Like Sands Through the Hourglass…..The Saga of the Mississippi Legislature & Initiative 42…Part III
-A long-winded narrative on what you might have missed in regards to Initiative 42.-
Meanwhile, Mississippi also has a public records law on the books. This is a “sunshine” law designed to allow the public to see what goes on behind the scenes in government with the idea that such “sunshine” prevents “shady” things from occurring in our state government (http://ballotpedia.org/Mississippi_Public_Records_Act). It has been used by journalists in the past to solicit documents and communications by many public officials throughout the state to better inform the people of what exactly is occurring as our elected officials engage in their business. Apparently following a hunch or some sort of information, a public records request was filed asking for copies of emails and communications between Speaker of the House Gunn and Lt. Governor Reeves (who have been very vocal opposing Initiative 42) and lobbyists in relation to Initiative 42 or the “alternative” 42A (http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com/story/news/education/2015/08/31/initiative-email-requests/71493600/). Rather than say there were no communications with lobbyists or to share this information (which apparently all other elected officials in the state would be required to do) voluntarily, they both cited a law which said that the legislature did not have to follow the public records law as it applied to virtually all other elected officials (http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/2015/sep/01/reeves-gunn-refuse-reveal-emails-about-initiatives/). This exemption was, of course, written into the law by the legislature itself when it passed it. Now did the Speaker Gunn or Lt. Gov. Reeves ever state such communications did not exist? No. Were Speaker Gunn and Lt. Gov. Reeves able to release these communications with lobbyists in spite of the law and they chose to keep them secret? Yes, the law does not seem to require them to keep the documents secret. So Basically, Speaker Gunn and Lt. Gov. Reeves chose to shield themselves from having to provide any communications between themselves and lobbyists in regards to Initiative 42 for what reasons we can only imagine. So we will never know what types of efforts and communications have been made with lobbyist or other interests inside and outside of the state with two of our top elected officials.
This effort to shield emails which might or might not discuss details of how to defeat Initiative 42, ironically, was shortly followed by directions from the Mississippi Department of Education to local school districts to make sure nothing on their websites or done during school hours was in support of or might be perceived as being in support of Initiative 42. The Mississippi Department of Education stated that the cause for sending out the directives to school districts was that “lawmakers” and the state auditor had contacted MDE about it (http://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2015/09/02/initiative-42-superintendent-district-websites/71612458/). Now certainly no one is advocating anyone on the tax payers payroll using their time to advocate political things, no matter the merits of the political stance being taken. However, one would have to assume that if any emails existed between the Speaker of the House and the Lt. Governor with lobbyists about how to defeat Initiative 42, that they were naturally not done using the state government email system or during normal working hours, since logically the same standard would apply. But, then again, we will never have to answer that question will we? Since Mr. Gunn and Mr. Reeves have chosen to shroud their emails in the veil, where the legislature can exempt itself from sharing such communications with the public, such answers can again only be speculated about using once again our own common sense and imagination.
Now, we are at the point where the state ballot with its final wording has been released for the proposed Initiative 42 and the legislature’s “alternative” 42A (http://www.sos.ms.gov/Elections-Voting/Documents/FINAL%20SAMPLE%20BALLOT%20-%202015%20General%20Election.pdf). The wording is nothing if not extremely confusing with the following question after the before mentioned “analysis”:
VOTE FOR APPROVAL OF EITHER,
OR AGAINST BOTH:
_ FOR APPROVAL OF EITHER Initiative Measure No. 42 OR
Alternative Measure No. 42 A
_ AGAINST BOTH Initiative Measure No.
42 AND Alternative Measure No. 42 A
VOTE FOR ONE:
_ FOR Initiative Measure No. 42
_ FOR Alternative Measure No. 42 A
Now assuming you wanted to support Initiative 42 how do you think you would mark the ballot? The answer is that you would need to mark the “For Approval of Either…” choice on the first question and then proceed to mark “For Initiative Measure No. 42” on the second question. You see by inserting the “alternative” 42A, they now had a way to make you have to vote correctly twice in order to pass the initiative. Now, surely no one would read the way that is worded and think for one minute that the ballot was confusing? I mean you know that your grandmother when she goes to vote would have no issue at all with it? No, certainly not! I mean there really hasn’t been any effort to confuse the voters and operate behind the scenes by the legislative leaders (with or without the input of lobbyist such as those with deep pockets who support charter schools)? No, no, certainly that has not been the pattern we have seen up until this point. As if, our legislative leaders who have opposed public schools at seemingly every turn, who have aligned themselves with out of state charter school groups and lobbyists who make donations to our in-state candidates, who for the first time in state history created an “alternative” to a ballot initiative with an “almost” identical name/description only without a mechanism to enforce funding, who fought having this flat out fact pointed out on the ballot in relation to their “alternative,” who without apparent precedence communicated directly with the Legislative Budget Office in regards to the fiscal analysis to appear on the ballot resulting in a vastly different wording, who do not deny having communications with the out of state lobbyists in regards to efforts to defeat Initiative 42 and yet seek to hide such communications from you the tax payer and citizen, who bragged on one hand about growth revenues being up for years to come and tax cuts could easily occur in the BILLIONS of dollars, who turned right around and demanded that state agencies show them who among their employees would have to be fired should Initiative 42 pass which a fraction of the dollars in some of their proposed tax cut reductions, surely those good politicians would have not done anything unethical to help defeat this measure and CERTAINLY have not tried to further confuse with this ballot design.
