Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley is urging state, county and city officials to wisely spend billions in federal pandemic stimulus to tackle Mississippi’s most pressing needs. These, he said, given the federal rules on spending the money, needs are clear: water, sewerage and broadband projects. He noted more than 380,000 rural Mississippians do not have community water service.

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Adam Ganucheau: Welcome to The Other Side, Mississippi Today’s political podcast. The Other Side lets you hear directly from the most connected players and observers across the spectrum of politics in Mississippi. From breaking news to political strategy to interviews with candidates and elected officials, we’ll bring you facts, perspectives and context that helps you cut through the noise and understand all sides of the story.

Geoff Pender: I’m Geoff Pender, political reporter for Mississippi Today. I’m joined here by my colleague, Bobby Harrison. 

Bobby Harrison: Hey Geoff. 

Geoff Pender: Hey Bobby. And our guest today is Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley. He is a Northern District public service commissioner. He has served in that elected office since 2007 I believe. Commissioner Presley is former mayor of Nettleton. He was I believe elected mayor in Nettleton at the ripe old age of 23. He was one of the youngest elected officials in the country I believe at that point. The public service commission oversees, regulates telecommunications electric service, gas, water, sewer, utilities, basically all public utilities, has say in setting rates and things such as that.

Commissioner, welcome. Thanks for joining us today. 

Brandon Presley: Hey, guys. It’s good to be back with y’all and always good to join the podcast. Thank you for having me.

Bobby Harrison: Commissioner, like all of us you’re getting old now. You’re not the youngest elected official.

Brandon Presley: I’m thinking about getting all that stuff taken out of that bio because it just makes me feel old. It seems like ages ago, Bobby, when I was in Nettleton and you were up in Tupelo.

Bobby Harrison: That’s right.

Geoff Pender: Right. Commissioner, one thing we definitely want to talk about today. It’s been in the news and you weighed in heavily this week with an op-ed that I think ran across the state and probably beyond, but Mississippi is receiving billions, like other states, billions of dollars in American Rescue Plan Act funds, stimulus money to try and help recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically you weighed in on the state’s going to be receiving $2.7 billion; $1.8 billion will be controlled by the Legislature, basically, and about $900 million controlled by counties. You have weighed in recently on how you think those funds ought to be spent.

Can you give us an overview of that? 

Brandon Presley: Yeah, and, again, thanks for the opportunity. These are unprecedented dollars that we probably will not see again in our lifetime. And Congress was pretty darn clear in their guide and what they put in the law as to where these funds should go. They talked about investments in three specific infrastructure areas that they called out by name: water, sewer, broadband.

And then they talked about— obviously I know there’s an issue right now and something we’ve got to pay attention to and that is premium pay for health care workers, the frontline workers that, you know, we all owe a debt of gratitude for and all didn’t have a problem saying thank you on social media or honking our horns when the pandemic hit, but we need to financially obviously have their back and take care of that situation.

Hospitality and tourism industries that were impacted by COVID-19. And then of course, lastly if there are any possible loss in revenues during this time for local and state governments, those dollars can be diverted there, but, you know, it’s abundantly clear to me that there are three areas of infrastructure that Mississippi has a great need in, and the Congress lined out pretty darn clearly where these dollars should go. They’re not the only things, but there are the ones that were called out clearly that are on the books. And I wrote that op-ed y’all honestly because of some of the conversations that I’ve heard around the state as I’ve been going around where some have talked about, you know, trying to figure out how a certain project could be twisted into complying with the rules. At the same time, while some of these counties have people that are going to go to bed tonight on a dug or drilled well and don’t have community water, or they don’t have broadband. As I said in that article, it’s not time to get cute and cocky with these funds. Mississippians expect these dollars to be spent where— and I’m going to quote the lieutenant governor on this, what he said a couple of days ago— “where they’re transformational and generational,” not where we’re twisting our sails like a contortionist and to figure out how we can make some pet project that hadn’t got a darn thing to do with the five categories I just laid out somehow make that comply with the rules. And I think that’s a disservice to people in our state.Some have joked— I hope they were joking when they say, “Well, you know, if we have to send the funds back, we’ll send the funds back.” That is a shame and a disgrace. We should get serious about this.

