State Rep. Brandon Jones gives Democratic Party response to Barbour’s State of State

Rep. Brandon Jones: Good evening. I’m Rep. Brandon Jones of Jackson County, vice chairman of the Mississippi House of Representative’s Insurance Committee. It is my honor and privilege to speak to you tonight.

Nearly four years ago, my home and my hometown were devastated by a hurricane of unprecedented fury. That experience, which I share with countless others along our Gulf Coast, challenged us to our very core.

Now, at the opening of the 2009 legislative session, our country and our state face a different storm – one born of greed on Wall Street. This man-made storm has left its mark on every town and on every street corner. It is a storm that presents us all with new and complex challenges.

The power of this economic flood is such that in the last 60 days nearly one-and-a-half million Americans have lost their jobs. Too many of those jobs have been right here in Mississippi.

Across our state, men and women are out of work; families are struggling to keep their homes; and kitchen tables are becoming cluttered with bills that are becoming more and more difficult to pay. These are difficult times, and we all face difficult choices.

I know that none of this is news to you tonight. Our job as elected officials requires us to do more than merely tell you how bad things are. You can watch the nightly news for that, or simply take a look at your family budget.

As Mississippians, you have every right to expect your elected leaders to organize and lead a new recovery effort. As we blaze this new way forward, we must not allow the voices of division to cause us to forget that there is far more that unites us than divides us.

The stakes are simply too high.

Now, more than ever, we must look beyond narrow self interests to find solutions to our problems. Moving Mississippi forward will require a commitment to good ideas without regard for which party will get the credit.

That is why we in the Mississippi Democratic Party invite our governor, our counterparts in the Legislature and our nation’s leadership in Washington to work with us to stimulate our economy and create jobs. These times require no less than our collective commitment to Mississippi’s future.

We have faced tough times before and emerged stronger. As a resident of the Gulf Coast, I saw first-hand the ways that Mississippians respond when their backs are against the wall. By no means is that recovery complete. We will always bear the scars of that day when Hurricane Katrina came ashore.

But there are lessons to be learned from that dark time about the iron will and unbending generosity of the people of Mississippi. As the winds and rains receded, people from across this state joined together to rebuild families, homes and lives. That bleak moment in our state’s history gave us so much to be proud of and gave us reason to be hopeful even in times of sorrow.

Now, as the winds and rains of economic uncertainty beat at doors across our state, we can take heart in knowing that Mississippians know something about hard times and that we will weather this storm.

But, as William Faulkner taught us, we must not be satisfied to simply endure, we must prevail. This means renewing our commitment to the priorities that will help us to emerge from these tough economic times even better than before.

Like you, our state government is faced with great challenges and tough choices. There is no question that important programs like Medicaid will again be stretched to the breaking point. Our already-tight budget has been cut, and now we are being told that it will be cut again.

In these difficult times, we must vigilantly advance an agenda that will not only carry us through this present crisis but will also usher in a future full of opportunity and prosperity for all Mississippians.

First, we must rebuild Mississippi’s infrastructure.

Being good stewards of our roads, highways, bridges, ports, airports and train systems will ensure safety, make us more competitive and bring much needed jobs to our state. Last week in Simpson County, a man was nearly killed when a bridge failed, sending him and his truck into a creek. Incidents like this one underscore the need for reinforcement and completion of our state’s roadways and bridges.

Our party believes it is crucial that we invest in infrastructure programs across Mississippi this year. These dollars, along with money approved by Congress, will be put to work – creating thousands of new jobs and making our roads safer.

Second, we must stand firm in our commitment to providing a quality education to all Mississippi students. This means fully funding the program that teaches our children from kindergarten through the 12th grade.

And because today’s competitive job market requires highly trained individuals, we must offset rising tuition costs by properly funding our community and senior colleges.

We will not dig our way out of bad times by de-funding education; we will only dig ourselves a deeper hole. That is why when over 17 million dollars were cut from our state’s community and senior colleges, Democrats in the House led a bipartisan effort to restore these funds to our Institutions of Higher Learning. It is in our classroom that our best hope for the future lies.

Lastly, we must come together to address the rising cost of health care. Mississippians have watched in amazement as Medicaid has dominated the news headlines year after year without a sustainable solution being reached.

As economic times have worsened, more and more people have turned to Medicaid, so that it now provides help to nearly one in five Mississippians. We must not allow a bad economy to scare us from doing our duty to the thousands of Mississippians who rely on this important program.

Every society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. In Mississippi, we must ensure that the very old, the very young and the disabled are not forced to bear this heavy burden by themselves. That is not how Mississippians react in hard times. We pull together, and we share the burden of those who cannot carry it alone.

While these difficult times present considerable challenges, they also bring tremendous opportunities. We must use this moment to move past the old divisions to see ourselves first and foremost as Americans and Mississippians.

Just as Hurricane Katrina afforded us the opportunity to rethink the manner in which we build our homes and structure our lives, the economic challenges we currently face give us a chance to re-evaluate ourselves and our priorities.

By holding fast to priorities like a revived infrastructure, superior public schools and a fully funded Medicaid program, we can lay the groundwork for a better Mississippi. Working together, we can and will prevail.

God bless you, and may God bless the State of Mississippi.

MS Democratic Party Release