Charlie Mitchell

Strange but true: Trump win boosts Hood for governor

It doesn’t take 30 years of writing about Mississippi politics to figure out that strange things happen, but here are some thoughts:

▪ The election of nominal Republican Donald Trump actually boosts the odds for Democrat state Attorney General Jim Hood should he choose to run for governor. How is that, you say?

Hood has been the only Democrat elected to statewide office for quite a while. Hood is the go-to guy if the state party ever gets its act together. The 2015 nominee for governor was a friendly truck driver whose mother didn’t know he was running.

Now in his fourth term, Hood did have a serious Republican challenger in the last election. In that contest, Hood was assailed as a clone of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. Why? Because Obama, Pelosi and Clinton do not win popularity contests in these parts.

It wasn’t an unwise strategy to frame Hood, a genial son of the South, as best buddy to raging liberals. It didn’t work, but it could have. Other moderate Democrats in conservative states have fallen to the tactic of wedding them to the party’s national icons.

But with Trump’s win, Hillary Clinton will not be in the White House. Obama will be surfing and playing golf. Make no mistake, if Hood seeks the governor’s office, he will still be depicted as a liberal. That was a winning strategy in this state in 1950 and it will be in 2019. But there’s no big-name leftist with which to saddle Hood. That’s a plus.

▪ The worm has turned at the Mississippi Public Service Commission.

For decades, this quiet panel, composed of three elected members from Northern, Central and Southern districts, was reliably supportive of most anything any private utility company — especially the big boys — wanted to do.

Utilities are granted monopoly service areas and, in exchange, are required to deal with the PSC. The PSC’s duties, most simply stated, are to encourage good and widespread availability of utilities, to assure ownership is profitable within reason and to keep consumers (who have no choice about where to buy electricity, water, sewer services and such) from being gouged.

As hinted, that last tenet was often forgotten.

Not anymore.

Under the leadership of Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley, a populist’s populist and not to be ruled for a future governor’s race, the PSC has morphed into the consumer protection agency it was always supposed to be. Specifically when it comes to Mississippi Power’s beleaguered lignite plant in Kemper County, the PSC has stepped up and asked the serious questions that should have been being asked all along.

▪ Gov. Phil Bryant polls as high as first and no lower than 17th in rankings of governors in their home states. More Mississippians say the Republican leader is doing a great job than they have said of many recent governors.

Bryant endorsed Trump in July on the day Trump became the Republican nominee. The endorsement, coupled with the state providing its electoral votes to Trump, puts Mississippi in good stead with the White House.

There’s a wrinkle, though. More federal funds are spent in this state in exchange for the meager federal tax dollars sent to the federal treasury than any other state. And Trump says federal spending must and will be reduced.

Where will that hit first and hardest? Logic would be where the funds are most used and needed — roads, bridges, schools, law enforcement, defense contracts, agricultural programs. Federal funds pay 100 percent of Medicare claims by Mississippians and about 75 percent of Medicaid claims. There are no state funds to make up the difference. Next year’s draft budget, unveiled last week, has cuts that are deep and wide.

Perhaps Bryant’s influence will be key to the Trump administration leaving Mississippi alone, perhaps cutting more in pro-Clinton states. Perhaps. It will be interesting to see.

▪ Speaking of popularity, Bryant’s not much of a tweeter. Like other state officials, he uses this communication tool — which Trump so effectively uses to bypass the media — mostly to thank Rotary Clubs for inviting him and such.

As of today, few Mississippi officials have yet grasped the power of this tool to control the public conversation. It’s probably true that Mississippians are not as addicted to social media as elsewhere, but it’s coming.

Santa should bring all existing and aspiring politicians Twitter lessons, and perhaps Trump’s new book, tentatively titled, “The Art of the Tweet.”

Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist.

  Comments