And I thank the lieutenant governor for appointing the select committee that he did. I saw those names this morning. I had some good conversations with the speaker, particularly on the water issue. And so I think that, you know, the danger here is not having a cohesive plan that can be executed that stretches these dollars as far as we can get them and realize that they’re never going to come back around again. You know, my Bible says, “Where much is given, much is required.” That’s in the good book. And when there’s these type of dollars that are given, it’s not time to try to come up with some crazy scheme to spend them on things that are not, again, as the lieutenant governor said, “transformational and generational.”

Geoff Pender: Commissioner, you and I talked at length about this issue this past week. When you mentioned water, you had provided me some information that was kind of surprising. We’ve got something on the order of 380,000 people in Mississippi that don’t have community water. A lot of these are on well water, but a lot of these are old wells. They’re running dry. They’re not clean enough. I mean as you put it or at some point in our discussions, you know, I guess you don’t want to see counties using this money to, I don’t know, maybe build a soccer field when first and foremost, they’ve got lots of people who don’t have reliable or clean drinking water.

Brandon Presley: Yeah. I mean, you know, if that ain’t a basic need, then I don’t know what a basic need is. When you look at the Mississippi State study that was based on the 2018 Census numbers— now I’ve spoken an email exchange back with Mississippi State, and in that email, they say, you know, our population drops.

So they don’t expect those numbers to move much from where they were in ’18 even if you take into account the 2020 Census because, you know, unfortunately we lost population. So those numbers are pretty much going to be on target; 382,000 Mississippians get their water to sustain life, to wash clothes, whatever from a private water well.

 Now we know in those numbers, when those well owners have private wells tested, a third of them come back with bacteria, what we call total foreign bacteria, which means they would fail a water test at the health department. So you’ve got this many people that are on a private well. Now some people may choose to be on a private well, and God bless them.

That’s their business. But I deal with constituents on a daily basis that need to get community at their house. I can cite incidents all over my district of people that are faced with this problem. You know, God forbid we spend this money on something and don’t try to be meet these basic needs.

To me, you know looking at some type of dollar sharing type program where if a county was willing to put up a local batch, the state could meet it with a percentage of funds and get that problem taken care of. Can you get it all done? You know, probably going to be tough, but I would much rather us look at spending funds on the things that we know Congress said you can spend them on: water, sewer, broadband, helping tourism and the hospitality industry, frontline workers, healthcare workers rather than the kind of criminal mess that we’ve seen over the Department of Human Services. We don’t have to look far to see how these federal dollars can totally be appended and sent to pet projects and things that end up being criminal in nature rather than doing the right thing . And you know, to me, these are basic infrastructure building blocks for any community or any Mississippi family, and we should want to do the right thing with these dollars.

And I think that what we’re seeing is encouraging. Geoff, you know, I mentioned the other day, I think the months of November and December are going to be key. They’re going to be key because this is the time to get the plan together. These dollars need to be put out where they’re improving the quality of life for our people, not where they can be manipulated and like I said, twisted into every shape and form to try to somehow comply with some fuzzy rules given by the U.S. Treasury Department. The clear things we know today is that they can be put on water, sewer and broadband. I’m not advocating that every dime of it go to that. I know there are other needs in the state.

 I’m not being greedy on that, but I think that we should recognize these are where we have legitimate needs that can help our people. 

Bobby Harrison: Commissioner, I assume that the 380,000 folks without water they’re located throughout the state, and I assume most of them are in more rural areas. How do you address the dynamic that a politician is kind of just inclined to want to spend this money where he or she can get the most bang in terms of affecting more people and, you know, gain popularity that way instead of doing, as you said, doing the right thing and helping those people in rural areas where, you know, in one county, you may be talking about 20 to 30 people without water, and that’s important to those 20 and 30 people?

But the politicians might say, “I’d rather spend this money over here where there’s up 10,000 people instead of two or three dozen.” 

Brandon Presley: And I think that comes down to you know, the rudder of our state government. Are we going to play those types of games where you can grab a few headlines and help a few buddies?

