It’s great to be back at the Neshoba County Fair. Food, fun, fellowship…did I mention the food? Knowing my appreciation for a good meal, Marsha gave me a new button to wear at this fair – “Please don’t feed the Governor.”
This is Marsha, my wife of 32 years. Like she always does, Marsha is looking out for me and making me look good…or as good as I can look! Without a doubt, she was my best asset in the campaign and now as Governor.
We both appreciate all the work so many of you did to help us last year. It was a team effort – an inclusive, grassroots, people-to-people campaign that resulted in the largest turnout ever in a governor’s race. Nobody has ever been elected to office by himself, –and I’m no exception. Marsha and I thank you very much.
Now we ask you to make the same effort for a man who deserves our support…President George W. Bush.
Tonight, the Democrat candidate for President is going to accept his party’s nomination in that bastion of conservatism, Boston, Taxachusetts. In the year 1773, a group of Patriots gathered in Boston for a “tea party” to protest higher taxes. This year, a group of Democrats have gathered in Boston, but this time they’re not there to protest higher taxes; they’re there to propose them.
Of course, this is totally consistent with Senator John Kerry’s record. Kerry has the most liberal voting record in the Senate. John Kerry has a more liberal voting record than Teddy Kennedy. I never thought I’d be telling you Teddy Kennedy is the more conservative Senator from Massachusetts. In fact, John Kerry is Teddy Kennedy’s ideological twin…Kerry is just the taller, thinner version.
The only difference between Kennedy and Kerry is that, if Kennedy tells you something, you can count on it.
I guess the Kerry people thought we Southerners would be swayed by John Edwards. But folks down here know Edwards has a North Carolina accent and a Massachusetts voting record. His voting record is actually the fourth most liberal in the U.S. Senate. He’s more liberal than Hillary Clinton.
Of course, we in Mississippi know about John Edwards from the shabby treatment he gave Judge Charles Pickering. Edwards led the scurrilous attack on Judge Pickering. Why? To carry favor with the liberals who control the Democrat Party. Edwards slandered Pickering because the judge is a pro-life, Southern, Republican, conservative, Christian. Mississippi won’t forget it.
Friends, this presidential election presents the biggest difference between the two candidates I’ve ever seen. More even than Reagan and Mondale. If you are for higher taxes, if you are for homosexual marriage, if you are pro-abortion, if you are for increased government spending with no accountability, if you are for letting the United Nations control America’s efforts to protect ourselves and freedom in the world, you’ll love John Kerry.
Crucially, there are many Mississippians on active duty today, fighting the War on Terror. They are in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places, in harm’s way, defeating fanatical Islamic terrorism, an evil that cannot be ignored. Many more Mississippians will be on duty in a few months. Our troops, our guardsmen need a leader who does not stick his finger into the wind to see what’s popular. They don’t need a John Kerry, who voted for the war, and then voted not to fund what our troops needed. They need a leader who will stop this evil now, and stop it over there. They need George Bush.
I had the privilege of knowing and working for President Reagan – a man who spoke at these fairgrounds 24 years ago. I also have had the honor of knowing President Bush for many years. Ronald Reagan was a great leader and a great person, and so is George Bush. President Bush is right on the issues – the economy is growing, he’s leading to make America safer, and he deserves four more years as our President.
The economy is growing. And here in Mississippi, our tide is rising. We are working harder and smarter in Mississippi so that we can seize this moment of economic opportunity.
The most urgent priority of my Administration is job creation. I want more Mississippians working the day I leave office than were the day I took office. I have had three main priorities to create jobs in the short term and to insure greater economic growth in the long term.
The first was to help our businesses recruit and keep skilled employees, and to help our working people get the skills and training they deserve and need to have better, higher paying jobs. This meant reforming our workforce and job training system in Mississippi. Working together, we did it.
The reforms streamline the system, so it is easier to maximize federal job training funds. To take advantage of one our state’s great resources, we gave more of the franchise for workforce development to community colleges, who have a proven record of success in job training. We also increased the incentive for private businesses to provide on-the-job skill training, since that is where most training should occur.
