Gail Collins: Let’s give Mississippi less

Published: Thursday, Jun. 5, 2014 - 11:04 am

When was the last time the nation turned its attention to Mississippi?

“Normally, we just get coverage for natural disasters,” said Joseph Parker, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Good news, Mississippi! This is your week. On Tuesday, the state had the most dramatic election of this primary season, and we are all looking your way. Actually, we are fascinated to know exactly what you had in mind.

Voters dealt a stunning rebuke to their courtly Republican senator, Thad Cochran, who is famous for his ability to direct federal cash in Mississippi’s direction. Cochran, who’s been in office since 1978, failed to win the necessary 50 percent of the ballots cast. Now he’s headed for a messy runoff with a fiery state legislator who opened his campaign by announcing: “For too long we’ve been addicted to federal moneys.”

Perhaps you find this surprising. Perhaps you did not think that people in Mississippi would feel a bond with a politician who describes cash as “moneys.” Perhaps you did not expect a state that gets $3 back from Washington for every $1 it sends to be so bitter about federal spending.

Perhaps the problem was that only about 17 percent of the eligible electorate showed up to vote. We have seen a lot of that sort of turnout this year, and we have got to start remembering that you can’t count on the idea that the most energetic voters will be the canniest political minds on the block. After all, in another primary Tuesday, nearly 300,000 Californians indicated that their preference for secretary of state was a state senator currently under indictment for conspiracy to traffic in firearms.

The new Republican front-runner in the Mississippi Senate race is Chris McDaniels, a Tea Party favorite who has been known to enthuse about using “mamacita” as a pickup line for Mexican women. Also, one of his supporters has been charged with sneaking into a nursing home and taking pictures of Cochran’s wife, who is suffering from dementia. McDaniels said he had nothing to do with that episode. Anyhow, none of this was at the center of the campaign. It was all about “wasteful spending.”

“Sadly, Thad Cochran voted for billions in wasteful spending - like the Bridge to Nowhere,” said the announcer in a McDaniel campaign ad, as a grainy black-and-white picture of Mississippi’s senior senator flashed over a map of Alaska.

OK, it was all about $398 million in unnecessary construction in Ketchikan.

“Some cuts to spending have to take place, and Mississippi is a good place to lead that charge because we are still the most conservative state in the Republic,” McDaniel told Breitbart News. Notice that he did not say that Mississippi was a good place to lead the charge because federal spending accounts for 46 percent of all the state’s revenue: defense contracts, Social Security, farm aid, highway building, you name it. Perhaps he was just being polite. But wouldn’t you think that he’d at least mention where his future constituents’ share of the cuts would come from?

McDaniel has been pretty darned vague. He’s been dodging opportunities to criticize the federal relief Mississippi got after Hurricane Katrina. Asked about federal underwriting of flood insurance rates, he told Politico, “The people of the coast have come to depend upon that to a certain extent.”

It may be up to us to suggest ways the state might want to trim back. What about the cotton farmers? “Their subsidies are even more generous than the usually ridiculous subsidies,” said Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group. From 1995 to 2012, he noted, the state’s cotton farmers got $4.6 billion from Washington. The top 1 percent of the subsidy recipients got an average of $4.8 million while the bottom 80 percent got $20,372.

Great way to begin! Obviously this is the sort of thing a waste-hater would be adamant about.

On his website, McDaniel has a special issues section on agriculture, which lashes out at:

1) Regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency.

2) The “Death Tax” that is currently levied on inheritors of estates worth more than $5.25 million.

And that’s it.

It’s hard to say Mississippi is sending Washington a message when the people have never been confronted with their own role in the telegram. And this has been partly Cochran’s fault. His ads, like the rest of his campaign, have been fuzzy. He just knows how to “stand up for Mississippi.”

“The Cochran campaign never effectively responded with an argument of: Look what I’ve done for the state,” said John Bruce, the chairman of the political science department at the University of Mississippi. “Their strategy was to ignore.”

One thing the Mississippi Republican establishment and the tea party seem to agree on is that you’re not supposed to remind people that their state is way more dependent on Washington than the average food stamp recipient.

Read more articles by Gail Collins



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