And we saw what that got us at the Department of Human Services. It’s sending people to jail. I think that in this case we need to try to really and truly tamp down completely that desire to go out and play politics with these dollars and living up to the things that everybody in state government would say, that we should take the word to Jesus and help the least of these.

Do the things that help people that need help. And if you ask anybody in state government, “Should these people be able to have clean drinking water,” they would say absolutely. The only thing that gets in the way is the tap dancing that comes about when it comes to spending these monies where it can be more politically popular, as you said, or some way that it’s helping out, you know, a larger population where there are more votes. And we’ve had a good track. We’ve got a dang good track record of Mississippians doing that, and you see where it’s got us: 50th in everything, young people leaving the state, rural communities drying up. And, you know, that’s the reason I wrote the op-ed.

I really wrote it because of conversation in some. I’m hoping it was in a joking manner that we would just send the money back. We’d be able to draw interest on it, or, you know, we’re going to try to make this little project fit in here, and now is the time to really dig down and figure out who we are, how do we use these dollars to not only solve a problem for Mississippi in 2021, but in 2061 and 2071. We’ve had a heck of a good record of broadband expansion. We went from 49th in the country to 42nd in a short period of time. And I’ve been touring communities just yesterday.

But at getting broadband, we need to finish that work and get that done. And, again, avoid the temptation that is there to play around with these dollars and do some good with them. I’ll say, you know, ad nauseam, these are unprecedented amounts of money. County supervisors that I’ve talked to, many of whom want to help their constituents who don’t have community water or don’t have broadband, they want to do that. And they’re waiting on a signal from the state to say, “If you’ll put up 50 cents, we’ll put up 75 cents,” or whatever that match ends up working out in the numbers. But that’s, to me, a wiser way to stretch these dollars. I was just down at the Monroe County Board of Supervisors a couple of weeks ago, and their priority as I told them was finding all the areas in Monroe County that lacked water and prioritizing projects that would bring connections to people who don’t have it, build that infrastructure where guess what, if you build water infrastructure into a rural area, you get really a two or three for one. Because as you put up those fire hydrants, the rating bureau lowers the fire insurance costs for those people in the rural areas.

 We should be looking for projects that have multiple benefits to the working families and small businesses of this state and that are transformational, and it’s very simple. There’s a study out by the International City Managers Association that shows local governments right now using these dollars.

And we’ve got so many states that are already so far ahead of where Mississippi is. I’ve got a 700 page document on my desk that the state of Montana has put out on water infrastructure grants through the American Rescue Plan. So many states are far ahead of us. We cannot just sit back and twiddle our thumbs and not have a plan that meets those benefits, and so the Monroe County Board of Supervisors that’s what they’re looking to do with not all of their funds, but a portion of their funds. Well, my question is if the Monroe County Board of Supervisors is willing to put up a couple of million dollars, will the state be willing to match that or go above that to ensure that we get all of those homes connected in Monroe County? The counties and cities are just as restricted as the state is on how these funds can be.

They don’t have any more leeway than the state does, but the real issue is trying to count this revenue as lost revenue so then you can spend it on whatever you want to. And that’s where the rubber is going to meet the road in a lot of these places.

Geoff Pender: Commissioner, as you and I, again, discussed this and you just mentioned it, Mississippi does appear to be behind, at this point, most states in getting plans together. A lot of states are creating large grant funds that cities and counties can tap into. They’ve created boards and commissions that have figured out and can maybe provide more guidance to the local governments.

 Can you go further into that, where you think we are and where we need to be on a state level planning and how to spend this money properly? 

Brandon Presley: Well, I think the first thing is that we know we need to see some leadership. And I, again, I thank the lieutenant governor for what he’s done, and I’ve spoken with the speaker and I feel good about where their heart is on this.

But from a statewide perspective, I think we need to see leadership calling our team together and put aside the petty partisanship, put aside who’s from what county or who supports who and all that crap that doesn’t do anything to help somebody that is out here trying to make a living and trying to work and do right and need these services.

I think we need a comprehensive approach to it, and when you look at what other states have done, Florida, for example, Montana, the state of Maryland— Maryland right now is number four in the country in broadband access, and they’re putting $300 million in the broadband from ARP funds. We do not need to fiddle while rural Mississippi burns.

