Tupelo Daily Journal. Nov. 9, 2021.

Editorial: Roger Wicker, Bennie Thompson deliver infrastructure investment to Mississippi

Over the next five years, Mississippi will see a huge federal investment in roads, bridges, broadband, water supply and other crucial areas thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed last week.

Please make sure to thank Republican Sen. Roger Wicker and Democrat Rep. Bennie Thompson. They are the only two members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation who saw fit to put politics aside and vote for this bill.

Here are a few examples of the investments that will be made in Mississippi infrastructure:

— $3.3 billion in federal-aid for highway programs

— $429 million to improve water infrastructure

— $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs

— $223 million for public transportation improvements

— $100 million to provide broadband coverage

— $99 million for airport improvements

— $51 million for expansion of an electric vehicle charging network

— $19 million to protect against wildfires

— $16 million to protect against cyberattacks

All totaled, Mississippi will receive up to $4.46 billion over five years for various projects.

Wicker, the lead Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, helped negotiate the package, with particular focus on “surface infrastructure.” Thanks to the tough negotiations in the Senate, a once bloated bill that included far more investments in social programs than physical infrastructure became a responsible, focused bill.

“Republicans and Democrats agree that roads, bridges, broadband, ports and rail are the building blocks of a healthy economy. This bill makes historic down payments on those core priorities,” Wicker said after the bill passed the Senate in August.

But Wicker’s fellow Republicans — Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Reps. Trent Kelly, Michael Guest and Steven Palazzo — all voted against the bill, citing a handful of political talking points as their rationale.

Most of those political talking points, however, are inaccurate.

For instance, some criticize the bill’s price tag, saying it is a wasteful piece of legislation. But, as Wicker told the Daily Journal during a September editorial board meeting, the $1 trillion price tag is misleading.

The bill includes $500 billion of what Congress normally spends on infrastructure spending each year, meaning additional spending is about $550 billion — far less than the more than $1 trillion in new spending Democrats originally proposed. That was one of the reasons Wicker and other Republicans in the Senate and House supported the bill.

No, this bill is not perfect. But — as the old Italian proverb says — perfect is often the enemy of good. And this bipartisan infrastructure bill is good for Mississippi.

The Magnolia State has nearly 1,400 bridges and nearly 6,000 miles of roadways in need of repair. Our rural water associations face millions in needed improvements. Broadband internet expansion in some areas — including the city of Tupelo — is still costly and slow to materialize because these areas are not included in recent rural broadband initiatives.

There is now funding for these needs.

Perhaps more important is the long-term impact this bill could have on Mississippi. Wicker, in a speech on the Senate floor, talked about the 1987 four-lane highway bill passed by the state Legislature, calling it “one of Mississippi’s most significant pieces of legislation for job creation.”

“For this small-town boy from Mississippi, this is just as pivotal a moment,” Wicker said of passing the bill.

We are glad Wicker and Thompson rose to meet the moment for the future of Mississippi. Perhaps in the future, the rest of our congressional delegation will focus more on what’s best for Mississippi and less on their Washington political games.

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Greenwood Commonwealth. Nov. 9, 2021.

Editorial: Not too many persuadables

An interesting column by Bobby Harrison, printed elsewhere on this site, wonders if Mississippi Democrats are asking themselves if they might one day deliver unexpectedly strong showings like those seen last week from Republicans in Virginia and New Jersey.

In Virginia, a state trending Democrat but still fairly closely divided, Republicans won key races starting from the governor on down. New Jersey is a more solidly Democratic candidate, but that party’s candidate just barely won the governor’s election.

Bobby Harrison, who covers state government for Mississippi Today, asks if Mississippi Democrats could pull off a similar sort of showing and correctly concludes that it’s much less likely. And he offers evidence to back that up.

“A 2020 study by FiveThirtyEight, a respected blog that breaks down political trends and data, labels the Mississippi electorate as the nation’s least elastic or least persuadable,” Harrison writes. “In other words, Mississippi voters are less likely to vote for a candidate of the party they normally oppose even in cases of scandal or economic turmoil.”

The state’s racial divide appears to play a role in this. CNN exit polls from Mississippi’s 2018 U.S. Senate special election indicated that 84% of white voters supported the Republican candidate, while 94% of Black voters favored the Democrat on the ballot. No real surprise there — the state has many years of election results that make clear such a trend.

