Trump and the state budget. Those themes continued to dominate during the second day of political speeches at the Neshoba County Fair on Thursday.
Against intermittent torrents of rain, some of Mississippi’s top policymakers gave full-throated defenses of a spending plan that has come under fire from some for being out of balance. Earlier this year, the governor called a special session of the Legislature to correct the imbalance.
Cecil Brown, a Democrat who represents the Central District for the Public Service Commission, called the condition of the state’s finances “a mess.”
Brown, a former state representative and chief of the department of finance and administration, said the $6.2 billion budget the Legislature passed this year is off by at least $136 million.
“We will lose tens of millions of federal dollars because of the way they changed the budget system. This change will lead to reduction if not termination of services for mental health, public health and public safety,” he said.
Brown also criticized the $415 million tax cut enacted and cited several categories in which Mississippi’s business climate already ranks high.
“Why the heck do we need another major cut in corporate taxes?” Brown said. “Big businesses don’t need more tax cuts.”
Gov. Phil Bryant countered the narrative of a state in shambles. Bryant said Mississippi is a top 10 state for economic development, which in recent years has included luring large employers such as Yokohama Tire Co. And Continental Tire plans to build a manufacturing facility in western Hinds County employing thousands.
“I was trying to figure out the last time something like that happened in Hinds County,” said Bryant, a former Hinds County sheriff’s deputy. “The answer is never.”
Bryant, like his fellow Republicans who make up the leadership of the state, touted the passage of the religious-freedom bill that allows county clerks and private businesses to deny marriage-related services to individuals based on their religious beliefs. The constitutionality of that legislation is now under review by the federal courts.
“(Opponents of the bill) sued us, we didn’t sue them,” Bryant said. “They started this fight.”
Bryant also ticked off education awards the state received for innovation.
Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said many of the Legislature’s achievements, including the religious-freedom law, reflect Mississippi’s values.
“We don’t need a poll to tell us all lives matter, not just a few — not to mention the unborn,” Gunn said.
Although social issues got most of the applause lines, some incumbents and candidates spoke of the challenges that lie ahead for their agencies.
Lynn Fitch, the state treasurer, emphasized her office’s work on financial education. She believes this literacy is important to combating Mississippi’s ranking as the nation’s poorest state, which she said affects women disproportionately.
Because women earn 70 percent of what men make, she said, it’s difficult for women who head households to save or plan their finances.
“It’s important we empower all Mississippians but it’s important we figure out how to empower our women,” she said.
Fitch, who has also been a critic of the state budget and legislation that took special funds and placed them in the state’s general fund, also called for a constitutional amendment requiring lawmakers to pass a balanced budget each year.
Delbert Hosemann, the secretary of state and chief elections officer, encouraged everyone to vote in November and to remember to bring their IDs. Hosemann, who championed Mississippi’s voter ID law said while other states have had their voter ID laws struck down by courts, Mississippi’s has not been challenged.
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker also rallied Republicans to support businessman Donald Trump in the November over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president.
“So much of what you and I care about is hanging in the balance. Today I’m calling for unity in the Republican Party,” said Wicker, who as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee also stressed the important of having a GOP majority in the Senate.
Wicker, challenging conventional thinking about the dysfunction of Congress, said President Barack Obama signed 31 Senate bills, including a tax cut and a multiyear highway bill.
Cindy Hyde-Smith, the commissioner of agriculture and commerce, spoke of the importance of agriculture to the state’s economy.
“We do everything we can to make sure we stand up for the American farmer. Next time you sit down to a really good meal, first thank God then thank a farmer,” she said.
Many of the themes continued from the first day on Wednesday, which included speeches by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Attorney General Jim Hood and state Sen. Jenifer Branning, R-Philadelphia.
Branning, who defended the religious-liberties bill on the Senate floor said: “I know there’s a battle in the courts right now. Regardless of what happens in courts, I’ll continue to stand for and protect the values of this district.”
In his remarks Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves struck a decidedly political tone in attacking state Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, as well as President Obama, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Supreme Court and what he called the liberal media.
Of Hood, perhaps previewing a future head-to-head statewide race, Reeves said: “He’s even equated Mississippians with fools. Sounds to me like he’s auditioning to be Hillary Clinton’s next (attorney general).”
Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall also addressed the fair and called for a highway improvement bill.