 I go out and visit these people. I know where Tremont, Mississippi is. I have been to Randolph in Pontotoc County, and I have looked into the eyes of 80-year-old citizens that have to use a five gallon bucket to fill up with water to be able to even live. And if we’re not about doing something about helping those people with one-time money, then please spare me all of the talk about how much we care about those areas. Don’t come back and ask those people for their votes next election because you put your money obviously not where your mouth is. And so I think that’s going to be the other side of this. 

Bobby talked about the political test, the real political test is all of us are elected by the same people. And we’ve got a chance to either ignore their needs, play games, tap dance, to what the donors want done, or we have a chance to do the right thing. Other states are so far ahead of us. Doesn’t mean we’re out of the ballgame. There’s time, but the time for planning and the time for bringing the team together is right now. You know, it’s the next two months before that gavel comes down, and the Legislature’s in session. It’s time to begin working on that. And it’s why I think what you saw in the sentence, very important, and the conversations that I’ve heard out of House leadership, folks that I’ve talked to, have been very encouraging of kind of spending the next two months truly honing in on this, looking at best practices. 

One of the big issues in getting these dollars out has been really the lack of direction that has been given. It’s one thing to appropriate. It’s another thing to get it out of here where it’s turning dirt and hanging fiber or whatever the program is. And so now’s the time to be talking about who’s going to take the lead on this. How are these dollars going to go?

Let’s provide some certainty, some guidance as to what the state may be willing to step up and do because counties, many of them have good intentions. Geoff, you know, about the example up in Benton County, where we’ve got the Tippah County Board of Supervisors, that county board of supervisors coming together to get water to a group of folks who desperately need it, but I am sure that Jimmy Gunn, this county supervisor I’ve been working with up there in Tippah County, would love some guidance from the state of how much they may be willing to put in on a project like that. But, you know, it’s crickets, and I think that’s where we’re behind the other states.

Some of it is not anybody’s fault in the sense of we’re not in a legislative session. I get that, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be meeting. It doesn’t mean we can’t be talking and putting together a plan that says when we’re done spending these dollars, we look back on it and we’re proud of what we did.

Bobby Harrison: Going back to the state leadership, I mean, I’m going to put you on the spot. I mean, it seems that the governor is a person that needs to be leading this. I mean, it’s up to the Legislature to appropriate the funds, but the governor, Governor Reeves —and maybe he’s getting ready to do it in his executive budget recommendation, which should be coming out, I guess, in a few weeks.

But I mean, do we need to hear more from him? 

Brandon Presley: Well, I think that it would sure be helpful. I think that you know, obviously at the end of the day, the Legislature’s got to vote on it and appropriate it, but I, you know, I think this is a time for the quarterback to say, “Here’s where we need to go, y’all,” and let’s start calling some plays. I understand it doesn’t have the force of law, but there are those of us who are some in the same political party, some in another political party, but all of them, I think, throw the politics in the trash and let’s get about how to come up with a plan that we all feel better about.

And I certainly am open to working with the government on this and hope that we can build a coalition to get that. You know, every one of us were taught by our mamas that when you got that first paycheck, you know, “Spend it where it counts, and did you get something for your money?”

You know, and we need to have that same attitude across all levels. And I’m not spoken to Governor Reeves’ office at all about any of these issues. I’d obviously take their calls because I think this is a place where this needs to be an all hands on deck type thing. We’ve got information.

PSC can be helpful. There are other agencies Department of Health, DEQ, others, that can come in and provide some good resources here, but so far, you know, I haven’t heard from them. 

Geoff Pender: Commissioner, you mentioned Congress was very clear from the get go with these funds, that they could go to water, sewerage and broadband. They also have a category for lost revenue.

You mentioned that earlier. Now that’s the category where the counties could, as you said, “Get cute or creative,” correct? They could say, “We lost revenue here.” And as I understand, they can even add 4% to whatever they lost. 

Brandon Presley: Right. Yeah. There’s a projection, and my understanding is there’s a revenue loss calculator. There’s sort of an algorithm or a series of calculations that get you to that based on your revenue and projected revenue going forward.

