Let’s be intellectually honest.
There is rarely, if ever, a need to keep a signed contract involving public funds private, no matter if it is dealing with reforming education or cleaning the men’s room at the Capitol. The negotiation process leading up to the contract, however, is a different story, and I’d argue most logical Mississippians involved with business or government on any level would understand that.
But the vitriol and accusations swirling around the EdBuild contract is more politics than policy, more show than want of transparency. The hypocrisy abounds from all sides.
The issue in the Legislature is not that they are lying about things, as when Attorney General Jim Hood (D) intentionally lied to the public about a settlement he said didn’t exist when it did. It’s that legislators have just been unwilling to share information, and it’s not just as of late. It’s a precedent of the institution itself.
The Republican leadership in the Mississippi Legislature should understand they are held to a higher standard by their constituents, their own party members, the media and even by Democrats. They must seek to be above reproach at every turn.
Unlike those in the Democrat Party, Republican elected officials feel free to question the leadership as do rank and file Republicans. Intraparty disagreement has become the norm in the GOP. When you add that to the left leaning media and Democrats waiting to pounce, it is an environment ever ready for turmoil unless every I is dotted and T is crossed.
Unlike Democrats, Republicans do not get a pass on any level, and that’s OK. But GOP leaders must go into every debate, every hearing, every issue understanding this truth, especially in Mississippi.
Had a Democrat controlled Mississippi Legislature entered into a contract with a firm to rewrite the funding formula for the state’s public schools, yes, some Republicans would have tried to make an issue of it, calling for the details to be released, but it is highly unlikely a fellow Democrat Attorney General and the state media would have taken such a slant against the traditional legislative practice of keeping the contract private. It may have received a headline or two but it would have largely gone unnoticed and out of the mainstream discussion in short order.
However, since Republicans are now in charge and knowing that one of their talking points has largely been transparency, and coupled with the heated 2015 Initiative 42 fight, any and all discussions involving state contracts, especially the Holy Grail of Politics in Mississippi (education funding), is going to draw increased scrutiny, accusations and questions, even if the GOP leadership follows practices established well before their time and even if the hypocrisy is lost on the critics.
And for AG Hood to try and make himself out to be the arbiter of transparency given his past, that’s quite bold. But hey, 2009 was so yesterday.
Truth is that the average Republican today is skeptical of any government action and Democrats are seeking any opportunity to expose and take advantage of a chink in the GOP armor.
Understanding this, the Republican Legislative leadership must always side on over-communicating, over-delivering, and over-explaining even when they think it unnecessary. They cannot follow the accepted script from the past. They must write a new script because what is expected of them is unlike anything their predecessors faced.