All sarcasm aside, the extra obstacle introduced by the legislature inserting these two questions on the ballot measure might not seem like that big a deal. You might be thinking, okay some will get confused, but surely a majority would still not get mixed up and vote as they intended. It’s the United States, we are a democracy, and the majority rules therefore no matter what tricks they try to do with the ballot the majority who vote for Initiative 42 or “alternative” 42A will prevail. But, you need to look at the law and what it says about this vote to see the sheer coldness of the political calculation which our legislative leaders put into play when they created “alternative” 42A and adding these two questions on the ballot. You see the law says that more than 40% of the TOTAL number of votes cast during the ENTIRE ELECTION must vote for an initiative for it to pass. Naturally, some people will not vote at all on the question since perhaps they have no interest. But, let’s imagine 100,000 (a low number so the math is easier) show up to vote in total. Now let’s say that 85% of those actually answer the first question about whether they support EITHER amendment one way or the other. So now we have 85,000 people who actually answer the first question. Of those, let’s just say that 70% vote “YES” to say they wish to vote for one of the two amendments. That now leaves a pool of 59,500 voters who are planning on voting on the next question as to which amendment to pass (either 42 or the legislatures 42A). Out of that 59,500, at least 40,001 need to choose Initiative 42 instead of 42A (since it has to be greater than 40% of the total number of voters). Yes, in that scenario a total of 68% of the voters participating in the election would have to choose Initiative 42 or “alternative” 42A (this math doesn’t even assume any voter drop-off, if curious of what that looks like and an even more in depth examination check out the following: http://www.rethinkms.org/2015/01/13/legislatures-alternative-language-school-funding-initiative/). Now, perhaps it is slightly dawning on you why things have happened like they have. Does it make a little more sense why the legislature would suddenly decide to exercise this unused portion of the initiative law to create a legislative “alternative” to be put on the ballot which does absolutely nothing but leave things as they presently are with the legislature controlling the entire education budget. Did the math just happen to work out as a pleasant by product of creating an “alternative” which individuals felt should be on the ballot yet had the unintentional effect of making Initiative 42 much, much harder to pass mathematically when the votes would ultimately be counted? Who can know the mind of another? However, it does seem to very conveniently and precisely work out that way, regardless of intent. If this were planned, it is unfortunate to say, but this is literally like something we would expect to read about in one of the less developed countries of the world lacking our democratic traditions.
I do hope that you support our schools and Initiative 42 and not support “alternative” 42(A)gainst. I for one like a reasonable debate of the issues on any political subject. If I am wrong in what I have observed and attempted to document, I sincerely hope to see the error of my ways. But, what I have attempted to base my opinions on are the facts that I am able to see and which are a matter of public record. Actions and dealings with the design to halt discussion, hush debate, and confuse voters at seemingly every turn are actions which I am naturally against. These efforts make me feel as if someone is trying to control me and as if they do not really want me to understand things for myself. When I hear of hard working state employees being made needlessly to literally fear for their jobs and their families financial security by threatening budget cuts which cannot possibly be necessary according to the same politicians statements in reference to tax cuts, it just makes me slightly sick to my stomach. Perhaps, I am just a little too stubborn or have a little too much of a rebellious streak, but I resent people who basically are treating me as if I cannot be trusted to make the proper decision and I must be “tricked” or scared with untruths into not supporting something because they do not like it. I desire to think for myself, but I suppose that was a trait I picked up in my public school where everyone was encouraged to think for themselves instead of simply an elite few.
In closing, our public schools are an invaluable asset to the future of our democracy, where everyone has a shot at improving their future and reaching their full potential. We escaped Europe with its history of education and opportunity both being based upon what class you were born into and whether or not your parents could afford a decent education for you as a child. A free public education is without question something we expect as a right and desire to be guaranteed in our country and state. Unfortunately, there are those who would take away this right and attempt to dress up a step back in freedom as a step forward. Our schools simply need the money, just this adequate amount of money which the legislature long ago spelled out as being the adequate amount needed, to operate. The people taking control of their state government through the initiative process and bypassing the politicians, the lobbyists, and the special interests are the best hope we have of making sure this will happen. My writing was lengthy to say the least. However, I believe, the things which have occurred up until this point are important to be understood. I also believe that it is most important to remember that the end of this narrative has not yet been written and, if we are willing to take action, the ending does not have to be a bad one. I ask that you consider helping your local public school district by doing whatever you can and opposing those who would seek to quite literally “starve” our public school system out of existence.