Lives in the balance behind ugly politics – The absence of leadership in Mississippi continues to deliver pain, suffering and death

L-R: Jonathan Tate Reeves - Governor, Delbert Hosemann- Lt. Governor, Dean Kirby – Senate President Pro Tem, Philip Gunn – Outgoing Speaker of the House, Jason White – House Speaker Pro Tem. Photos FROM Campaign and State Legislature websites.

By Christopher Young,

Contributing Writer,

L-R: Jonathan Tate Reeves – Governor, Delbert Hosemann- Lt. Governor, Dean Kirby – Senate President Pro Tem, Philip Gunn – Outgoing Speaker of the House, Jason White – House Speaker Pro Tem. Photos FROM Campaign and State Legislature websites.

There they are pictured above – the ones considered to be Mississippi’s top leaders. All white Republicans, all male, all profess to be Christian. They ultimately set the stage – determine the direction, priorities, up votes, down votes, spending, redistricting, appointments, and more – for how our state functions, how it operates. They hold the most powerful positions and many, not all, Republican legislators take their marching orders from these people. Kirby, Senate President Pro Tempore, and White, House Speaker Pro Tempore included here because its often those seated directly behind the figureheads that exercise the most power.

What grade would you give them? If the goal is to keep Mississippi down, to keep us last in the nation in healthcare (and in so many other categories), to continue policies that keep a large swath of our population in poverty, to maintain the barest minimums of transparency to the public, to continue hiring practices that are white-centric, to continue to funnel millions of tax dollars to already wealthy corporations and campaign donors, to financially favor private schools over public schools whenever possible, to ensure that less than 3% of contracts for good and services in our 40% African-American state go to black businesses – well, if that’s the goal – these folks strongly contribute to a grade of A+.

If the goal were to lift Mississippi up and away from its horrific past, to provide an infrastructure and systems that promote health and prosperity for all, to be forthright about our ongoing struggles and solicit input from the public on possible solutions, to invest deeply in the advancement of our African-American population and other continually marginalized people, to cease policies and decision-making that benefits only the wealthy among us, to make our Hospitality State truly stand out for overcoming racism and oppression, to stop stealing money intended for the poorest among us – well, if that’s the goal – these folks strongly contribute to a grade of F.

“Leadership is not something people are born with – it is a skill you can learn. At the core are mindsets, which are expressed through observable behaviors, which then lead to measurable outcomes,” per In Mississippi our state leaders demonstrate their mindsets each and every day. So many Mississippians are invisible to them, yet we still see their behaviors. And the outcomes, those are our devastating realities, last in everything that matters, and the pain, suffering, and death continue year after year.

Lieutenant Governor Hosemann is often said to be the smartest person in the room over there at the Capitol. In seeing his latest campaign commercial – the one where the older white lady keeps calling him the wrong name – I sure wonder about that reputation. In the About Delbert section of his state website it says, “Lt. Governor Hosemann is committed to serving the public with open and fair government. He advocates for increasing State government transparency, growing small businesses, shoring up Mississippi’s roads and bridges, providing better access to healthcare, and ensuring every child receives a high-quality education. As the President of the 52-member State Senate, he remains committed to making Mississippi an even better place for our children and grandchildren.” Is that what you see happening here in Mississippi? This is an example of his personal embellishments versus the truth of our painful Mississippi realities. 

Back to McKinsey and Company, “…analysis of academic literature as well as a survey of nearly 200,000 people in 81 organizations all over the world, there are four types of behavior that account for 89 percent of leadership effectiveness: being supportive, operating with a strong results orientation, seeking different perspectives, solving problems effectively.” 

Our absence of leadership is not wholly the responsibility of these “leaders,” yet they sought out these positions of leadership, and over time they keep the wheels of progress in our state stuck in the mud. There appears scant chance they are willing to do things differently today, tomorrow or next year, after all, they are all thriving personally and professionally. They preside over a state in despair – the worst state in the country, yet they don’t seem to be in despair at all. 

If a prescription for change was handed to them and their brethren, is there any chance they would use it? Could they change their mindsets enough to do so? Oh heck, why not give it a try:

Designate 2024 as “the year of racial reckoning for Mississippi.” Newly reelected Lt. Governor Hosemann commits ten hours out of each work week dedicated exclusively to minority advancement through increasing economic engines throughout the state. Expand Medicaid. Establish a flag-like panel dedicated to improving healthcare staffing, outcomes, and access – give them the tools to succeed and a mandate to shift us from 50th to 40th – progress, not perfection.

Legislators would work diligently to fulfill the goal of 30% of state contracts for goods and services being awarded to African-American businesses. Heads of all state agencies submit goals for increasing diversity in their hiring practices and then report on their success and failure on a quarterly basis. Direct all state agencies to trim 3% of their 2024-2025 budget and apply it to rewarding employees who submit evidenced-based plans targeting the reduction of poverty throughout the state. Direct all state agencies to trim 1% of their 2024-2025 budget to do likewise with homelessness. Disband the Mississippi Ethics Commission and replace it with a brand-new Mississippi Integrity and Equality for All Mississippians Commission.

What do you say, elected leaders? We have oodles of surplus funds (not counting the $3.5 billion state debt that no one ever talks about). Do you have the mindset? That’s the real question, and inescapably the cause of our lastness. Think of your grandchildren and great grandchildren. Do what is right and just today so that they will want to live here tomorrow, instead of continuing to run away as fast as they can.

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