January 23, 2013 10:34:26 AM
If ever there is a time that a Governor can speak beyond his base to all residents, it is the state of the state Address.
In Mississippi it is generally the only time this happens.
Tuesday, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant did his best to fashion a state of the state address that appealed to all Mississippians by addressing the kinds of topics that resonate with all residents, regardless of political orientation.
Bryant's second state of the state address focused on education, health care, job creation through economic development and responsible budgeting.
In general terms, none of those categories are considered controversial or partisan.
Bryant's plan for education, called "Education Works," features five components: Improving literacy and ending "social promotion," a process that promotes students from grade to grade even if they have not achieved the basic grade-level standards; developing and rewarding teacher quality, primarily through a merit pay program that has yet to be defined; continuing early childhood education efforts; increasing school choice, primarily through an ambitious charter school program; and improving college and career readiness.
It is difficult to argue, at least philosophically, with any of those measures.
With the governor's reluctance to fully fund public schools, one wonders how realistic his plans for educational improvement are.
Over the past five years, Mississippi's public schools have been underfunded by hundreds of millions of dollars. It is clear from Bryant's insistence on a balanced budget that he has no intention of closing that funding gap. Likewise, Bryant's appeal for improvement in early childhood education rings hollow, too, when he showed no interest in implementing a state-wide kindergarten program. Mississippi continues to be one of the few states that doesn't have such a program. Essentially, all of Bryant's education programs are tantamount to throwing pennies in a fountain. Interestingly, the Governor called for fully funding other programs, specifically public safety and economic development -- law and order, you might say. Education, despite his lofty goals, will not expect that sort of commitment.
As part of his focus on strengthening Mississippi's health and its economy through developing the state's medical industry, Gov. Bryant announced the formation of the Mississippi Health Care Solutions Institute.
It seems likely that this is Bryant's method for justifying his intentions to opt out of the Affordable Care Act, a national health care program that would have provided health care to as many as 300,000 poor Mississippians. Bryant's almost pathological hatred of "Obamacare" -- something he says will prove too costly in the long run -- best typifies his total devotion to his political base at the direct expense of all others, most notably Mississippi's poor.
On the surface, Bryant's state of the state address appeared to be inclusive.
It is in the details that his devotion to partisan ideology emerges.
Ultimately, Bryant played it safe by playing to his base.
There is little to suggest that, two years into his administration, he is willing to go beyond that.