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“Doesn’t Mississippi Have More Pressing Concerns?”: Fattest, Poorest, Sickest State In America Rails Against LGBT People

A portrait of Mississippi.

It has a lower percentage of high school graduates than almost any other state. It has an unemployment rate higher than almost any other state.

Mississippi’s fourth-graders perform more poorly than any other children in the country in math. Also in reading. Its smoking rates are among the highest in the country. Along with West Virginia, it is the fattest state in the Union. It has the highest poverty rate and the lowest life expectancy.

Small wonder 24/7 Wall Street, a content provider for Yahoo!, Time and USA Today, among others, has dubbed Mississippi the “worst state to live in.”

All of which provides a certain pungent context for what happened last week as Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law a bill legalizing discrimination against LGBT people. It is dubbed the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” which is a cynical lie. The only thing it protects is those doing the discriminating.

You want to refuse to rent to a lesbian couple? You’re covered.

You want to refuse to hire a transgendered woman? Go for it.

You want to force your gay adopted son to undergo so-called conversion therapy? No problem.

You want to kick an adulterous heterosexual out of your hardware store? Yep, the law says you can even do that.

Indeed, it says that any gay, transgendered or adulterous individual whose behavior offends the “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” of a person, for-profit business, government employee or religious organization can be refused service.

As if your sexual orientation or marital status were the business of the cashier ringing up your groceries or the barber trimming your hair.

It is worth nothing that similar laws have been propounded in other states — Georgia, Indiana, Arkansas — only to be turned back under threat of boycott by Fortune 500 companies and professional sports teams doing business there. “The worst state to live in,” was immune to that kind of pressure because it has no such teams or businesses.

You’d think that would tell them something. You’d think it would suggest to Mississippi that it has more pressing concerns than salving the hurt feelings of some putative Christian who doesn’t want to bake a cake for Lester and Steve.

But addressing those concerns would require serious thought, sustained effort, foresight, creativity and courage. It is easier just to scapegoat the gays.

So the fattest, poorest, sickest state in the Union rails against LGBT people and adulterers and never mind that if every last one of them pulled up stakes tomorrow, Mississippi would still be the fattest, poorest, sickest state in the Union.

The point is not that such bigotry would be impossible in places that are healthier or wealthier. The point is not that such places are immune to it. Rather, the point is simply this: Isn’t it interesting how reliably social division works as a distraction from things that ought to matter more?

After all, Mississippi just passed a law that 80 percent of its eighth-graders would struggle to read.

If they graduate, those young people will look for work in a state with an unemployment rate significantly higher than the national average. But if one of those kids does manage to find work at the local doughnut shop say, she will — until the law is struck down, at least — have the satisfaction of refusing service to some gay man, secure in the knowledge that the state that failed to educate her or give her a fighting chance in a complex world, now has her back.

One feels sorrier for her than for the gay man. Her life will be hemmed by the fact of living it in a state that fights the future, that teaches her to deflect and distract, not resolve and engage.

The gay man can buy doughnuts anywhere.


By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 10, 2016

April 12, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, LGBT, Mississippi, Phil Bryant | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Running Ethically In Mississippi”: With So Much At Stake, Can Travis Childers Walk The Tightrope?

Travis Childers, who served as a Democrat in Congress from May 13, 2008 to January 3, 2011, was never my kind of Democrat, but I am okay with that. I would not expect great things from him if he were to win a six-year term in the U.S. Senate representing the state of Mississippi. On most contentious issues, I’d expect him to vote with the Republicans in a (probably) vain effort to save his hide in his bid for reelection.

What interests me about this race is the ethics. It’s pretty clear that the Republican Party is badly split between supporters of incumbent Thad Cochran, who is a decent fellow, and his challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who runs in neo-confederate circles and has the support of an extreme Tea Party faction. This wedge pre-exists anything Childers might do to exploit it. If Childers can convince a significant percentage of McDaniel supporters to vote for him, he can actually win this seat, but it is not clear how he can go about doing that without leveraging the racism that is at the core of opposition to Cochran.

Cochran was expected to lose his run-off with McDaniel but exceeded expectations by convincing a not inconsiderable number of black voters to back him. The Tea Party faction is claiming that a lot of these black voters violated the law by voting in the Republican run-off after voting in the Democratic primary. That issue can be settled in court, but regardless of legal merits, Cochran’s open solicitation of black votes is seen as dirty pool by McDaniel’s supporters who think that a Republican primary should be decided by exclusively Republican voters regardless of what the law specifies.

Travis Childers has the option of exacerbating this racial tension for his own political advantage, but this would be the wrong thing to do. Yet, if he doesn’t do it, he will almost certainly lose. In fact, even if he does do it, he will probably lose.

