If American politics are in uncharted territory in 2024, Mississippi politics aren’t too far off. Problematic Republican governor? Check. Right-wing idealism steadily increasing in all areas of the bureaucracy? Check. An unnecessary, misled attack on diversity efforts in an evolving educational landscape? Check. Failing infrastructure in areas critical to the state economy? Check. Abortion, of all potential topics, dominating headlines and political discourse — triple check.
Those particular statements could have been true about Mississippi at any moment for the better part of this century, to be fair. However, there are plenty of new issues that look to define this year in Mississippi politics.
If Governor Tate Reeves could be praised for anything during his first stint as governor — which I doubt— it would have to be his commitment to economic development. While more investment in Mississippi-owned businesses would have been welcomed and celebrated, Reeves did the state a service by attracting several contractors to Mississippi. In fact, a little over a year ago, Gov. Reeves finalized the largest economic development plan in state history at the time by striking a deal with Steel Dynamics, Inc.
That record deal, worth 2.5 billion dollars, was shattered last week when it was announced that tech giant Amazon would invest an estimated 10 billion dollars to build data centers and company campuses in Mississippi.
In general, agreements like these are… just okay. Yes, they bring many jobs to the state, boosting the economy while also addressing the population decrease predicament. Furthermore, bringing in STEM jobs helps to alleviate the difficult “brain drain” trend that has plagued Mississippi for decades.
But I must ask the question, how likely are these corporations worth billions to continue investment in Mississippi, when it would likely be cheaper to employ experts from states with existing STEM bonafides? Are we really going to hang our hats on Amazon to be our state’s economic savior? I’d rather not.
In fact, I’d rather not have a savior at all. When a handful of entities control so much capital in a given area, they become difficult to influence and control, and the wealth that they are supposed to enrich the community with ends up in their own coffers when all is said and done. These companies, with their immense influence and capital, consistently convince state lawmakers to side with them rather than the individuals who call their state home.
I have little to no confidence in companies like Amazon to source construction to Mississippi-based businesses. Instead, they will almost certainly contract out-of-state engineers and companies that have worked on projects of similar magnitude, not Mississippians.
Any contract that government officials reach with large companies that does not include a clause requiring said company to employ local businesses does not keep the interests of Mississippians at heart.
Additionally, the majority of these plans avoid areas that desperately need an economic boost. Madison County, home to the new plant, is already the most affluent part of the state, boasting a median annual income of over $70,000. What’s more? Madison County is already home to another huge job site — the Nissan Plant.
Mississippi would be wise to begin investing in some of its less developed counties for the betterment of the state as a whole.
Long gone are the days in which leadership was expected to, you know, lead. Instead, we have seen a dangerous increase in followership. Mississippi can, by all means, be a unique state that has its own stance on different issues relative to what constituents believe. Instead, lawmakers have been quick to follow the lead of Florida, Texas and other red states that wish to radicalize the political process and undermine much of the work done to maintain a healthy democracy.
How on Earth do a group of lawmakers get together and decide that revoking judicial autonomy from the capital city is a good idea? Capital Improvement Complex or not, it’s a sickening move that was likened by critics to Jim Crow-era laws, and rightly so. This was in 2023, folks. Political moves like HB-1020 are head-scratching and grossly weaken the community’s confidence in lawmakers to do right by those they serve.
The book-banning law that prohibited certain texts that depicted non-heteronormative relationships was the cherry on top for me. This is textbook censorship, no pun intended.
Why do these relative non-issues seem to occupy so much of the headspace of Mississippi lawmakers, while genuine issues get ignored? And when genuine issues are tackled, why are they always completely mishandled to the point where the state is made out to be a laughingstock? Important questions, people.
Medicaid must be expanded if lawmakers wish for Mississippi to be a suitable place to live in America in 2024. With Medicaid expansion would, ideally, come healthcare expansion — arguably the chief issue to be dealt with, affecting thousands of Mississippians yearly.
By many measures, Mississippi ranks near the bottom for healthcare quality and accessibility. This is especially true in the case of women’s and maternal health. Infamously, the Mississippi Delta was highlighted for its stark lack of resources available to women. For a while now, Mississippi has had the highest maternal mortality rate in the country.
Instead of shying away from Medicaid expansion for irrelevant reasons, Gov. Reeves and lawmakers should embrace the benefits that come with healthcare expansion and do what’s best for all Mississippians.
Justice Rose is the opinion editor. He is a junior journalism major from Madison, Miss.