January 12, 2011 2:30:00 PM
Scott Colom - [email protected]
I''ve recently written about the problems with our current political discourse. This week I experienced examples of this on the local and state level. The local example came after I interviewed current Lowndes county Circuit Clerk, Mahala Salazaar, about her decision to run for re-election as an independent. And the state example came after I was unwilling to second guess Governor Barbour''s reasons for releasing the Scott sisters.
Last week I was intrigued about Mrs. Salazaar''s decision to run as an independent, because it''s usually considered very difficult to win elections without party affiliation and because Mrs. Salazaar made some interesting points about why the position is not ideological.
Mrs. Salazaar told me the decision was based on her desire to focus on the needs of the circuit clerk''s office and redistricting. Those needs include preparing to move offices, adopting a new filing system, putting in place an exhibit room, and working with the state archives to filter paperwork. Mrs. Salazaar also pointed out that she had to work with Republicans and Democrats to ensure the integrity of elections and didn''t think the duties of the office required any political considerations.
After the interview, as I talked to others about this decision, I was struck at how some people immediately questioned the sincerity of Mrs. Salazaar''s reasons. Some said the decision was in response to the results of the most recent congressional elections and the belief that the county had gone Republican (Mrs. Salazaar emphatically stated that she was "not abandoning the Democrats and not joining the Republicans"). Others claimed it was because she thought she would be beat in a Democratic primary election (Mrs. Salazaar says she has "no idea" who''s running).
Days later, I was talking to some people and found them eager to question Gov. Barbour''s sincerity. As news and political junkies know, our current governor has received national attention for recent actions.
First, in an interview with the Weekly Standard magazine, Governor Barbour said the Citizens Council was "an organization of town leaders" that helped keep the Ku Klux Klan out of his hometown of Yazoo City when schools desegregated in 1970. This comment was immediately criticized as insensitive. The Governor then released another statement saying that the Citizen''s Council and segregation were indefensible.
Shortly after this controversy, Governor Barbour announced he would grant early release to the Scott sisters. The Scott sisters are two African American women convicted of participating in an armed robbery scheme that resulted in $11 stolen but no injuries to the victims. For this crime, the Scott sisters received life sentences.
The NAACP and other groups argued that the sentences were excessive and unjust based on the crime and had been lobbying the Governor for a pardon or commutation of the sentences. The sisters had served sixteen years prior to the release. Barbour said he granted the release because the sisters were no longer a threat to society and the cost to the state for one of the sister''s regular dialysis was substantial.
In a discussion, some friends were eager to argue that the decision was really intended to help the Governor''s image after the comments about the Citizen''s Council and improve his chance for a possible run for president. They pointed to the timing and the circumstances.
What struck me about both of these experiences is how cynical some people have become about politicians and how this cynicism had lead them to ignore the underline issues. My friends were so focused on the reasons behind the Governor''s decision that they forgot they were happy that the Scott sisters were released. Folks were so ready to hypothesize about why Mrs. Salazaar decided to run as an independent that they didn''t ask whether it mattered or whether Mrs. Salazaar is the best person for the job.
Of course I''m not naive enough to believe what everyone says. People can be misleading and dishonest. However, I think we will improve local politics and civil discourse if we accept that we can''t read people''s minds and therefore should mostly focus on the merits of the statement or decision. In other words, spend less time trying to figure out who''s lying and why and more time trying to figure out who has the best ideas and why.
Scott Colom is a local attorney.