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PHILADELPHIA — As most other public officials focused on policy and hinted of future election bids at the Neshoba County Fair this week, Gov. Phil Bryant — who has two and a half years left in office — instead focused on his accomplishments during his two terms as governor.
In his speech Thursday, Bryant touted several honors: his chairmanship of the Education Commission of the States, Mississippi’s high online and magazine rankings for workforce training and community college system, improved marks on basic third-grade reading standards, even hoisting overhead a gold-plated shovel from a national organization for the state’s economic development work.
“I’m always enthusiastic, I’m always encouraged, I’m always excited to hear what’s going on in Mississippi,” Bryant told the crowd, which responded with applause several times.
“When I became governor, I knew education needed to be a focus,” he said. “You couldn’t read rankings without seeing Mississippi 50th or 51st in some list. That’s the narrative. Some people seem to enjoy saying that. I enjoy saying good things.”
Bryant spent about half his speech on education. He made two policy recommendations: work to expand private and federal investment in the state’s early education and day care program and increase the number of charter schools. He said afterward that funding for such an early education expansion has not yet been determined.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, who spoke just before Bryant, told reporters after the speeches that he has not heard from the governor about the plan or how it might be funded, but he said he would be open to discussing it.
In the speech, Bryant boasted that in the most recent school year 92 percent of third-graders passed the state-mandated reading test — up from 52 percent when Bryant took office. He also cited an uptick in percentage of high school students who graduated last year — around 80 percent today.
He mentioned his chairmanship of the Education Commission of the States, which also gave the state what he calls the “Heisman Trophy for education” last year.
He praised companies such as Winchester, Raytheon, Huntington-Ingalls, Toyota and Continental Tire for their capital investments in Mississippi, citing state tax incentives given to those corporations.
And he blasted critics of those tax breaks.
“You take a map, and you figure out where all our industry is at,” Bryant said. “Remove Ingalls, the first company we ever incentivized in the 1960s. Shutter Nissan, shut it down. Those Mississippians who work for those companies are able to make a good wage and put their kids in day care, send them to wonderful universities like USM or the other great universities. When you talk about taking it away, you’re taking away jobs and security.”
With next week’s union vote at the Nissan Canton Vehicle Assembly Plant looming, Bryant used the Neshoba stage to oppose unionization of the state’s factories.
“Some of the most advanced automobiles in the world are build in Canton, Miss., not Canton, China,” Bryant said, using a line coined by former Gov. Haley Barbour. “We don’t need a union to tell us how to make a better automobile. They (union supporters) can get back in the Bernie Sanders bus and go back to New York, and I’ll pay their way.”