BOBBY HARRISON: Teacher pay raise politics gets complicated for House

House Speaker Philip Gunn’s decision unexpectedly to jump out front in support of a teacher pay raise this past December was arguably both good policy and good politics.

It appeared to be a proposal that was nothing but a win-win for Gunn and the House leadership.

After all, Mississippi is beginning, again, to fall further behind the nation, and more importantly neighboring states, in teacher pay at a time when the state’s political leadership is saying it wants to attract the best and brightest to the classroom. From a policy standpoint, it made sense to increase teacher pay not only to keep teachers from leaving the field, but also to lure the universities’ best students to the profession.

From a political standpoint, it would be much easier in 2015 for the Republicans to maintain the House majority they won in the 2011 election cycle if teachers – a voting bloc Democrats often count on – are happy with a pay raise and less inclined to aggressively oppose Republicans.

And Gunn needed to do something to offset the House passing over the leadership’s objections a 2013 proposal offered by Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, to give teachers a $5,000 pay raise. That proposal was killed later in the session in the budgeting process by legislative leaders.

So, in a nutshell, a teacher pay raise proposal seemed like a sure winner for Gunn, R-Clinton, and his Republican majority. It was a proposal that was both good policy and good politics.

But at some point along the way, in closed-door meetings, as Gunn and his leadership team developed the proposal, they maybe got a little too cute for their own good.

Daily Journal
3/19/14