Gunn: Mississippi Republicans need to heal rift
Wednesday, August 6, 2014 1:00 AM
PHILADELPHIA - The Mississippi Republican Party needs to heal divisions created by a hard-fought U.S. Senate primary that is still being protested by tea party conservatives, House Speaker Philip Gunn said Thursday.
"The enemy is not other conservatives. The enemy is not even the Democratic Party,' Gunn, R-Clinton, said at the Neshoba County Fair on Thursday. "The enemy is out-of-control spending, government dependency, poor education, attacks on our religious freedoms, attacks on your right to bear arms.... We need to bind together and unify ourselves and fight against these issues and not each other.'
Gunn spoke to thousands of people in and around the Fairgrounds' large pavilion, and to audiences of radio and TV stations that provided live coverage of speeches at one of the state's largest annual political events.
Gunn said political parties are like marriages, they aren't measured on lack of disagreement but rather on how they reconcile after disagreeing. Gunn stayed largely out of the fray during the Republican Primary and gave a firm, conciliatory unity speech well received by the crowd.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant spoke moments later and did not mention the GOP rift.
Instead, Bryant said he wants to focus on job creation and education. He repeated his opposition to abortion and said he offered to send Mississippi National Guard troops to help secure the U.S. border with Mexico. He said Texas Gov. Rick Perry declined the offer.
A few audience members held signs with the word "Betrayed' to protest state Sen. Chris McDaniel's loss to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in the June 24 Republican primary runoff. McDaniel says he believes there were thousands of voting irregularities and on Monday filed a challenge with the GOP.
Bryant told reporters later Thursday that he has not spoken to McDaniel since the runoff, but said he'd be willing to have a conversation. The governor has long received support from tea party groups, but he angered some by endorsing Cochran.
Bryant said the state GOP has survived other contentious elections, dating back to the 1991 gubernatorial primary when Vicksburg contractor Kirk Fordice defeated Pete Johnson, who was State Auditor at the time.
"This Republican Party is still united and will be,' Bryant told reporters.
Democratic former Gov. William Winter made his 26th Neshoba County Fair speech in the past 58 years. He was sworn in as a member of the state House in and 1948 and was state tax collector, state treasurer and lieutenant governor before serving as governor from 1980 to 1984.
Winter, 91, is best known for pushing the Education Reform Act into law in 1982 and for working on racial reconciliation for more than four decades. He touched on both themes Thursday, saying he supports a proposed state constitutional amendment that would require legislators to fully fund an education budget formula that has mostly been ignored since it was put into law in 1997. Winter also said Mississippi was once an isolationist state but it started to improve once racial segregation began to be dismantled in the 1960s.
"Once we began to recognize that our common issues were so much more important than the issues that divided us, then we started to make some real progress,' Winter said.
Winter spoke on how much Mississippi has changed during his career in education, race relations, the environment, housing and infrastructure.
His speech - part history lesson, part celebration of Mississippi - noted, "We've come farther than any other state, but still have a long way to go because we started so far back."
Winter said he opposes seeking MAEP funding through lawsuits (an effort led by another former governor, Ronnie Musgrove) but instead encouraged the crowd to sign the initiative to require full MAEP funding through a constitutional amendment.
"Let us ask God to bless the Neshoba County Fair, Mississippi, and the United States of America," Winter said ending his speech.
Other statewide officials speaking Thursday at the Fair included Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith, Treasurer Lynn Fitch and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
Hyde-Smith discussed renovations at the Mississippi Coliseum, social media efforts and apps offered by the Department of Agriculture to promote the State Fair, Dixie National Rodeo, the Mississippi Farmers Market and 62 certified agritourism locations in the state.
She said farmers currently provide $1.5 million in produce to Mississippi schools for local, fresh school lunches. "When you sit down to a meal, thank God first, then thank a Farmer," Hyde-Smith said.
Fitch stressed the need to change the state's financial culture.
"Financial literacy absolutely leads to a stronger workforce, better economy and more jobs," she said.
She urged Mississippians to join her team to increase financial literacy in Mississippi.
Hosemann shared his work on redistricting, cutting business fees, cutting his own budget and implementing Voter-ID.
He said soon, anyone filing a document with the Secretary of State will be able to do it immediately online and no other state in the country has that capacity.
He said in the recent election, 99.99 percent of voters showed up with their IDs and unlike other states, no lawsuits were filed in opposition to Voter-ID implementation.