Angry bills and buddy bills

Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, April 26, 2016

By Charlie Mitchell

In 1980, a silly movie, “Airplane,” was released. In one scene a passenger loses her composure. The other passengers line up. Each one more aggressively tries to slap her back to her senses.

Perhaps members of the Mississippi Legislature can identify with the passenger.

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With near unanimity, the state’s media and a bevy of others, including the president and first lady of the United States, have railed with increasing intensity against the 2016 session. “Idiots” is one of the kinder words seen in social media.

In the movie, the passenger didn’t deserve a beating, yet it was funny.

Legislators do deserve the hits they are taking, and it isn’t funny.

The session will go down in history as one of the most pointless and shameful in history. Bills that made it to the governor’s desk didn’t do anybody much good, and did Mississippians a lot of harm. Reactionary bills. Defensive bills. Shallow bills. Bills for their buddies.

Anything bold or forward-looking? Any well-articulated strategy to help the state climb out of last place in anything? Well, no … unless you count the quick, no debate special session to provide inducements worth at least $80,000 for each of 3,500 promised new jobs.

There’s no reason to rehash in detail. There’s the charter school bill that moves forward the long-sought effort to transfer more public money to private schools. There’s the failure to outlaw a campaign finance scheme that is routine here but would send officials (not just legislators) to prison in many other states. There’s the “secret executions” law.

Who would have thought the state would see a compelling need to add its official stamp of approval to people covertly packing heat during Sunday services? WalMart can exclude firearms, but First Baptist can’t?

So much nonsense, capped by the gratuitous Religious Liberty Accommodations Act. It OKs anyone refusing to interact with anyone they label as sinners.

Not many citizens keep up with state government (which is part of the problem), but it’s disheartening to witness the length to which the House and Senate will go to trick those who do. Take this year’s tax cut bill. It adds another $415 million to the more than $100 million passed last year, mostly for corporations. They say, “We cut your taxes.” The truth. A phase-in starts in 2019 that will save families a bit less than $3 per week.

At session’s end, there was a feigned attempt to revive simple reforms that would have required officials to disclose parlaying “campaign donations” (aka cash from lobbyists) into income (for cars, clothes, travel). Speaker Philip Gunn decreed a voice vote and quickly deemed the matter dead. If a mere 13 of the 122 members of the House had asked for a roll call vote, members would have had to go on record as for or against. But with no vote taken, every member can tell constituents he or she is 100 percent for total transparency.

The question arises as to how is it that Official Mississippi has come to be dominated by people so arrogant, so angry?

It didn’t happen overnight. The answer — as is true with most turmoil in the South — can be traced to race.

Because state leaders in the 1950s and 1960s fought so hard against extending basic aspects of citizenship to black people, Congress responded with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. By the late 1970s, most areas had been forced to draw minority voting districts. Black citizens got seats at the tables of power.

But the law of unintended consequences kicked in. Whites were still the majority, and increasingly concentrated their power.

So the conversations that once led to coalitions have been replaced by domination. With their supermajorities, today’s officials have taken on an air of invincibility.

“Is this a good move for the state?” has been replaced by, “We have the power to do it, so it must be right.”

No idea is challenged, no legislation is subject to debate.

The same trend is more and more apparent in other states, too. This is very different from the founding days of the nation when wise men with different views argued until consensus was reached. That’s the process that made America great.

Instead we see cadres of “we know best” calling all shots. Short-term. No one looking down the road. No vision. No laws to help bring an end to poverty, to break the cycle of addiction to assistance programs.

“Airplane” was about a jetliner on the verge of crashing.

It was funny — but it was a movie.

Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at