Mississippi Today’s Editor-in-Chief Adam Ganucheau answered your questions on Reddit about the legislative session, the welfare scandal and more.
Read his answers below and catch up on our legislative coverage by reading The Legislative Guide.
Q: Hey Adam, what is the argument for not expanding Medicaid?
A: A very good question, particularly as the state’s hospital crisis rages on and hundreds of thousands of poor, working Mississippians cannot afford health care.
The main argument from the handful of Republican leaders who have rejected Medicaid expansion is that we can’t afford it. This argument is getting tougher to justify as more and more studies show that it would effectively pay for itself in the form of new jobs and capital created. Plus, there are extra, post-COVID incentives from the federal government for the 11 holdout states to expand.
My colleague Geoff Pender has a great article that runs through all the main arguments for not expanding Medicaid we’ve heard over the years.
Q: In your mind, do Mississippi politicians feel they are immune to media scrutiny? What can be done to get the public more interested in what their politicians are doing?
A: As journalists, we can only report the truth of what our elected officials do and say and how they serve the public. I do think there are times that media coverage gets a ton of pickup, both across the state and nationally. Too often, as we all know, nothing changes in Mississippi until there’s a big, bright national spotlight on us. I hate that has to be the case, but it’s been that way for many decades.
I can promise you the politicians feel the weight of that national scrutiny. Rep. Trey Lamar knows a lot about that right now after he proposed HB 1020, dubbed “the Jackson takeover bill,” that has been written about nationally the past couple weeks. He has millions of people around the nation calling him a racist, and it’s evident from his Twitter page that he is hearing and seeing that. Whether or not it changes his thinking or perspective, more to your point, is less certain.
I don’t know, exactly, how to get the public more interested in what the politicians are doing. I do know that we at Mississippi Today will keep being as blunt and truthful about what we see as we can. I also think so many elected officials in Mississippi rarely hear directly from constituents about anything, really. It would seem to me that could change some behavior, but it’s hard to say.
For a more local example of how the media coverage doesn’t sway their behavior:
Read my column from Monday about a tactic House Republicans were ramping up to stifle debate with Democratic colleagues.
Then read our story from Tuesday about House Republicans not only doing what I’d just written but taking it an extreme step further (and peep the incredible photo).
Q: What is the potential for discovery in Brett Favre’s lawsuit against Shad White and NFL media personalities to do damage to Phil Bryant and others trying very hard to ignore it all?
A: Honestly no idea. Many people a whole lot smarter than me believe that Favre’s defamation suit against Shad White will never reach the discovery phase, but who knows. We do know that Favre has been methodically ramping up the narrative that “Phil Bryant is guilty, not me,” to paraphrase. I’d say in any case that is open and even tangentially related to the welfare scandal, more could potentially come out on Bryant and others who have been scrutinized either in the courts or the public sphere. But it’s hard to say what Favre’s thinking is on this defamation stuff. No matter what: Anything related to the defamation suit “re-ups” attention on Bryant and others in the scandal. Just look for Bryant’s name in any of the hundreds of national stories from the past couple weeks about Favre’s suit. It’s everywhere.
Q: When can we expect the politicians involved in the TANF scandal to be held accountable?
A: I don’t know that anyone can safely say that any additional indictments will be handed down. I can pretty safely say that anything new that comes down will have to come from the feds, not the state. As far as we know, the only state investigation happening is related to the DHS civil suit attempting to recoup much of the known misspent money. Nothing criminal there.
As for what’s happening on the federal side, we have been told by several people (and reported as much) that a federal investigation continues. A huge story that I don’t think has gotten nearly enough traction is that Biden nominated a U.S. attorney for the southern district of Mississippi who is perhaps the single best qualified person to run a political corruption investigation like this. Todd Gee, a Mississippi native, did exactly that for the U.S. Department of Justice for several years! But Biden’s nominations for Mississippi have stalled because of this controversial process in the U.S. Senate called the “blue slip process.” So basically because of Washington politics, this super qualified U.S. attorney can’t yet lead the investigation of the welfare scandal. That should be maddening, I believe, to every U.S. taxpayer whose money was literally stolen in this scandal.
All this is to say: I don’t know when politicians involved in the TANF scandal will be held accountable. It’s possible the answer is “never.”
Q: I want to know what specifically we as voters can do to restore our balloting rights. This issue trumps them all because without it we are serfs
A: Restoring the ballot initiative is something we at Mississippi Today have been keeping an incredibly close eye on this session. Y’all know this, but the quick background: A ballot initiative process allows voters to collect signatures and place issues on a statewide ballot, effectively circumventing lawmakers. It’s an extremely democratic power that voters in most states have at their disposal in case they think elected officials aren’t serving their interests.
When the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down our ballot initiative process in a May 2021 ruling, we became the first state to have that done in that matter — and became one of several with no ballot initiative process at all. Legislative leaders, including House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, quickly said they would work to reinstate some version of a ballot initiative. But last year, their first session with the chance to, they didn’t.
Right now, there is just one bill alive in the 2023 legislative session that would reinstate the ballot initiative, but it is extremelyyyy different than our old process. As written, this bill would make it so much harder to actually get something on the ballot, PLUS it would allow lawmakers to have the final say on whether or not to adopt the will of the voters. As my colleague Bobby Harrison wrote, the bill would “take voters out of voter initiative process.”
It seems the Senate leadership — Sen. John Polk and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann — are the ones pushing for this controversial version of the ballot initiative. I know a lot of folks are contacting them about this issue. But it’s in the House’s hands for now, and the House leadership clearly wants to improve the Senate version. The two main folks in the House dealing with this bill will be Rep. Fred Shanks and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn.
Some further reading from Bobby Harrison: Senate Bill takes voters out of initiative proposal and Senators keep watered-down ballot initiative bill alive, vow to improve it
Q: Hey, Adam. Why did a certain attorney in Jim Hood’s office sign off on the Brett Favre deal?
A: I’m proud of how transparent we’ve been about this from the beginning. Linking my editor’s note below, but since it came up here, I’ll say a little more. A political operative who constantly trashes my colleagues and other journalists in the state — a guy who is closely tied to several Republican officials and staffers who have been implicated in the welfare scandal — dragged my mother into the narrative without bothering to try to report the full context of what really happened.
To quote from my editor’s note: “That political actors are willing to leverage the bureaucratic role my own mother played in state government to try to discredit Mississippi Today’s reporting is notable. But it should not distract readers from the real story: Powerful Mississippians appear to have used the state government system to steer millions away from our neediest residents into their own pockets and the pockets of their wealthy friends. We will follow and report the story wherever it leads us, just as we always have.”
FREE ONLINE JOURNALISM LIKE OURS HAS NEVER MATTERED MORE.
As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on donations from readers to power our work. Will you invest in the future of independent journalism in Mississippi?