Paul Hampton

PAUL HAMPTON: I thought, wrongly I might add, the Mississippi school initiative fight would be above the fray

I know a political campaign isn't the natural habitat for truth, but I expected even politicians would be a little more truthful when discussing our children's education.

Silly me. Politicians just love proving me wrong.

That's probably why they stuck the issue of consolidation in the Initiative 42 debate.

If Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn thought they could scare voters into voting against Initiative 42 by implying it could lead to the consolidation of the Jackson County, Pascagoula, Ocean Springs and Moss Point school districts, they probably should have saved their money. Each of them kicked in at least 10 grand to the Improve Mississippi Political Initiative Committee, which sent fliers around Jackson County suggesting just that.

At least one recipient wasn't fooled.

"Are there any rules that hold these groups, particularly those funded and backed by our elected officials, to limiting themselves to truthful arguments?" she asked in an email to the Sun Herald.

Uh, no.

Actually, turning the truth into a pretzel is considered a marketable skill in political circles.

"What about the manner in which they are 'personalizing' these flyers by geographical area -- is there any method to the wording they are choosing?" she wondered.

I think that is known as "Bubba Carpentering" -- after the politician who not-so-obliquely injected race into the Initiative 42 debate by declaring a "black judge" could be making education decisions.

The Moss Point School District is more than 70 percent black.

The pamphlet says a Hinds County judge could determine (and these are the exact words) "whether to consolidate districts like Jackson County School District, Pascagoula School District & Ocean Springs School District with the Moss Point Separate School District."

I'll let you decide what they're getting at, but my experience is the folks in Jackson County are not going to rise to that particular bait.

But I'd like to know, what's wrong with consolidation?

"The bottom line is (consolidation) frees up almost $3 million in those two counties alone. It can be reinvested in the classroom," an intelligent and well-respected guy told the Mississippi Business Journal back in 2012, referring then to Sunflower and Bolivar counties.

His name is Tate Reeves.

"This year with the help of the Senate and House and the support of Gov. Bryant, we're going to have school district consolidation," Reeves said back then. "It's going to happen first in Sunflower County but also in Bolivar County where we reduced the number of school districts in Sunflower from 3 to 1 and in Bolivar from 6 to 3."

Notice he says "we," not the people of the counties in question. That's the way consolidation decisions are made in Mississippi. From the top down. Whether the folks at the bottom like it or not.

One judge or one party. One judge won't be making all the education decisions. But the alternative to Initiative 42 is leaving all the decisions with one party, the Republicans.

When they act worried about power centralized in a single judge, remember that nothing gets to the floor of the Senate unless Reeves allows it. And if you're a Democrat in Gunn's House, he has said time and again he will put you on the sidelines.

So when they talk about the ease with which a lawmaker the likes of Lester E. "Bubba" Carpenter can be replaced if he isn't performing up to expectations, remind yourself the lawmakers draw up the districts and make the rules for elections.

Contact Paul Hampton, politics editor for the Sun Herald, at 896-2330 or jphampton@sunherald.com Follow him on Twitter@jpaul hampton

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