Tate Reeves, during his nearly 19 years in elective office, has subscribed to the theory that a good defense is best achieved through a bold offense.
His default setting is offense.
On the day last week that an order was made public detailing the takeover by the U.S. Department of Justice of the Jackson Water System, the governor went to social media to proclaim victory. But it was not clear who was keeping score other than Reeves.
“It is excellent news for anyone who cares about the people of Jackson that the mayor (Chokwe Antar Lumumba) will no longer be overseeing the city’s water system,” the governor said on social media. “It is out of the city’s control and will now be overseen by a federal court.”
The beleaguered water system, which has been beset for years with boil water notices and the loss of water pressure, also is out of the control of the state of Mississippi. And, of course, the state of Mississippi is ultimately the responsibility of Gov. Jonathan Tate Reeves.
Make no mistake about it – President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice is taking over the Jackson water system because both the city of Jackson and the state of Mississippi have been unable or unwilling to fix it.
Perhaps the governor should send Biden, whom he often goes on offense against, a thank you note for taking over the problem. After all, the governor made it clear he did not want to deal with the problem.
“It is a great day to be in Hattiesburg. It’s also, as always, a great day to not be in Jackson,” Reeves joked during the height of the most recent shutdown when many city residents had no running water. “I feel like I should take off my emergency manager director hat and leave it in the car and take off my public works director hat and leave it in the car.”
Granted, as the governor and other state officials have often said, it is primarily the responsibility of the city to provide adequate water to the citizens of Jackson.
But ultimately, Jackson, like any municipality in Mississippi, is a creature of the state. All municipalities in the state, from Satartia in Yazoo County with less than 50 residents to Jackson, the capital city, with about 150,000 residents, were created by acts of the Mississippi Legislature.
The Mississippi Constitution reads, “The Legislature shall pass general laws … under which cities and towns may be chartered and their charters amended.”
Reeves, during his eight years as lieutenant governor presiding over the Senate, or during his three years as governor, could have advocated for legislation to deal with the Jackson water crisis that has been ongoing for years. The water crisis should not be a surprise to anyone in state government. More than once Jackson water woes resulted in portable bathrooms being parked on the grounds of the ornate Mississippi Capitol during sessions of the Legislature.
The governor and Legislature could have acted to deal with the water woes with or without the consent of officials with the city of Jackson. After all, the city, as established by the Mississippi Constitution, is a creature of the state.
And it is not as if state officials have an aversion to getting involved in the business other than water of the city of Jackson.
It was not that long ago – 2016 – that legislation originating in the Senate where Reeves presided at the time as lieutenant governor was passed and signed into law by then-Gov. Phil Bryant stripping from city officials some of the authority over the Jackson Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport. Granted, a federal lawsuit has been filed that is pending trying to block the legislation from being enacted.
But that does not diminish the fact that there were steps the state could have taken earlier to deal with the issues facing the Jackson Water System.
There are multiple other examples of the governor and the Legislature meddling in the business of Jackson and of other cities across the state. Almost on a yearly basis, legislation is considered and sometimes passed to limit the cities’ authority to enact gun safety laws or to limit the cities’ authority to deal with undocumented immigrants as the locally elected leaders see fit.
Does saying all of this mean that there is not blame going way back among Jackson officials for the condition of the city water system?
The answer to that question most likely is no, but with the caveat that people in the highest echelons of state government who live in glass houses perhaps should not throw stones.