Two pictures of Mississippi leadership in this week’s news; which should social workers prefer?

Two top Mississippi leaders made news this week.

The first is Congressman Bennie Thompson, the only Democrat – and the only African American – in the Mississippi delegation. Thompson is chairing the House select committee’s investigation of the January 6 pro-Trump assault on the U.S. Capitol, and kicked off the committee’s first public session on Tuesday.

I found Thompson’s opening remarks starkly eloquent, and chillingly on point. Saying that his committee still has much to uncover about what many now recognize as an attempted coup, important facts are already well known: “We know that the insurrection on Jan. 6th was a violent attack that involved vicious assaults on law enforcement. We know there is evidence it was a coordinated, planned attack. We know that men and women who stormed the Capitol wanted to derail the peaceful transfer of power in this country. We know that seven people lost their lives, that more than 140 police officers suffered injuries. We know that efforts to subvert our democracy are ongoing, and a major part of the select committee’s work will be to find ways to eliminate that threat. We know that the rioters came dangerously close to succeeding…..”

Though I met Congressman Thompson on campus once quite a few years ago, I certainly don’t know the man; he is not “my” Congressman, and I have not followed his voting record or his political career. But I know I felt very good seeing and hearing him in the national limelight. Say what you will about Speaker Pelosi (I am not a fan), she made a good pick with Bennie Thompson, and did a big favor for Mississippi.

Contrast Thompson’s image of leadership this week with our governor’s, the other prominent Mississippi figure prominent in the news. With the Delta variant of COVID raging, rapidly pushing infection, hospitalization, and death rates exponentially higher in our woefully under-vaccinated state, Reeves was for the most part sickly silent on the need for energetic measures to beat back the surging virus – “I just encourage Mississippians to protect themselves. And for those who don’t make that choice I respect your right to make that choice.”

Even as other Republican figures, duly alarmed by the latest COVID wave, have become enthusiastic cheerleaders for vaccination, Gov. Reeves seems to have simply ignored the building health crisis, attending out of state political events and soccer tournaments, according to reporting by Mississippi Today. Looking at the rapidly approaching onset of school openings, a deeply concerned Mississippi Association of Educators urged the governor to institute a statewide school mask mandate; in response, Reeves’ office issued this statement on his behalf – “Governor Reeves has no intention of requiring students and staff to wear masks when they’re in school this fall.”

Congressman Thompson is preoccupied with salvaging and strengthening what’s left of our damaged democracy, while Governor Reeves seems principally concerned with preserving his standing with the most far right wing of his political base, consequences to the public health be damned.

Which image of Mississippi leadership should we prefer to project to the nation and the world?

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