State Auditor Stacey Pickering visits with, from left, Brenda Willis, Georgia Sheffield and Peggy Cantelou after speaking to the Lowndes County Republican Women at Lion Hills on Tuesday. Photo by: Birney Imes/Dispatch Staff
January 14, 2015 10:02:43 AM
State Auditor Stacey Pickering spoke Tuesday at the meeting of the Lowndes County Republican Women, talking about corruption in the state as well as upcoming state and national elections.
Pickering's talk was optimistic. He first discussed investigations into public corruption throughout the state, pointing out that his office has removed 20 elected officials from office since he was elected to this post in 2008. He was responding to recent claims in Fortune magazine and other news sources throughout the country that Mississippi is "the most corrupt state in the nation," according to a study by researchers from the City University of Hong Kong and Indiana University.
Pickering pointed out that the study only looked at conviction rates of public officials accused of corruption. He then brought up a study by Rutgers University that found Mississippi is the sixth best state at enforcing public corruption laws.
"We're just doing a good job of catching people and holding them accountable," he said.
"When I got into office, I took the reigns and the bridle off of our investigator division and said, 'Do your job,'" Pickering continued.
He referenced legislation passed last year that bans officials convicted of public corruption from state government jobs. He also talked about a law he is attempting to push through the state legislature that would ensure taxpayer money does not go into retirement benefits of officials convicted of public corruption.
He hopes the law will ensure that "if you have defrauded the government and inflated your retirement, you are not entitled to the taxpayer contribution (to those retirement benefits). You get what you put in from your paycheck that you earn, but you do not get the taxpayers' money for your retirement."
Last year, Pickering won the David M. Walker Award for Excellence in Government Performance and Accountability, an award which the National Intergovernmental Audit Forum gives to auditors who have excelled in cleaning up government organizations.
Pickering also talked about recent changes to the Republican Party and what those changes will mean for Republican voters in state and national elections for the next two years.
He called it an "exciting" election year, pointing out that the Republican Party has gotten bigger and the increasing number of Republicans in Mississippi offices. He predicted the number of Republican voters and the number of Republicans running for office will mean more primary elections for Republicans and fewer for Democrats and even suggested that some towns and counties will not have Democratic primaries this year.
Pickering said the growing popularity of the Republicans means that there will be a lot of disagreement within the party.
"Sometimes some of you in this room are not going to be on the same side of an issue or a candidate or a race," Pickering said. "And that's O.K."
"We're not always going to agree," he told the group at Lion Hills. "But we're always going to be working for the same purpose which is to make Mississippi, Lowndes County and our nation stronger, better and more conservative."
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