
The House introduced income tax phase out plan passed this week is yet another example of why Republicans should talk with each other and not at each other.
Given the rollout by the House, if the Senate does not act on the measure as sent to them, House Republicans promoting the income tax bill will openly denigrate their commitment to eliminating the tax. Republican Senators, on the other hand, will shoot back across the Capitol saying the House is sending them over 20 tax increases with no reduction in spending all for the political expediency of capturing the narrative that they are cutting taxes. All of this while the Republican Governor watches and reminds his party members of their commitment to voters, likely pondering a veto if the bill reaches his desk with net tax hikes.
The “who is the most Republican” fight has already begun. It could have been easily avoided – three months ago.
“Everybody who reads that bill and understands that bill is for that bill,” Gunn said. “The only people who are against the bill…are those who have a political agenda or those who have a self-serving interest at hand.”
Governor Reeves offered his thoughts earlier this week.
“I, personally, support tax cuts, not tax swaps or tax transfers or tax increases and so as we move through the process that’s what we’re going to be focused on is finding a way to get to a net tax cut for Mississippi taxpayers,” Reeves said.
Reeves cautioned his fellow Republicans who were considering these proposals, taking time to reiterate the tax philosophy that generally guides conservative policymakers.
“I certainly wouldn’t want to be a Republican that votes to significantly increase taxes for certain segments of the general public,” the Governor said.
State Senators Brice Wiggins and Chris McDaniel spoke with Y’all Politics this week and expressed similar concerns about the House plan. Both questioned the size of the bill (some 300 pages) given the late hour in the 2021 session and the tax swaps that are throughout the measure instead of a standalone income tax phase out.
Wiggins even noted that the House had “hijacked” the Senate’s teacher pay raise by putting that provision in this income tax bill rather than taking it up on its own merits as sent over.
Again, it does not have to be this way.
The top three Republicans leaders and lawmakers in general are not going to agree on everything, but on “the big stuff” they owe it to voters and activists that put them in these enviable political positions to get that big stuff done. Then, they can fight and let the chips fall where they may on the little stuff.
But a fight is now inevitable.
Democrats and special interests groups are going to pile on and the liberal media that dislikes all three leaders are going to have a field day. Passage of what should be impactful legislation becomes difficult, bloody and arguably, unlikely.
No one gets off blameless here.
These elected leaders have four legislative sessions that voters grant them. They have nearly burned through two. This should be a teachable moment for the state’s top leaders so they can come back in 2022 (the last one before an election year) and get it right.
That is what Mississippians expect and deserve.