Mississippi Today editorial tears away the veil of a badly corrupted political process

If you haven’t read Adam Ganucheau’s editorial earlier this week in Mississippi Today, I recommend you do so – https://mississippitoday.org/2023/01/16/broken-lawmaking-process/

Ganucheau bluntly exposes the highly unrepresentative and very un-transparent legislative process presently dominating the state, contrasting ugly reality with the textbook democratic manner in which things are supposed to work.

How is the process supposed to work? Ganucheau succinctly summarizes:

  1. “Voters of all backgrounds and viewpoints in every area of the state elect lawmakers to represent their interests in Jackson.
  2. Those lawmakers join their colleagues at the Capitol once a year to partake in a very detailed lawmaking and budgeting process designed to give everyone an equal shot at passing or debating bills.
  3. That lawmaking process is completely open to the public, ensuring complete transparency and that those representatives are, indeed, representing the voting public’s interests — that nothing untoward is happening behind closed doors.
  4. Bills are passed into law based on a majority vote (or three-fifths vote for spending bills), ensuring that at least a majority of people across Mississippi have a true representative say in the lawmaking process.”

Alas, the “public’s business” is not so conducted, not by a long shot. Acknowledging that the system has never worked in such a textbook fashion (too much to hope for!), Ganucheau excoriates Capitol politics for falling so far from the democratic ideal, into its current “progressively more broken system of lawmaking.” Here’s how Jackson’s miserably broken system is functioning in fact:

  1. “Voters in every area of the state do elect lawmakers, but the districts are carefully drawn by Republican leaders every 10 years to ensure that only Republican voters’ beliefs are represented at the Capitol — that a GOP supermajority (three-fifths of both the House and Senate) has votes to pass any bill they want and can maintain complete power in Jackson. This doesn’t just suppress the ideals of Democrats across the state, but it also hurts Republicans who represent more moderate or more conservative districts than the GOP establishment leadership.
  2. The specific lawmaking process still on the books has been completely tossed aside for a newer, unwritten process. Are you a Democratic lawmaker? You’re completely powerless inside the Capitol and your views mean nothing. Are you a Republican representing a more moderate district with voters who disagree with a lot of things the most conservative party leaders believe? You’re even more powerless at the Capitol. Major pieces of legislation typically aren’t unveiled until the eleventh hour, and Republican leaders use hard deadlines to give rank-and-file members of both parties virtually no time to read or understand what they’re voting on. If they don’t vote with leadership, the leadership will punish them by further shutting them out of the process.
  3. The brunt of the lawmaking process is nearly exclusively conducted behind closed doors, meaning voters are usually unaware of what business their elected representatives are truly conducting. If anyone in the general public wants to know what ideas or proposed legislation their city council members, their mayor or even their state governor is writing or sharing with colleagues, they can request and receive those records. But not state lawmakers, who have long exempted themselves from their own public records laws. What’s worse, a recent Ethics Commission opinion says that lawmakers are not bound to the Open Meetings Act, a state law that mandates elected officials conduct public business in public. House Republicans have, for years, unabashedly met behind closed doors to debate and even vote on major legislation that they’re then expected to pass in public a few minutes later. Senate leaders, too, have gotten used to operating in secrecy in recent years, particularly during the conference committee process late in the session when the most important bills are debated by just six lawmakers behind closed doors.
  4. Bills are, indeed, passed into law based on a majority vote (or three-fifths vote for spending bills), but Republicans in both chambers are often expected to vote “yea” even if they don’t know what is in the bills. Typically the biggest, most impactful bills are rushed — stuffed down the throats of rank-and-file lawmakers of both parties who were purposefully kept out of the writing and debating process. In effect, even the majority of Mississippians represented by that Republican majority could not get adequate answers about bills from their representatives if they tried. And if they’re really being honest, many Republican lawmakers would admit after voting bills into law that they didn’t agree with the bill’s premise or wish they would have had more time to better understand the effects.”

In short, Mississippi policy-making is dominated by a single party, which is in turn directed, largely in secret, by a handful of elites. Mississippi social workers, if there’s any hope of successfully advancing causes of social justice – reducing poverty, hunger and homelessness, improving public education, expanding health care access – we must break this broken system.

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