The Legislature passed an incentive package last week for two large economic development projects coming to Mississippi – Continental Tire in Hinds County and Topship in Harrison County – with a total investment of close to $1.5 billion and the addition of 3,500 jobs. Gov. Phil Bryant called it the biggest day in state economic development history.
At the end of the day, however, only six legislators voted against the package – Rep. Bill Shirley (R), Rep. Joel Bomgar (R), Rep. Steve Horne (R), Sen. John Polk (R), Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), and Sen. Deborah Dawkins (D).
What has occurred since then on social media is quite telling from a political perspective.
If you follow the interwebs and know the frequent Facebook and Twitter commenters and their affection for certain politicians you can quickly see the rift that is developing.
State Sen. Chris McDaniel wrote this on his Facebook page on Friday afternoon, which drew the expected “Thank you, Chris,” sugarcoated fawning comments:
“This afternoon, the press has been calling to inquire as to why I voted against the large economic package passed yesterday. Although I could write numerous paragraphs (both philosophical and practical) on the many reasons I chose not to support the legislation, my short statement on the vote may be found below:
‘First, I didn’t receive a copy of the 200-page bill until this morning of the vote. It would have been reckless to support the bill without time to read and research it. Second, not only did the numbers not seem fair to the taxpayers, the corporate welfare aspect of the legislation caused me great concern. Instead of handouts to billion dollar corporations, Mississippi should assist its small business owners by creating a free and fair environment (free market) which allows for economic growth. Eliminating the inventory tax, franchise tax and corporate income tax would be a good start.'”
Of course, McDaniel did not mention the MDA legislative briefing held the day before.
State Sen. Angela Hill then posted this on her Facebook Saturday morning, which drew quite a bit of conversation:
“Politicians and their groupies whose persona is dedicated to grandstanding on social media may render themselves inconsequential in the real scheme of things…it takes legitimate participation in the process to improve our condition.”
Sen. Hill, to her credit, defended her special session vote even in the face of heated criticism and obvious digs at her ties to McDaniel.
Rev. Ben James, a familiar name around the state Senate as chaplain, seemed to revel in mixing his spiritual guidance in the Capitol with political guidance in a long retort to Hill:
“Senator, I don’t know what politician you are referring to in this post… My cousin Senator Chris McDaniel who has the largest number of folks in our state following him and supporting his positions on social media. He won the largest percentage for re election of all state senators nearly 90 percent in his district. He stands for his principles and never kisses the brass ring to go along to get along with the powers that be. His principled stands he outlines fully on social media and Russ Latino and Chris were in the same page this week like John Polk, Joel Bomgar and many others like me who are tax paying citizens and small business owners much overlooked in our businesses… As Chris said you all saw this huge bill for the first time the morning of the vote. Joey Fillingane my senator the chair of finance told Billy Hudson he had only read 5 percent of the bill right before presenting it in finance and on the floor and voting for 263 million dollar tax giveaway and new state debt In a time of budget constraints and cuts discussing a gas tax hike for all of us for roads and bridges in Ms. You are our dear friend we appreciate your principled conservative stands on issues we pray for you daily!! But I will tell you my cousin Chris McDaniel is not grandstanding!!! God Bless.”
Hill challenged the notion that legislators didn’t have time to read the bill and that the bill was reckless, saying, “Only 5% of the bill was relevant… [a majority was] Already existing law.”
Hill explained in another reply, “…the bill was 169 pages with 98% of that old code section brought forward. Not sure about the House, but the Senate had time to read the few new sections in a 2.5 hr long finance committee meeting. The 2 projects should have been separated, but that’s not how we got them. We could have been forced to pay back Katrina money larger thanthis state project commitment. It all comes out of the same pot. Some of us try to make informed decisions. It was a calculator issue to me.”
Former state senator Melanie Sojourner chimed in as well regarding the special session vote, saying, “I think several have agreed this vote was bad long term policy. If that is true and it is, then voting yes is not a short term fix… Giving in on what appears to be a short term fix just prolongs the fact that we’ll never get long term solutions.”
State Senators Sean Tindell and Michael Watson came to Hill’s defense.
Sen. Tindell noted, “It’s about jobs. The reality is we are competing with other states when these packages are offered. Unless you live in bubble it’s clear to see we don’t have as many job opportunities as our southern neighbors. So when my children head out on their own I don’t want the question to be how can they afford stay in Mississippi. Instead it needs to be why would they leave? We need jobs, jobs and more jobs.”
Sen. Watson not only defended his vote for the economic development projects on Hill’s page, but posted on his own Facebook page a critique of Americans for Prosperity, a group led in state by Russ Latino, who came out strong against the package and on this issue has been closely linked to McDaniel (evidenced by Rev. James’ comments above):
“While I have great respect for Americans for Prosperity and the work they do, I disagree with the way they have characterized the bond bill passed in the legislature this week. Koch Industries (AFP’s financial backers) has taken advantage of, and profited from, many incentive programs throughout the years. One of their recent projects was a steel mill, which Mississippi worked hard to recruit, that chose to locate in Arkansas due in part to $125 million in bonded incentives and $200 million in tax credits from that state. A spokesman for Koch Industries echoed my sentiments exactly on the subject, when he said, “Koch Industries will not put ourselves and our employees at a competitive disadvantage in the current marketplace.” Incentive programs are the reality of the current marketplace, and I choose not to put Mississippians at a competitive disadvantage because the marketplace is less than ideal.”
AFP’s Russ Latino challenged Watson’s assertion, saying, “Respectfully, Koch Industries does not financially support AFP Mississippi and these are not the same thing. A private business recognizing that they are being put at a disadvantage because of subsidies provided to competitors and a state electing to give taxpayer dollars is not the same thing. We haven’t named a single legislator, but have stood on basic free market principles. If you think we have mischaracterized a fact related to the deal, I’m happy to discuss it.”
Mississippi Libertarian leader Danny Bedwell, watching all of this back and forth, and adding fuel to the fire where he could, summed up all of this squabbling and debate quite nicely with a special invitation:
“I ask Senator Chris McDaniel, Senator Melanie Sojourner, and Representative Joel Bomgar to give up their quest to straighten out the Republican Party, and to join the Libertarian Party. The establishment GOP has made it clear that they do not value your counsel. The only time you receive praise from them, is when you vote the way the establishment wants you to vote. You’re welcome in the Libertarian Party, which is the only truly limited government party in Mississippi. You know this to be true.”
It’s certainly instructive to see the forces that are pushing and pulling on public policy in Mississippi. Much of that is certainly happening on social media, and it all contributes to the record that we’re tracking here at Y’all Politics.