Democrats in Washington are watching the feud cautiously, not yet convinced it will put even Mississippi in play. The Democratic nominee, Mr. Childers, has raised little money and was always seen as a good candidate against Mr. McDaniel but as a marginal one against Mr. Cochran.

Conservative activists are not so sure. Dwayne Hall, vice president of the Miller County Patriots, a Tea Party group in Texarkana, Ark., says he has set up a Google alert for the McDaniel-Cochran fight and emails his network of fellow activists all the news from Mississippi.

“I’m no longer a member of the Republican Party, and I’d expect a lot of my fellow patriots to resign, too,” he said, adding: “I’m perfectly willing to do a protest vote in November if that’s my best option. I’m keeping that option open.”

So, how can Childers convince people like Dwayne Hall to advocate on his behalf without dirtying himself with the racial politics of it all? Childers needs to nurture that “protest vote,” but he doesn’t want to shame himself in the process. So far, he’s walking the tightrope.

The turmoil has given Mr. Cochran’s Democratic challenger, former Representative Travis Childers, an opening to exploit the divide in what is otherwise seen as a race in which he trails badly. “Senator Cochran does not have the confidence of his state, let alone his own party,” Mr. Childers said.

It won’t be easy to maintain that kind of balance with so much at stake. I hope Childers will be able to look back at his campaign and be proud of how he ran it regardless of the outcome.


By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 6, 2014


July 7, 2014 Posted by | Mississippi, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The ‘Conspiracy’ In Mississippi”: A Perilous Challenge Based On Mississippi’s Silly, Unenforceable And Probably Unconstitutional Law

Three days after his upset defeat in the MS GOP SEN runoff, Chris McDaniel is still keeping his counsel on what he might or might not do to challenge the results. All but one of the national conservative groups (the Tea Party Patriots being the exception) have written off the contest and moved on. And while there is some anecdotal evidence–much of it not necessarily credible–of plain violations of the law (people who voted in the Democratic primary on June 3 being allowed to participate in the runoff), it seems unlikely it’s sufficient to close a 6,000-vote deficit or mount a legal challenge to the outcome.

If that’s all accurate, that means what McDaniel may be pondering is an extremely perilous challenge based on Mississippi’s silly, unenforceable and probably unconstitutional law limiting primary participation to those who “intend” to support the party in the next general election. Here’s what he told Sean Hannity earlier this week:

McDaniel says Cochran’s campaign brought in Democrats to steal the GOP primary. He told Hannity he might launch a court challenge on “a civil conspiracy to violate state law.”

Sounds like given the inability of anyone without divine omniscience to establish individual violation of the “intent” law, McDaniel may claim that the open Cochran campaign appeals for crossover votes amount to a conspiracy to encourage violation of that law.

Legal niceties aside, this will come down to a toxic claim that by appealing to Democrats–which in Mississippi mostly means African-Americans–Cochran was “stealing the election.” Given Mississippi’s history, I don’t think this would redound to the benefit of a Republican Party struggling to overcome its reputation as a sort of national redoubt for Old White People, or of a conservative movement whose denizens become crazy furious (as my Twitter account can attest) at any suggestion “race” ever enters their minds.

As the days go by and Team McDaniel’s accusation that black people voting in “their” primary constitutes voter fraud hangs in the air, you wonder if he’ll be able to walk any of this back. Mark my words: if McDaniel does move forward with a conspiracy charge, “Establishment Republicans” may ultimately wish he had won the runoff after all.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 27, 2014

June 29, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Mississippi, Tea Party | , , , , | 2 Comments

“Crashing The White Primary”: Not An Argument Consistent With Broadening The Appeal Of The GOP

Right before the votes started rolling in last night, elements of Team McDaniel started complaining of “illegal Dem votes to steal the election.” As it became obvious that turnout in heavily African-American areas was up sharply from June 3, with Thad Cochran the overwhelming beneficiary, the cry of “theft” grew louder, to the point that McDaniel himself refused to concede after all the experts had declared the incumbent the winner.

Cochran’s win wasn’t all about “crossover” voting; he seems to have beefed up both turnout and his percentage of the vote in Gulf Coast counties where he campaigned personally, reminding voters of the defense contracts he had brought to the area.

It also appears from McDaniel’s enhanced votes in the pineywoods sections of the state that there may have been a backlash to Cochran’s appeals to African-Americans.

