State Politics

Democrats and Republicans working together? Here’s why that’s happening in Harrison County

U.S. Park Service lifeguards Mandy Thomas and Ryan Fitzgerald pick up bags of tar balls that tourists had gathered and left on the beach at the Gulf Islands National Seashore on West Ship Island in July 2010, a few months after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.
U.S. Park Service lifeguards Mandy Thomas and Ryan Fitzgerald pick up bags of tar balls that tourists had gathered and left on the beach at the Gulf Islands National Seashore on West Ship Island in July 2010, a few months after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

Harrison County Democrats and Republicans, in a rare show of unity on Wednesday, said they’d work together for a common goal: To bring the BP economic damages settlement money to the Coast.

“The pressing issue that has united our two committees in a completely nonpartisan way relates to the appropriation of all BP settlement funds received by the state of Mississippi due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster of 2010,” the Democratic Executive Committee said in a press release. “Today, the Chairpersons of the two Harrison County, Mississippi, major political party governing committees hereby wish to announce that they, and their memberships, have come together in order to work together on behalf of the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

Executive committee members said they’ll join the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce in its efforts to sway lawmakers Wednesday night at the Coast Legislative Reception and Thursday in the halls of the Capitol.

So far, only one bill has been filed that deals with the $750 million the state will receive from BP for the Deepwater Horizon disaster, than left oil on Coast beaches and interrupted tourism, seafood and other industries.

Sen. Brice Wiggins’ bill would put the money as it comes in over the next several years into a Gulf Coast Restoration Reserve Fund and earmark it for projects “primarily benefiting the Mississippi Gulf Coast.” The money the state has received is being kept in a Budget Contingency Fund that could be used for any purpose the Legislature desires.

The chamber and the Coast delegation have been trying for years to take the money out of the annual appropriations process and designate it for “transformational” projects on the Coast.

“What would serve the state best is attention to where the damage still exists and use what resources are available to make that region whole again. With that assistance now, our Gulf Coast can again be the economic generator our entire state needs. After all, what happens here on the Gulf Coast affects the entire state,” the release said, echoing a common argument from officials and business people.

But the delegation doesn’t have nearly enough votes to do that without the help of upstate lawmakers, who say their districts deserve to share in the money.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton

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