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Post 42: Voters sent strong message

The defeat of initiative 42 in one of the most combative, hard-fought Mississippi election contests in my memory is not one that should imply “victory” to either side. But there were strong messages sent by the electorate.

First, it’s now clear that Mississippians are passionate about the state improving its educational system. Voters sent that message loud and clear.

Second, it’s equally clear that Mississippians weren’t willing to improve our educational system by dismantling the appropriations authority of the Legislature or by crossing over to a system of judicial appropriations – or as one writer put it, to “govern by lawsuit.”

What did transpire in the Initiative 42 battle were incredibly false narratives. The notion that Mississippians who were opposed to 42 were somehow enemies of children, enemies of improving education, or enemies of improved circumstances for future generations were certainly hurtful and certainly not true.

Equally hurtful were narratives generated on the side of 42’s opposition that proponents of the measure were engaged in the politics of personal greed and partisan politics rather than a commitment to a strong, vibrant public school system.

To be sure, partisanship reared its head over 42 and Democrats and Republicans alike engaged in it. But to be sure, partisanship isn’t really part of the solution to building a better public school system in the state.

Democrats talking about increased investment in public education and Republicans talking about accountability and innovation in public education can learn a lot from each other in Mississippi. After the election, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and other Republicans spoke in those tones — as did pro-42 voices like Jim Barksdale and Dick Molpus.

My sense is that the Legislature was paying close attention to the 42 vote and that the fruits of that battle will be an exhaustive review of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula. With the GOP in firm control of the Legislature, that prospect is concerning to the teacher unions and others in the state’s education lobby.

The strength of the 42 vote – even in technical defeat – is that lawmakers of every stripe now know full well that their constituents value public education and are favorably disposed to a systematic improvement of the existing public school system.

Not since the battle over the Education Reform Act of 1982 has public education held center stage statewide in the manner that it did in the 2015 general election. Molpus, Barksdale and the people they brought to the battle on their side posed the first real constitutional threat to the legislative power structure since Reconstruction.

The chance that Mississippi legislators weren’t paying attention to that development is nil.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.