In any event, the kvetching from the Right last night sounded an awful lot like southern seggies during the civil rights era complaning about “The Bloc Vote” (though there really never was a Bloc Vote in Mississippi at that time because black people simply weren’t allowed to vote). The unfocused talk of a legal challenge to the outcome either is or isn’t based on documented examples of (a) voting by people who already participated in the Democratic Primary on June 3, which contradicts a lot of anecdotal evidence about people being challenged and excluded on those grounds, or (b) some sort of illegal inducement to vote. If it isn’t, then McDaniel supporters are really going to embarrass themselves and Republicans everywhere if they contest an election on the basis of some ridiculous and patently unconstitutional “intent to support the party in November” law, or some general principle that “crossover” voting is inherently illegitimate.

For all the talk last night of “liberal Democrats” being allowed to determine a Republican primary, there’s actually no way to know the partisan or ideological identity of voters in a state with no party registration (as David Nir pointedly asked this morning, why hasn’t Chris McDaniel sponsored a bill to change that in his years in the state legislature?). So what these birds are really complaining about is black participation in a “white primary.” This is certainly not an argument consistent with broadening the appeal of the GOP or the conservative movement.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 25, 2014

June 26, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Mississippi, Tea Party | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sane Is Better Than Insane”: Thad Cochran Wins One For Sanity Over Tea Partier Chris McDaniel

I know, I know. Fellow liberals, you were rooting for Chris McDaniel to beat Thad Cochran on Tuesday night in Mississippi. I understand. Just a few days ago, I was, too. Put more crazy in the national GOP. Make them look that much more embarrassing. Bring one more nut to Washington who talks about hot Latino babes and all the rest of it.

Besides which, if McDaniel had won, the Democrat, Travis Childers, would have had a shot. Childers would scarcely qualify as a Democrat in about 17 or 18 states, but the Senate is the Senate, full of weird senators, for better or worse. Every state gets two. Why not have one be a guy who’ll vote (we presume, shakily) to make Harry Reid the majority leader of the Senate?

Nah. First of all, the idea that Childers ever had any kind of chance of winning a Senate seat in Mississippi was a pipe dream. The voters of Mississippi aren’t going to send a Democratic senator to Washington, D.C., in the era of Barack Obama. I don’t care what the circumstances are. Remember that old joke about incumbents being safe as long as they weren’t caught with a live boy or a dead girl? During the Obama presidency, a Mississippi Republican could be caught with a dead Bichon Frise, and the only question he’d be asked is why he favored a dog with such a gay-sounding Frenchie name. Childers wasn’t going to beat McDaniel.

As to whether Democrats would prefer to have Cochran or McDaniel in the Senate, this takes us back to the old Marxist dialectic, “The worse, the better.” That is, the worse things get for our enemies, the more extreme and crazy they get, the better things are for us, because the worse things get for them, the more quickly the public will see that the other side has lost its freaking mind.

This was the stratagem of leftists everywhere for a long, long time. Not that I’m making any direct comparisons here—OK?—but this is what the socialists and communists thought in Germany in 1933. The right, they were sure, is going to discredit itself. And they were correct. But it took 12 years and around 9 million or 10 million dead human beings. That’s enough collateral damage to prove the theorists wrong.

No, sorry. Boring as it may seem, be glad that Cochran eked out his win. Be happy that sane won. Here’s a little political truism for you: Sane is better than insane. We don’t need more Ted Cruzes in the Senate. We don’t need more candidates endorsed by Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum. We just. Don’t. Need. Them. We don’t need one more extremist GOP candidate who is going to make those cowardly Republicans in the Senate conclude that they have to live in fear of losing to some certifiable, fact-bending jelly-head of the extreme right. We really don’t.

Cochran will never vote for anything Obama wants. No minimum wage hike, no carbon tax, no nothing. I understand that. But he’ll be in there, assuming he wins and stays alive, until January 2021. That is, through what might be Hillary Clinton’s first term. If the GOP intra-bloodbath happens in 2017 after she’s won, Cochran, who won’t be running again and just won’t give a shit, might actually vote for one or two things Clinton asks for. McDaniel, obviously, would not.

And consider this. The Tea Party people are furious about this outcome. A very prominent Tea Party activist tweeted Tuesday night: “If Cochran wins this #mssen race, the GOP is done. They teamed up with Dems to steal a race. Kiss the base goodbye.”

So there we are. Be for sanity. Be against insanity. The dialectic never worked, even back in the glory days. Chris McDaniel belongs where he belongs—chasing ambulances in Pascagoula, or wherever it is he’s from. And his election would not hasten the Republican apocalypse. If anything, Cochran’s would. More Tea Party losses in races like this are what’s needed.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 25, 2014

June 26, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Mississippi, Tea Party | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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