CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: BOBBY

HED:Bobby Harrison: Musgrove presented a fair proposal

JACKSON - Even the casual observers of Mississippi state government have grown accustomed to Gov. Kirk Fordice's many verbal assaults.

Through the years, the state's first Republican governor of this century has lambasted Attorney General Mike Moore, Speaker Tim Ford, Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, most members of the legislators, the press and the list goes on and on. Heck, anyone who would not yield to the outspoken Fordice's philosophy and directives has been subject to a verbal beating.

During the 1990s, any time there has been verbal jostling among state political leaders, more than likely Fordice has been in the middle of it. Indeed, sometimes it seems that Fordice is the only elected leader firing those verbal attacks.

But traditionally that is not true. Even though Fordice might be a tad more aggressive than most in his willingness to lock horns verbally, his tirades are not that far out of the ordinary. Politicians sometimes criticize each other. That goes with the territory.

But Musgrove and Ford have gone out of their way not to fight each other in the press. In general, they have worked together on various projects such as Adequate Education. That it why it was unusual last week when House Speaker Ford, D-Baldwyn, publicly criticized Lt. Gov. Musgrove, D-Batesville. It is natural for there to be some tension between the speaker of the House and the lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate, because of the rivalry between the two legislative bodies.

During the past three years Ford and Musgrove have been able to overcome that natural rivalry. They have been friendly, even traveling the state together on more than one occasion to update newspaper editors on the status of various issues.

But last week when Musgrove held a news conference to propose using surplus general fund money to increase teacher pay to the contiguous state average, Ford said his proposal had "more to do with election year politics than it has to do with strengthening our public education system, or getting teachers' and state employees' salaries up to where they ought to be."

Most agreed it was pretty strong words from the three-term speaker directed toward the first-term lieutenant governor.

No doubt, Ford can pull out facts and figures that back up his position that the state cannot afford the 10 percent hike in teacher pay that Musgrove referred to in his news conference. And no doubt, Musgrove looks like a sure bet to run for governor next year.

But with all due respect to the speaker, to accuse Musgrove or any other politician of doing something to be re-elected seems to me to be a little unfair. After all, I thought that part of what a politician is supposed to do is present proposals to the public to solve the problems facing our communities, state and nation.

And providing teachers with additional pay would help solve a huge problem, which is the shortage of qualified instructors in the state.

If the proposal lacks merit or cannot be done because of financial or political reasons, then tell us that. But I like it when a politician stands before the public and makes his proposal. If it is accepted, he stands a chance of being elected. If it is not, then he faces a possible loss. The public is smart enough to understand a debate on the merits of an issue.

Ironically, Ford probably works harder than any other state leader to ensure people who are interested understand various issues. He is the most accessible state leader and the most upfront, which is far from the stereotype many have of him.

And indeed, Ronnie Musgrove might have been making his proposal in an effort to gain support in next year's gubernatorial election. He won't be the first to do that, and he won't be the last.

That is what politicians do. Tim Ford does it. Kirk Fordice does it and so does everybody else.

No doubt, the comment by Ford will soon be forgotten by him and by Musgrove. And the comment probably does have some truth to it, and journalists always contend truth is a good defense.

But apparently Musgrove was surprised to hear such criticism coming from the speaker

At any rate, from a purely selfish viewpoint, it was nice to hear that someone other than Fordice is capable of criticizing another politician.

Bobby Harrison is chief of the Daily Journal's Capitol Bureau.

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