Editorial roundup: Mississippi | Miami Herald
Dispatch Columbus. May 3, 2022.
Editorial: Dropped pants and campaign finance
Some laws and ordinances are never enforced.
For example, in Oxford there is a local ordinance that says you cannot cheer on an Ole Miss football match unless there is a reason for doing so. In Winona, it is still illegal to honk a car horn as it may startle a horse. There is also a state law that prohibits atheists from holding elected office. In Mississippi, cattle rustling is punishable by hanging.
Closer to home, the Columbus City Council passed an ordinance in 2002 to make wearing saggy pants an offense punishable by a fine of up to $250.
Campaign finance laws in Mississippi are unfortunately other good examples of unenforced laws.
During this year’s session, the Mississippi Legislature overwhelmingly approved a bill that would shift responsibility for assessing and collecting fines for violations of campaign finance law from the state to the Office of the Secretary of State. In 2017, the legislature transferred this authority to the Mississippi Ethics Commission.
In arguing for the return of that authority to the Secretary of State’s office, lawmakers noted that since 2017, candidates found guilty of violating the campaign finance law have not paid more than $100,000 in fines. Returning this role to the office of the Secretary of State makes perfect sense, since that office is in charge of state elections.
The bill not only received the support of Secretary of State Michael Watson, but also of Ethics Commissioner Tom Hood. The measure passed the Senate, 51-0, and the House by a vote of 117-2.
Yet despite this support, Governor Tate Reeves vetoed the bill. In a brief statement, Reeves said only that he was opposed to giving the power to collect fines to an office headed by an elected official. The Ethics Commission is an appointed body. Reeves apparently thinks an elected official could be compromised in enforcing campaign finance laws.
It should be noted that the inability to enforce campaign finances is not a recent development. Even when that authority rested with the secretary of state’s office – before 2017 – there seemed to be little serious enforcement. In 2015, then-State Auditor Stacey Pickering was accused of using campaign donations to buy an RV, buy her daughter a car and replace her home’s garage door . The FBI investigated these allegations, but Pickering was never charged, primarily because state campaign finance laws did not explicitly prohibit the use of campaign funds for personal expenses, a practice which was finally banned in 2018 – with a caveat. As of today, campaign donations collected before 2018 can still be used for personal expenses.
The issues surrounding campaign finance laws, however, go beyond that. Candidates at the local and state level routinely submit incomplete reports or fail to meet reporting deadlines. Campaign finance reports for those running for statewide office can be found on the Secretary of State’s website, but the only way to review local candidate finance reports is to go to the circuit clerk’s office. A bill requiring these reports to be published online died in committee in 2017, which has generally been the fate of most campaign reform bills.
Due to these unenforced laws, filing comprehensive campaign finance reports in a timely manner is a matter of choice.
For a candidate, circumventing campaign finance laws is still no more dangerous than honking a car horn in Winona.
Commonwealth of Greenwood. April 29, 2022.
Editorial: Statistics defend the Ministry of Health
When the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center recently complained to federal authorities that Mississippi had not done enough to address the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on minority communities, the Department of Health of the state was ready to react firmly.
The complaint claimed that Mississippi and various public and private organizations received more than $15 billion in federal money for the COVID-19 response, “yet the state continued to provide a discriminatory curriculum, resulting in disproportionate rates of illness, hospitalization and death in Black, Indigenous and Brown communities.
Mississippi Today cited Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state health worker, who acknowledged racial disparities in COVID-19 cases early in the pandemic. But he said the state health department has been working hard to resolve the issue.
“While the state has faced many challenges in advancing the equity mission — including early access to vaccines, trust issues, and technological barriers to vaccine appointments — a state-wide coalition “State agencies, religious, medical and community leaders have been able to provide much-needed information, vaccines and PPE to minority populations in the state,” Dobbs said.
Another Mississippi-based website, Y’all Politics, cited Health Department information that indicates Dobbs is correct.
The numbers indicate that 62% of black Mississippi residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while only 54% of whites have. The difference was similar for residents who received a second dose: 56% of black residents and 49% of white residents.
It is certainly fair to note that one of the reasons why white vaccination percentages were low is that a significant number of people decided not to get vaccinated or not to wear a mask – period. But it’s no exaggeration to suspect that some black residents made the same decision and just weren’t so vocal about it.
Other data from the state Department of Health also supports Dobbs.
Through April 12, Mississippi has reported 704,000 COVID-19 infections (nearly 25% of the population). Of these, 406,000 patients, or 58%, were white, while 249,000, or 35%, were black.
As for deaths from COVID-19, there have been 12,170 in Mississippi. Of these, 7,159, or 59%, were white and 4,550, or 37%, were black.
Those numbers closely match the 2020 census tally for Mississippi, which showed 56% of residents were white and 37% were black.
Other numbers may bolster the complaint from civil rights groups. But the most important numbers – infections and deaths – say that in terms of race, neither the pandemic nor the state has discriminated.