First, you need to know who I am. I am a white male, age fifty-four. I am an attorney who has practiced nationally for thirty years. I am a conservative Republican and I voted for and support President Donald J. Trump and Governor Tate Reeves, and will vote for them again. I think that is important given what I am about to say.
On April 3, 2020, the Governor declared a State of Emergency and issued a Shelter in Place Order. He has now extended that Order for another week. In full disclosure, I have opposed the lock down because I don’t think it is a “reasonable and necessary” response based upon the numbers of infections and deaths in Mississippi.
At the same time, he announced a Restart Mississippi Committee. Please understand that I mean no disrespect to the individual members of this committee, all of whom are successful, charitable and altruistic and who are obviously genuinely concerned with the wellbeing of all Mississippians, outstanding individuals one and all. But what is missing from that committee is glaring in its absence.
The committee is made up of 17 members. Of those 17, 14 are white males with at least 13 of the 14 being obvious millionaires. The three minority members of the committee have the taint of token with a single white female, a single black male and a single black female. Adding to the taint of token is the obvious fact that the two African-American members are two of the apparently only three members who are not millionaires. The committee is broken into a six member Executive Committee and an 11 member Impact Committee. The six Executive Committee members are all multi-millionaire, white males none of whom have anything in common with the average mainstream Mississippian.
The 11 Impact Committee members include four gentlemen who inherited great wealth and are now president of multi-generational family businesses, another bank president, the CEO of Mississippi Power, two owners of multiple restaurant franchises and former Governor Hailey Barbour’s education policy advisor who is now Chairman of the Mississippi Board of Education.
Those who are not represented on the committee include; (1) Mississippi’s workers, (2) Mississippi’s employers, (3) Mississippi’s Healthcare system, (4) Mississippi’s historically disenfranchised minorities and (5) Mississippi’s elderly. Remember this is the committee that will develop the plan to reopen Mississippi from the Covid-19 lock down.
First, you would think there would be some attempt to represent Mississippi’s workers who will bear the brunt of the risk of a reopening. While organized labor is not a powerful political force in Mississippi how can they not be given a seat at this table or at the very least a ranking member of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.
Second, you would think a representative of Mississippi’s largest employers would be invited to provide input. The casinos collectively are Mississippi’s largest employers followed by Nissan, the various universities and sadly Walmart. None of those entities have been invited to the party. There is no Nissan representative, no Mississippi Gaming Commission representative and no University representative.
Thirdly, the committee has no doctor, no nurse’s organization representative, no hospital representative, and no medical person at all. The only thing close to the medical field is an attorney who owns a corporation that advises hospitals on how to avoid liability from malpractice. So the people who have been on the front line of the Covid-19 battle and have absolutely the most to lose from reopening are simply excluded.
Fourth, aside from the one black male and one black female, there is no attempt to meaningfully address Mississippi’s historically discriminated against African-American minority. There are no civil rights leaders, no NAACP representative, no Bennie Thompson or other African-American elected official who can speak to the unique needs and concerns of the African-American community with authority and credibility. This is stunningly striking given the disproportionate impact the virus has had on Mississippi’s minority community.
As of this writing, the Mississippi State Department of Health reports that 66-percent of the Covid-19 deaths in Mississippi have been African-American while only 34-percent have been white.
Finally, the most vulnerable and threatened group in Mississippi is simply ignored, the elderly. Sixty-five percent of Mississippi’s Covid-19 hospitalizations are citizen’s age 60 or older. Yet, there is no elder rights group representative, no AARP, not even a nursing home advocacy group representative.
The Reopen Mississippi Committee has the appearance of everything for which the Republican Party is criticized. It addresses the concerns of those who stand to lose financially and appears predetermined to make a decision based solely on what is best for Mississippi businesses, regardless of the needs and concerns of either the common people or the people who have the most to lose personally.
If Tate Reeves had been assembling a political fundraising committee or creating a re-election PAC, he would have hit a homerun with the committee he chose. For the purpose of deciding how and when to reopen Mississippi, he struck out by catering to the worst stereotypical predispositions of white Mississippi pro-business Republicans. And I say that as one of those very white Mississippi pro-business Republicans, but one who realizes Mississippi will only move forward if we ALL MOVE FORWARD TOGETHER.
Michael D. Herrin