In this knowledge-based economy and world market Mississippi’s businesses have three choices: They can innovate; they can emigrate; or they can evaporate. For our businesses, new or existing, to be successful, they must be competitive; which means they must innovate and increase their productivity. Better skilled workers can use technology to improve productivity and successfully compete on quality and cost. That’s crucial; and improving work place development and job training is something the State must take the lead on. We must embrace lifelong learning in Mississippi, and we’ve started doing that.
The second step for job creation was to end lawsuit abuse in Mississippi. Working together, we did it.
Not only was lawsuit abuse threatening health care in Mississippi, it was a gigantic obstacle to job creation. Lawsuit abuse had driven the cost of doing business to intolerably high levels, and every small business in Mississippi has been one lawsuit away from bankruptcy.
It was past time for genuine tort reform in Mississippi and working together, we enacted what the Wall Street Journal calls the most comprehensive tort reform package any state has ever passed.
Tort reform wasn’t easy. I want to thank Lt. Governor Tuck, Senator Travis Little and the rest of the Senate for standing strong for tort reform during the Regular Session and the Special Session. I thank all the members of the House who fought against the apparent odds and ultimately succeeded. Finally, I want to compliment Speaker Billy McCoy. The Speaker wasn’t for tort reform when we started, but at the end, Billy McCoy and Ed Blackmon, for that matter, recognized a majority in the House, like a majority of the public, knew we needed tort reform, and put their leadership responsibilities ahead of their personal preferences. As you probably know, the Speaker is recovering from being mighty sick, and I ask all of you to remember him and his family in your prayers.
The other major recommendation of our job creation summit was no tax increases. For Mississippi workers to be able to compete with other states and other countries, their businesses have to have low costs. Just like lawsuit abuse is a cost, taxes are a cost.
Some want to raise your taxes. The Clarion-Ledger editorializes for tax increases every week. I disagree. I want you to keep more of what you earn; it is your money. It’s the people’s money, not the government’s.
We’re in a budget mess, but we’re not in this financial crisis because we tax too little; it’s because we spend too much, and raising taxes is the enemy of controlling spending.
When I took office, we had an estimated $709 million shortfall in our budget. I had hoped to cut that in half the first year, with the goal of eliminating the budget hole in two years. We didn’t get all the way there, but working together, we cut it 43% this year. My Administration’s budget proposal, Operation: Streamline, was the largest savings plan in Mississippi history, and I’m grateful that this Legislature passed more annual savings than any other Legislature, ever.
At the Department of Public Safety, we’ve streamlined our state law enforcement operations so we can put the focus where it belongs – helping local law enforcement. Fighting drug crime is a top priority, and I’m proud that drug busts are up 39% over last year. Working together, we did it.
We’re reforming how we run our prison system, by making maximum use of the cheaper, but equally effective, county owned regional jails and private prisons. By reorganizing and right-sizing we’re saving more than $40 million. Working together, we’ll keep Mississippians safe without paying first class hotel rates for prisoners.
The Legislature, in a bipartisan fashion, also passed three major reforms for Medicaid. We had to reform Medicaid because state appropriations for Medicaid had doubled in only five years, and out-of-control Medicaid spending was threatening not only the sustainability of the Medicaid program, but also sucking money away from education and other areas of government.
First, we’re changing the way we buy prescription drugs for the more than 720,000 people on Medicaid. By using our bulk purchasing power, we will lower our acquisition cost from the pharmaceutical companies. Mississippi’s health care providers won’t take a hit – it will be the out-of-state drug companies that will take the haircut.
Second, we’re going to give everyone on Medicaid a physical examination to check them for diabetes, high blood pressure, and to make sure they’re taking the right medications. We’re trying to find every recipient a health care home, so that instead of going to the emergency room, they will go see a doctor, a nurse practitioner, or a community health center. And while we’re doing these things, we’re going make sure that every recipient is really eligible to be on Medicaid. Medicaid is for people who can’t take care of themselves. I’m not going to ask people who work two or three jobs to support their families, to then pay taxes to give free health care to someone who can work but chooses not to. That’s not right.
