With state government now more Republican than at any time in Mississippi history, it is worth pondering what such a swing in political ideology means for our state and what the likely public policy implications may be the next four years.

Following the 2011 election mainstream media pundits were quick to question how Republicans would fare being the majority party in both chambers of the Legislature and holding 7 of 8 statewide offices. They have proven themselves to be up to the challenge, and voters overwhelmingly endorsed their leadership by expanding the GOP majority this election cycle.

Perhaps the most obvious difference thus far between Democrats and the new Republican leadership has been in handling the state budget. The old Democrat fiscal philosophy of “spend now, pray later” has been replaced with not spending one time monies on reoccurring expenses, filling the state’s rainy day fund, lowering bond indebtedness, and improving the overall fiscal health of Mississippi with an eye to results-based budgeting in the face of a struggling national economy and its weakened job market. I would expect more of the same in the coming years under the leadership of Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn.

Education reforms have also been a priority for the Republican leadership, whereas under Democrats political rhetoric ruled over actual results. Providing greater opportunities for parental choice, requiring achievement standards, making strides on pre-K education, increasing appropriations, advancing workforce development training, and placing a greater value on the work of educators have all seen progress under the GOP majority.

Definitions Matter

Waging the battle on your own terms is the first part of any fight. Republicans had four years to deal with the definition of education in Mississippi… MAEP. It’s a dated definition, but one that purely for lack of an alternative, answered the question “how committed are you to education?”

Not dealing with MAEP was a mistake and it proved to be a major sticking point in the Initiative 42 fight.

I fully expect legislative Republicans to continue education reforms aimed at increasing the overall achievement of students while delving deeper into such sacred cows as MAEP and the election of superintendents and school boards. MAEP needs to be reworked and redefined to deal with sticky issues like average daily attendance and factoring in classroom money allocated that didn’t count towards the formula. If they do not it will be a failure on their parts.

Some have said that the defeat of Initiative 42 (the liberal power grab cloaked in the safe imagery of children and schools) wasn’t a Republican victory. I disagree.

I believe 42’s failure is proof that the electorate has largely grown past the ideology espoused by Democrats in Mississippi, and that voters are now more aware of what the Democrat Party and its cohorts in the education lobby and other liberal in-state and out of state groups are attempting to perpetrate in our state government. The $6 million “grassroots” campaign was not much more than a sham.

Folks who care about education and kids need to take Initiative 42 for the lesson that it was… if unions and “parent groups” want to improve education, they are going to have to work meaningfully with Republicans over the next four years.

Defining “conservative”

The question now for Mississippi voters seems to be just how conservative should this Republican majority be, and how do we define “conservative” in the Magnolia State.

There is a small but vocal faction of voters who desire Republicans to be ruled more by emotion than results, not unlike Democrats or the backers of Initiative 42 this very year. Hype is used to grift. Personal gratification and raising their own name ID are valued over the good of the whole. Accusatory press releases are sent out to try and maintain some semblance of relevancy.

It seems the farther you go to the right, you get closer to the demagoguing tactics of the left.

The basic conservative ideology embraced by the Republican Party has long been the ideas of smaller government, lower taxes, fiscal sanity and balanced budgeting, a strong defense, personal responsibility, valuing human life and promoting the traditional family structure, and safeguarding our rights of free speech, religion, and to bear arms.

Debate is good. What’s been happening of late is not.

Republicans both statewide and nationally are in a fight for the “soul” of the party. There are far too many in the public eye who think it should be some sort of shouting contest. Those interested in actually governing with a sound basis in policy must be willing to fight this fight because some of the buffoonery we have seen at the state level, though it appears to be diminishing numerically, isn’t going away.

The philosophy that the house must be burnt down every time a policy decision doesn’t go our way or a compromise is reached that’s not exactly as we would have liked allows the Democrats and the mainstream media to go on the offensive while causing division that only serves the minority’s interests.

How Mississippi conservatives define themselves and either choose to work together or seek an individualistic identify in this Republican majority will largely define the success of the GOP in the public policy realm in the next four years.