So you know, I’m not under any illusion that there’s not going to be a certain portion of these funds that could go into the lost revenue category. I think that’s not a fight. I’m not Congress and don’t want to be, but that is a legitimate purpose.

But, you know, having the right to do something and not doing other things you could do with it are two different things. And so, you know, lost revenue is a legal avenue that counties can take, and I’m not against them going through wherever their conscious dictates on that.

I want to make sure that we realize that if all these funds are not going to come back around and if we tried to come up with some way to fund something that, you know is clearly not a part of the package then there wouldn’t be a good explanation for it. And then there oughta be some good reasoning, especially, I don’t know a county in the state that doesn’t have people that are on a private well.

And I don’t know a county in the state that doesn’t have a broadband problem. So, you know, can we just wait on these pet projects until we handle the things that we know are the needs of the people first? You know, is that really asking too much? And so I think that that’s where there is some discretion.

There’s no argument about that, and they have the right to look at that. And I’ve talked to county officials since my article went out, they said, “Well, you know, all the buyers may be lost revenue.” Well, okay. I understand that. I hope that you have surveyed your county of how many people in that county don’t have broadband.

I hope you surveyed your constituents how many people don’t have water because we are. I can assure you we are, and those numbers are out there. And, you know, let’s find a way to be adults about this and be visionary. The benefits of these dollars will alone be out there after we’re all dead and gone. And the question is are you going to put it in projects that have that type of benefit, or are you playing until the 2023 election cycle?

And I got news. If you’re just looking at it from a pure political standpoint, it ain’t bad politics to hook people up to water. It’s not bad politics to get people connected to broadband. They have both the benefit of being darn good public policy, and I’m sure that county supervisors and legislators and others will make a lot of folks happy to get them most services too. 

Geoff Pender: Commissioner, you understandably have talked a lot about rural Mississippi, and Mississippi is a rural state. Some of these same needs, though I mean, we’ve seen in the capital city. Jackson water and sewerage is obviously a huge dire need, a crisis. I mean, a full on crisis. So some of the same stuff would play out across— 

Brandon Presley: Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. And really when I talk about rural Mississippi, connection to a water source, people that don’t have it, it’s not as prevalent, you know, in cities or in particularly a big city or Nettleton, where I’m from. You know, folks can hook it up with the city water supply, but that, that that’s one element of it.

The other is what you’re hitting on. We’ve got water systems that are not sustainable, and we’ve got cities that are in dire need of getting their water systems up to— we would say in the country “up to snuff”— getting them up to, you know, up to in compliance, but also making them more reliable.

When I talk about that, I don’t do that in just a vacuum. I’m not a one trick pony in the sense that it’s only about rural issues. There are definite issues in Jackson and in our bigger cities where they’re trying to fix the system or expand the system that those needs have to be looked at, and cities are getting a allocation of funds, again, restricted the same as counties in the state. So I’m certainly not ignoring those. Really the need of people who don’t have service tend to be in more rural communities, but there’s a whole other set of needs that are out there. You may have a water system or a city where everybody’s connected, but you need a new water tank, or you need to upgrade the line so that the water is clear and reliable.

Those are just as important needs. 

Bobby Harrison: Commissioner, going back to lost revenue for just a minute. You know, you’re talking about 82 counties and 300 cities, so there might be some instances of lost revenue out there. But I mean, I got to think based on the way the state revenue has grown that cities and counties have seen a lot of the same growth in terms of in large part because of all this other federal money that’s been pumped into the state to deal with COVID and the checks people have gotten, the thousands of dollars in checks has gone into the economy. I mean, it’s hard to imagine that a lot of these cities and counties are experiencing lost revenue right now. 

Brandon Presley: I think the difference maker, Bobby, is what Geoff brought up a minute ago. It’s the 4% adder and because that allows you, as I understand it, to project out a couple of years to a future revenue and whether that target is in there. So there is some pliability to that based upon my understanding, and I’ve spoken with some folks that are working on this revenue loss calculator.

