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MELISSA HARRIS: Mississippi Legislature betrayed teachers on Initiative 42

Understand first that I and my large, extended family are strong defenders of Republican causes: right to life, religious freedom, military strength, civic service.

We are teachers, doctors, veterans, missionaries, engineers and nurses. We love and serve our communities and our nation. Perhaps knowing this will bring some context within which to explain the level of betrayal I feel at the hands of the state Legislature and the Republican Party over Initiative 42.

Our founding fathers recognized above all else that government must protect the natural rights of the citizens and represent the wishes of the people. James Madison, the father of the Constitution, said, " the people are the only legitimate foundation of power. Our current Republican leadership seems to have strayed very far from these principles.

The movement to establish an initiative process within state governments began in the early 20th century. Concerned citizens organized at the grass-roots level across the country to break the power of special interest groups and political machines. They worked with their neighbors to restore government power to the hands of the rightful owners -- the people themselves.

Initiative 42 continues that honorable pursuit and seeks to do the same thing: to require our elected state officers to respond to the cries of the people whom they are charged to represent, to obey the rule of law and to adequately fund public education.

I have been terribly disappointed by the state Legislature's history of failure to sufficiently provide for public education. How do they not see that withholding the means by which Mississippians can most fully develop their gifts and talents is not just cruel, but economically irrational?

I have been dismayed by the attempts of the state Legislature to derail Initiative 42 with its deceptive "42-A" alternative. How dare our legislators mobilize to intentionally mislead the public they have sworn to represent and protect?

I am now deeply offended and so should we all be. The Mississippi Republican Party, whom I once believed aligned with virtuous goals, has broken faith with us. They have recently published a viciously deceitful Resolution against the education initiative. Initiative 42 is making a very personal demand that our Mississippi government fund Mississippi schools for Mississippi children. The Republican Party has falsified this, deliberately lying to their constituents with absurd and slanderous allegations that we are being manipulated by outside forces and have ties to groups as antithetical as Planned Parenthood!

My fellow Mississippians, listen to the cries of the Carroll County superintendent who has foregone his own salary but still must borrow school buses, overload his teachers and ask them to work without adequate textbooks in a 60-year-old building. Listen to the parents whose children will never be able to take choral music or field trips or study in a decent science laboratory. Listen to the exhausted teachers whose responsibilities yearly widen to accommodate ever more unfunded state mandates.

Thomas Jefferson said, "Educate and inform the whole mass of the people They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty." If our legislators do not heed our cries for strong, fully-funded public education, they do not preserve our liberty. They break faith with us.

We must restore government power into the hands of its rightful owners -- we, the people. I urge you and all of your families to join my own and vote for Initiative 42 on Nov. 3.

Melissa McKenney Harris, a National Board Certified Teacher at Pass Christian High School, was the 4th Congressional District Teacher of the Year in 2008 and was the Sun Herald's Best and Brightest teacher in Harrison County in 2003.

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