Mississippi editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Greenwood Commonwealth on the governor of Mississippi naming Shad White to succeed state Auditor Stacey Pickering:
Since Phil Bryant’s rise in Mississippi politics began when he was appointed state auditor in 1996 by then-Gov. Kirk Fordice, he has an commendable sense of ownership about the position.
Having also put in almost a dozen years as the main taxpayer-funded watchdog of the public’s money, Bryant understands the type of character, integrity and intelligence it takes to do the auditor’s job well.
The Republican governor seems to have picked just such a person in Shad White.
White is young, just 32, and looks a lot younger, but he’s obviously one smart cookie. He was a Truman Scholar at Ole Miss and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England, and he’s a graduate of Harvard Law School. You don’t do any of those things — much less all three — without a good brain and a good work ethic.
Furthermore, White seems like a straight arrow, which is perfect for the job. If you are going to hold other public officials’ accountable for their actions, you need to be squeaky clean yourself.
Stacey Pickering, who is stepping down as state auditor to take a higher-paying, less stressful job as director of the Mississippi Veterans Affairs Board, fell short at times in that regard. (...)
It doesn’t appear that will be an issue with White. For the past seven months, he has served as the director of the Mississippi Justice Institute, a conservative organization that stands up for the public’s right to know what its government is doing and how it spends its money.
In his first remarks after his appointment was announced last week, White promised he would be a dogged check on public corruption and government malfeasance; that he would be fair but unwaveringly honest.
“I promise you that I will always tell you the truth, even if it is not fun, even if it makes some people uncomfortable, even if it makes some people who are politically powerful uncomfortable. I don’t care.”
Powerful words. Let’s hope he follows them up with action.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on an educational partnership opening a path to diplomas:
A recently announced agreement between the state’s public schools and its public universities will have a significant impact on the future of Mississippi.
Leaders from the Mississippi Department of Education and the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning worked together to streamline student transitions from high school to college.
Their efforts produced a couple of key results, as reported by the Daily Journal’s Dillon Mullan.
For one, starting in 2022, high school seniors who earn an academic or distinguished academic diploma endorsement from the state’s public school districts will receive automatic enrollment into any of the state’s public universities.
The diploma endorsement is a new offering from the state’s public schools that requires additional coursework. Beginning with the upcoming school year, the traditional diploma will require all students graduating from Mississippi high schools to have the same basic requirements and earn 24 Carnegie Units.
Students can then take additional coursework for the extra endorsements. The academic endorsement requires 26 Carnegie Units, and the distinguished academic endorsement requires 28.
Officials worked together to ensure that the requirements for the new credentials aligned with the university admission standards. They also agreed that students receiving those endorsements would be placed in credit-bearing courses, a significant announcement in a state where a high percentage of freshmen take remedial classes that carry no college credit.
MDE has raised the bar, and the students who opt for those higher standards will have a more streamlined transition to college.
The new partnership reflects efforts by MDE to align high school curricula with college coursework. It also fits a concerted effort by the IHL to ensure that more Mississippians who start college leave with a diploma. While much attention is paid to high school graduation data, it is good to see an increased focus on college graduation rates, which tend to be abysmally low.
The other piece of the recently announced partnership is a uniform policy on how the state’s public universities will handle Advanced Placement scores. Beginning in the fall of 2019, all eight public universities in Mississippi will award three hours of college credit for an AP score of three or higher. They may provide up to six credit hours, per exam, depending on the subject and AP exam, for students scoring a four or five.
Together, the changes will help students more completely see the connection between what they do in high school and earning a college diploma. They will entice students to think earlier about their college coursework - and future careers - and to take more rigorous high school courses that set them up for future success.
The path from high school to a college degree will become clearer. And in a state with low educational attainment, that’s a significant change.
The Commercial Dispatch of Columbus says low turnout is proof of Mississippi’s failure to update election laws:
On June 5, just 15 percent of eligible voters went to the polls for the Republican and Democratic party primaries, an embarrassingly low turnout.
Now, as the focus shifts to the Nov. 6 General Election, when Mississippi will chose both U.S. Senators, turn-out is again a subject of great speculation.
The turn-out for that election will certainly eclipse that of June 5, when just 141,000 of 1.9 million registered voters went to the polls. The question is, how many more will turn out?
Based on previous trends, the outlook isn’t promising. In each of the last three presidential elections — elections where turn-outs are at their highest, the total votes cast have fallen. In 2016, almost 90,000 fewer voters turned out than in 2008.
The trend is not surprising. Prior to the 2016 presidential election, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann proposed a sweeping package of election reforms — including early-voting and online registration. Those proposals were rejected by the legislature. In states that have adopted early-voting, turn-outs have increased.
But in Mississippi, the status quo still rules.
Another area where the state stubbornly refuses to change its voting rules is allowing felons who have served their sentences to vote.
Data shows that, as of 2016, there were 218,181 felons who have completed their sentences and are not allowed to vote under the state’s archaic voting laws. In the 1890 Constitution that ushered in the era of Jim Crow, the legislature listed 10 felonies that carried a lifetime voting restriction — everything from murder and rape to perjury and theft of timber. Since then, 12 more offenses have been added to the list of those felonies that forever remove a citizen’s right to vote.
Meanwhile, legislation to remove those restrictions consistently die in committee each year.
Currently, there are two lawsuits winding their way through the legal system that challenge these lifetime bans on voting, including one by former Columbus City Councilman Kamal Karriem, who lost his voting rights after his conviction for stealing a city cellphone in 2005.
For many, the restriction on voting rights is the last vestige of those Jim Crow laws designed to suppress black voting. Unlike measures such as poll taxes and literacy tests, which were struck down by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Mississippi continues to deny a large portion of its black population the right to vote, even though they have paid their debts to society.
Every year, our politicians make a big deal of how important it is for people to vote. Every year, they ignore any practical measures that would help achieve that goal.
It is far past time to correct this problem. Fairness demands it.