To put numbers to it, as long as white voters have a roughly 2-to-1 majority and trend conservative, Republicans will hold a significant majority in the Legislature as well as most statewide offices. It’s difficult to envision what might change this.

But there are other differences between Mississippi, Virginia and New Jersey.

The biggest is that FiveThirtyEight ranks Virginia among the 10 most persuadable states in America. That means a greater percentage of voters are willing to listen to both parties. This is no surprise, as the state was reliably Republican until just a few years ago.

New Jersey, meanwhile, ranks in the middle of the pack — which still means it has a lot more persuadable voters than Mississippi does.

Oddities do occur in the neighborhood. Alabama voters are America’s second-least persuadable and heavily Republican, yet they elected a Democratic U.S. senator to a partial term in 2017. And in Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards of Amite is serving his second term in office, having won twice in a very reliably Republican state.

But there were unusual reasons for both results. The Alabama Republican, Roy Jones, was unable to shake off some very damaging personal conduct allegations. And Edwards won his first term as governor against a veteran Republican who turned out to be more unpopular than most expected.

Mississippi Democrats can hope to copy some of these success stories. But an honest assessment says their chances are minimal.

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The (Columbus) Dispatch. Nov. 5, 2021.

Editorial: Crime prevention report addresses familiar challenges

This week the ad-hoc Crime Prevention Committee submitted its recommendations to the Columbus city council, almost a year after the group was formed as a response to increased crime in the city.

It may sound cynical to say we’ve heard it all before

But it would not be at all inaccurate.

This was particularly true in the committee’s most detailed report offer by the Law Enforcement Enhancement subcommittee, which called for more cops, better compensation for cops, better equipment for cops, working more closely with the sheriff’s department, emphasis on neighborhood watch groups, establishing better community policing through installing police substations, data-driven approaches to crime, volunteer support to perform mundane tasks and allow officers to spend more time on the streets.

We do not challenge the legitimacy of any of these suggestions nor do we doubt for a moment the good-faith effort put into the work by the committee members. The committee, led by Lowndes County District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks, has done a good job looking at crime from multiple aspects.

But for long-time residents, almost all of these suggestions are familiar.

As far back as 15 years ago, the CPD began opening police substations. By 2010, the city had five substations located strategically in areas where crime was most prolific. The theory behind the substations is that it would create an environment where officers worked primarily in the area where their substations were located – a basic tenet of community policing. The better officers know the place and people they serve, the better they are able perform their work.

Today, none of those substations remain.

Residents will also remember that in 2017 the city spent $19,000 on a police consultant who devoted six months to examining the police department. His final report included virtually everything included in the report submitted to the city council this week, including police department morale.

In 2017, much of the morale issues identified by the consultant focused on the police department’s leadership. It recommended that the city replace its chief, Oscar Lewis, who retired a few months after the report.

The consultant also noted the police department was seriously undermanned. It advised the city to bring police department staffing to 70 officers. An aggressive recruitment campaign was started, but retention has been a challenge.

Tuesday’s report, which included feedback from 31 of 55 officers (still far below the 2017 recommended number, by the way), suggested there remain morale issues within the department. Police Chief Fred Shelton said he believes most of the low morale issues can be attributed to low pay and poor equipment and the inevitable turn-over those conditions create.

Again, this is nothing new. The city’s preliminary budget included pay raises and upgrades in equipment, but they were left out of the final budget when the city discovered a $1.5 million miscalculation. The final budget included some equipment upgrades but raises are still being discussed and will be a challenge to fund.

So, yes, while we appreciate the effort put into the report, we have heard it all before.

And, yes, we still believe there is merit in each recommendation.

Given that, we are left to wonder why we are still having the same discussions over the same issues we’ve had going back 10, 15 years.

Perhaps what is needed is not new solutions, but a commitment to the solutions we’ve known about all along.

Our police department remains under-staffed, under-paid and under-equipped.

Neighborhood watches come and go. So do police substations. Community policing is, for all intents and purposes, an empty phrase, a vision unfulfilled.

It may not be a lack of good ideas that keeps our community on this what-to-do-about-crime treadmill. It may be more a lack of commitment to sustaining them.

END

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