The third reform is the one that’s getting all the media attention. 47,000 people who are on Medicaid now will be getting their health care coverage from the Medicare after September 15. They’re all eligible for Medicare and for the Patients Assistance Programs that provide more than 1350 prescription drugs to poor and near-poor people for free or for no more than $15 per month. Medicare provides quality heath care benefits and instead of state taxpayers having to pay 22% of the cost, Medicare doesn’t cost the state anything. Mississippi taxpayers shouldn’t pay for health care coverage that the federal government will pay for.
The Division of Medicaid is working to make sure all 47,000 recipients get informed and enrolled to get their benefits. We didn’t cause this Medicaid budget crisis, but we’re going to fix it, and recipients will have quality health care coverage.
This Medicaid reform is the right thing to do, and the delay to September 15 is giving us the time to do it right.
But Medicaid wasn’t the only part of health care reformed. Health care starts in the womb, and working together, we passed seven new pro-life laws which will help us meet the goal of making Mississippi the safest state in the nation for an unborn child. One of the important pro-life measures signed into law is a “conscience exception” bill which allows health care providers to opt out of performing abortions without fear of retribution. One of our new laws has been set aside by a federal court, but I will do everything in my power to get that reversed.
But you should know that next year will be even harder, and the hue and cry will come for higher taxes. Hold onto your wallets. They’ll be coming next year. They will say a tax increase is responsible, but I say it’s just the opposite. We need more taxpayers and more taxable income, not higher tax rates. Raising taxes is the enemy of job creation, just as it is the enemy of controlling spending.
Education is the number one quality of life issue in Mississippi, and it is the number one economic development issue. That’s why it takes up more than 60% of our state budget.
In Mississippi, we have to embrace lifelong learning…the recognition that education begins before kindergarten and continues for the rest of your life. K-12 is the biggest part of education, but it is not the only part. In the last administration, universities and community colleges were cut more than $100 million. This year, the Legislative Budget Recommendation was to cut them another $100 million. I’m glad that the Legislature followed my budget request and didn’t do this. Our universities and community colleges are economic gold mines, but we can’t mine them if their funding is cut like that.
The most important component of our schools is the teacher in the classroom. This year, in the midst of a budget crisis, we fully funded another teacher pay raise. We also appropriated more money to K-12 education than in any year in our history. We didn’t give school districts as much money as some would like, but funding was increased in a budget crisis.
We can’t fix everything in our schools just by spending more money, and the day must come when we don’t measure politicians’ commitment to education by money but by the results they demand and achieve for our children. I don’t advocate spending less, but we must get the biggest bang for our bucks.
Let’s encourage teachers to break out of the bureaucratic mold and reward them for their innovation and achievement. We need to streamline administration so we can get more dollars to the classroom, where dollars do the most good. We need to hold administrators accountable for the results of the schools they run. They must ensure discipline is a priority in every classroom. And to make all this work, we need to do more to make sure that our kids are ready to learn when they start school.
This fall I will convene a series of major forums on education, starting with a symposium led by former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt in late September. Governor Hunt, a Democrat by the way, is one of America’s greatest education leaders. We’ll bring in educators, including classroom teachers, and business leaders as well as government officials to consider fresh initiatives to help our teachers and our schools.
After additional forums in the fall, I will convene an Education Summit to take the best ideas and develop policies for the Legislature to consider next session. I know the Lt Governor and the Speaker, along with Senator Chaney and Representative Pierce, are strong advocates of Mississippi schools making the grade for every student. Working together, we’ll do it.
And now is the time. We are on the front edge of a rising tide in our national economy. Let’s get our attitudes as well as our policies right to ride that tide to the top.
You know, Mississippi is the most underestimated state in the country; and Mississippians are the most underestimated people. The problem comes when it is we who underestimate ourselves.
We must believe in Mississippi and Mississippians. I believe now is a special time for us to seize the moment offered to us by this rising tide.
Lift your horizons for our state. Raise your expectations for our future. Catch the wave.
If we’ll just believe in ourselves and raise our expectations, we will seize this moment, and that will result in our children having a future that Mississippi always had the potential to offer them, but which we never realized. It is a brighter future than we’ve ever known. And, after all, that’s the future our children deserve.
Governor Haley Barbour
P.O. Box 139 Jackson, MS 39205
Phone: 601.359.3150 Fax: 601.359.3741