PERRY/'Tater tots' return to Neshoba
Wednesday, July 23, 2014 1:00 AM
Next week, politicos and the press make the annual political pilgrimage to the sawdust covered ground of Founders Square at the Neshoba County Fair. The Fair is so much more than politics, but for some people the two are synonymous. That's fine; they won't be disappointed.
Political speeches begin on Wednesday morning (July30) with local Neshoba area elected officials: District Attorney Mark Duncan, Circuit Judge Vernon Cotten, state Representative Scott Bounds and state Senator Giles Ward take ten minutes each beginning at 9:00. Duncan is used to the early bird role as folks and their coffee cups trickle in. Expect Cotten to share more successes from drug court as Bounds and Ward give legislative updates to their constituents.
Don Kilgore, the Attorney General of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, is challenging incumbent Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon and both will be speaking. The morning speeches often go overlooked; but in 2012 Gordon demonstrated the ability of the Founders Square podium to reach a broader audience when he drilled the Department of Corrections and the legislature for policies he believed undermined the Court's sentencing power and diminished faith in the judiciary. His issue generated statewide coverage; he continued his message last year which I believe contributed to the criminal justice reforms passed during this year's legislative session.
The best fodder for Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall's speeches disappeared when he and Northern District Commissioner Mike Tagert ousted Hall's nemesis Butch Brown from his position as MDOT director in 2011. Brown returned to Natchez where he was elected to his former office of mayor. Since then, Hall's speeches serve as an update on Neshoba area road projects and an urging for the legislature to create a new revenue stream for infrastructure, or increase/adjust the gas tax to pay for additional highway maintenance.
Central District Public Service Commissioner Lynn Posey typically brings updates on utility and energy issues, including the continuing saga of the Kemper County coal gasification plant. Democrat state Representative Cecil Brown of Jackson is rumored to be planning a run against Posey next year which brings an added spotlight to Posey's speech.
Following Posey, comes four statewide elected officials beginning at 10:20 in order: Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney; Auditor Stacey Pickering; Attorney General Jim Hood and Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves.
If Chaney seeks reelection, he faces a challenge from John Mosley, owner of the Clinton Body Shop. Mosley, with attorney John Arthur Eaves, Jr. (himself a former Fair speaker as the Democratic nominee for Governor in 2007), is suing a number of insurance companies including State Farm Insurance over issues involving manufacturer versus after-market parts for repairs. Mosley says resolving that issue is the purpose of his campaign. Mosley ran for mayor of Clinton in 2005 as an independent and lost with 38 percent to incumbent Republican Rosemary Aultman. Likely Chaney will update the crowd on Mississippi's federal health insurance exchange and address fire safety (the insurance commissioner is also the state fire marshal).
Most speakers present their remarks from behind the podium, but Pickering tends to be more animated, grabbing the mic and working the stage like a preacher spreading the gospel of proper accounting. Granted, performance audits don't bring the crowd down the aisle like hellfire and brimstone, but he does have a record of punishing the wicked, or at least those who misuse public funds. In the past month he announced indictments, demands or arrests in Covington County, Alcorn County, Rankin County, Itawamba County and Lafayette County and continues to post wins against former Southaven Mayor Greg Davis. He'll likely update the crowd on recovered taxpayer funds, although he has used the Fair in the past to present policy shaping performance audits including reviews of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula.
Hood, the lone Democrat speaking Wednesday, brings a prosecutorial populism to the Square with a dose of Yellow Dog partisanship which once dominated the Fair Grounds. He pivots comfortably from attacking national Republicans to issues with broad appeal like the prosecution of child sex crimes, domestic violence and the abuse of vulnerable adults. It will be interesting to see if he sets the stage for his fellow Democrat Travis Childers who speaks Thursday in his challenge against US Senator Thad Cochran.
At 10:50, Reeves closes the Wednesday speaking. Last year, Reeves reclaimed the "Tater Tots" pejorative used by his detractors and took it on the offensive for his conservative agenda. As state revenues increase due to economic recovery, I expect Reeves to address education funding and tax reform which should dominate the news coming out of Wednesday's Neshoba Fair.
I'll take a look at Thursday's speaking next week, just in time for you to read the column and make it to the Fair to listen and see if I get it at least reasonably right.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.