So that’s what we’re seeing. Some may be better than others, and it’s going to vary based on jurisdiction because, you know, there are lots of things that go into it. County calculates there. You could have a huge uptick in sales tax revenue in the city, but your ad valorem taxes may have plummeted for some reason or another, or you may have some other revenue calculation. All of which is the sum of the hole, and then you apply that 4% onto it. So I agree with you. I think it would be mighty eyeopening for anybody to look and say, “Oh, the entire thing is lost revenue.”

Geoff Pender: County leaders I talked with this week, one thing they were looking at is that claiming lost revenue would be a creative way to spend some of this money on roads and bridges. Now there appears to be a huge appetite among counties and cities to do so. There’s an effort in Congress even to change the rules on these funds to allow road and bridge work. Would that be the worst thing? Is water, sewer broadband that much higher a priority than road and bridge work? 

Brandon Presley: Look, we all drive on these roads, and I’ve had to have my front end aligned on my trucks many times, so absolutely the roads and bridges are important. But the rules of the game right now are three delineated, very clear ways in which to spend this money and then lost revenue being on equal par with those three. I just think that it’s nonsensical to think that you can look and say everything’s going to be lost revenue.

And if at that point, they want to be able to put into roads and bridges, look ,that’s not my choice to make. I’m going to just use a really easy example. Let’s say a county runs a revenue calculator, and they got a million dollars. If it’s a million dollars and 25% of that is lost revenue, then obviously $250,000 goes into the general fund for the appropriations as they want to. You got $750,000 leftover.

You got $750,000 leftover. The question becomes at that point do you know how many people in that county don’t have water, don’t have broadband and how can state agencies like the Public Service Commission and the Department of Health help the counties determine that? And we know that there are grant programs afoot right now in other areas of the state where counties are putting money into a rural water grant assistance program. Perry County as I understand it is one that’s doing that now, working with their planning and development district. So that’s really the scenario that I think is more practical is that there’s going to be a certain percentage of these funds that are going to be eligible for counted as lost revenue. Is it going to be all of them? I highly, highly doubt it.

Is it going to be half of all the funds going? I highly doubt that.I think it’s somewhere in the 20, 30% range is my hunch based on the conversations I’ve had.

Bobby Harrison: And of course, if Congress ever gets its act together, they’re going to pass the infrastructure bill that would presumably send a lot of money to the state for roads and bridges.

Brandon Presley: Yeah. And, again, look, I’m speaking about water, sewer and broadband because that’s what my agency deals with, and I bet that, you know, Commissioner Caldwell or Commissioner King or the transportation commissioner going to be talking about roads and bridges. We’re all trying to do our part related to that.

So I’m not being exclusive to that. I’m just being practical. I think you’re going to have a hard, hill to climb if everything was just counted as lost revenue ,and that’s certainly not what Congress had intended. 

Bobby Harrison: You may get mad at me now because you’ve been talking about taking politics out of everything, but I’m going to ask you about politics.

Kind of changing topics a little bit. You’ve been public service commissioner for a while, and I joked about your age, but you’re still a young man. At least I would view 44 as being young. Got an election coming up in 2023. Some people talk about you possibly running for another office. What’s your goals right now in terms of your political future?

Brandon Presley: Well, make it through the day. But really I have found consistently, and I’ve been in public office for 20 years and as you said started out as a small town mayor and today at the PSC for four terms. Every politician that I find that becomes ineffective and leads to a lot of cynicism and skepticism in government are all those people who get elected to one office and their mouth starts watering to run for another one. And they can’t do the job at hand because they’re so tempted by trying to go somewhere else. That log will shake itself out between now and election year, and, you know, quite frankly, the good Lord will open doors or shut doors however He sees fit. And I have a lot of reliance on my faith and see where things go with that. The biggest issue we’ve got and in looking at going forward through not only the political side of this, but the great opportunities we have with the funds we’ve been talking about.

And it’s the same thing politically. You know, I’ve tried to ascribe to a philosophy of under promise and over deliver. You know, don’t go tell the people we can get everybody broadband overnight. Let’s set some expectations, but then let’s have a program that is so darn excellent that it over delivers to the public.

And I think if all of us in public life would try to under promise and then over deliver, we can beat back some of the skepticism if you couple it with elected officials not just looking toward the next time they’re on the ballot. I am so sick and tired of picking up my phone and seeing social media and this silliness of governing. You know, I call it governing by a hashtag.

