Slimantics: Political machinations shame our state

March 29, 2013 10:34:10 AM

Slim Smith - [email protected]


In a previous column, I referred to the Mississippi Legislature as a "festering pile of stupid." Upon reflection, this was not an accurate portrayal.  


As the 2013 legislative session draws toward a merciful end, I am reminded daily that there is a more complete description of our state leaders: "A devious, festering pile of stupid." 


This week, Gov. Phil Bryant announced that he had nominated Terri Herring, an avowed anti-abortion activists who -- until only recently identified herself as a lobbyist -- for an open spot of the State Board of Health. Herring has since redefined her advocacy role as a "volunteer," since she had not registered as a lobbyist until shortly before Bryant's nomination. Lobbyists are required by law to register with the state. So either Herring broke the law or repeatedly mis-characterized her role over a period of decades. 


She is the national director of an organization called Pro-Life America. 


Beyond that, details of her background are sketchy.  


For the past two days, efforts to obtain Herring's resume' have been fruitless. Emails to Mick Bullock, who handles media relations for Bryant, requesting Herring's background info and resume' went unanswered until Thursday, when Bullock sent a few paragraphs of bio information lifted directly from Herring's website. It's pretty clear, the Governor's office view is the less we know about Terri Herring, the better. 


To date, there is no evidence that Herring finished college; she says on her website that her education was "interrupted" by her first pregnancy, but does not say if she ever finished her degree. 


Beyond that, there is scarcely any information on Herring's professional career outside of the narrow field of anti-abortion advocacy. 


Bryant defended the nomination by saying that Herring has been an advocate of women's health for more than 25 years. In the absence of any educational training or work experience in the medical field, we can only assume that Bryant's assessment of what constitutes women's health is confined to reproductive organs.  


It is clear that the sole reason for Herring's nomination is her opposition to abortion, something that has become an obsession for Bryant since winning office in the same election that saw voters soundly defeat a Personhood amendment that would have placed severe restrictions on abortions and some forms of contraception. Herring was a leading advocate in that failed effort. 


But the real issue isn't whether or not Bryant is nominating someone with strong anti-abortion views to the Board of Health. 


Of far greater importance is Bryant's willingness to make an appointment of someone who apparently has no real qualifications to serve. 


The Governor's tactics are as transparent as they are unethical.  


But Bryant is far from the only state leader whose tactics bring shame on our state. 


Where else but in Mississippi would you have a chairman of the House Education Committee (John L. Moore of Brandon) who is a college dropout? 


Where else but Mississippi would you have a House Chairman of the Insurance Committee (Gary Chism of Columbus) who runs an insurance company? In his tenure in House, Chism has sponsored dozens of bills that affect insurance in the state, most of them conveniently aiding the insurance industry. Is anybody in Jackson even vaguely familiar with the phrase "conflict of interest?" 


Where else but Mississippi can the Speaker of the House, Phillip Gunn, kick off a member of the education committee because she had previously opposed charter school legislation? By the way, the charter school legislation is headed toward passage with an amendment that allows for-profit companies to run the charter schools. You can bet that there is some slime-ball quid pro quo arrangement connected to this somewhere.  


Have the people of the state become so desensitized to such assaults on decency that our only response is to shrug our shoulders? 


It would be difficult for Bryant to find a less-qualified nominee for the Board of Health than Terri Herring.  


Meanwhile, the people yawn. 


We've seen it all before. 


Where else but Mississippi?

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]