What’s the latest, cute, smart aleck thing can be said today that somehow, you know, fluffs ups some politician? And guess what? The folks that I’m sitting at the gas station in Batesville, Mississippi, right now doing this podcast and the folks are filling up their gas tanks are worried about gas prices, who’s going to pick the kids up this afternoon, are we going to be able to afford the things that we know we need for our kids for school? That’s what they’re worried about. And what you’ve got in politics is this huge vacuum out there in which everybody’s worried about themselves, and what happened? The people in this state just get bordered right out of the mix.

And so, you know, you gotta be in politics to hold these jobs, but I think that’s a big, big part of the problem. And it’s why the people in Mississippi have been screwed over over the years so much. 

Bobby Harrison: So I’m guessing for that answer we can interpret it. You haven’t decided anything yet for 2023. 

Brandon Presley: Oh, no. 

Geoff Pender: By the way, that was a masterful answer, political non-answer answer. 

Brandon Presley: You know, we’re two years out, more than two years out from election and a year in what, three, four months out before qualifying starts. I’m not worried about any of that. 

Geoff Pender: That’s two lifetimes in politics, right?

Brandon Presley: Man, listen. That’s two lifetimes in politics exactly. And I will say one of the proudest things in my political career has been the good working relationship that we have had over the past year and a half with Lieutenant Governor Hosemann, Speaker Gunn, the leadership in that Legislature working on these issues where we’ve put our shoulder to the wheel and work together.

Those two gentlemen, I can’t say enough nice things about. Do we agree on everything? Heck no. You know, there’s no way that happens, but it has been some of the best times of my career working with, kicking some butt for rural Mississippi and for people that need help and forgetting who’s on what political side of the aisle and just getting things done and my hats off to them.

And I’m sure that makes some Republicans cringe, and I’m sure that it makes some Democrats cringe, but it’s just the facts. You know, that’s where the real work gets done. And I can’t say enough good things about their willingness to work on this type of stuff in a way in which we’re advancing the goodness of the people of Mississippi.

And proof’s in the pudding with the way we spent some of these CARES Act funds. So, you know, I count Delbert and Phillip, lieutenant, governor and speaker, as friends and appreciate their working relationship. And I think that’s what people just expect. 

Geoff Pender: Commissioner, thank you for coming in for talking with us today, and I suspect spending these federal stimulus funds unprecedented we’ll probably be following up with you on that if that’s all right. This is as you said another unprecedented deal and probably a once in a generation or lifetime deal. 

Brandon Presley: And let’s not forget how many people can get jobs in construction and otherwise, and you can take this as a seed to have an even bigger economic boom with people who need work, companies that can be putting this work in and doing some good with it at the end of the day.

And I just appreciate y’all having me on and hopefully the dialogue going forward between now and the spring will be a lot of good stuff. But again, under promise, over deliver and have a plan that makes that happen.

Bobby Harrison: Hey commissioner, I liked in your op-ed how you brought Merle Haggard into it. I appreciated that. 

Brandon Presley: Listen, I said it in the very beginning I’m an old country music fan. None of this gelled up hair, skinny jean modern country for me. George Waylon, Charlie Pratt. 

Bobby Harrison: You talked about what was it? Rainbow soup? Well, one of my heroes has a cold dog soup and rainbow pylon. 

Brandon Presley: Yeah. Oh, well Merle, you know, he had that great song where “I’ll be drinking that free bubble-up and eating that rainbow stew.”

And that’s the way sometimes these government programs get. It sounds like were doing everything in the world, and then it don’t happen. So hopefully this time next year, we’ll be back talking about all the good things that are going on with these funds based upon the needs of the folks. 

Bobby Harrison: Thank you, sir. 

Geoff Pender: Thank you again. 

Brandon Presley: Thank y’all. Have a good weekend.

Adam Ganucheau: As we cover the biggest political stories in this state, you don’t want to miss an episode of The Other Side. We’ll bring you more reporting from every corner of the state, sharing the voices of Mississippians and how they’re impacted by the news. So, what do we need from you, the listener? We need your feedback and support.

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.

Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.