WATER VALLEY – Senator Russell Jolly did not shy away from the state’s hot-button political issues – funding education, Com-mon Core, how to increase Mississippi Department of Transportation’s budget, or even the failed beef plant – when speaking to Water Valley Rotarians last month.
Jolly, who represents District 8, was extended an invitation by Circuit Clerk and Rotarian Daryl Burney last month. The senator lives in Houston and was first elected during a special election in 2011 to replace longtime District 8 incumbent Jack Gordon, who died while in office.
When Jolly took office District 8 included portions of Calhoun, Chickasaw, Grenada and Lee counties, but it shifted in 2012, adding almost a third of Yalobusha County in the political gerrymandering that came with redistricting after the 2010 Census.
“I have been impressed with Water Valley,” Jolly told Rotarians, explaining he started visiting the town when he learned it would be included in his district.
Next year is an election year for state senators and representatives and Jolly will appear on the ballot as a Democrat, but he was clear how he votes.
“I am going to vote my district. Ever who puts me in there, that’s how I am going to vote. I don’t vote for the party, I vote for my district. That’s what we need more of in Jackson,” Jolly explained.
The Lawmaking Process
Jolly spent several minutes explaining the law-making process before addressing specific questions during his 30-minute span at the podium.
“Last year there were 2,658 bills introduced in the Senate and House combined, 414 became law,” Jolly explained about the 2013 Session in Jackson. “That’s about average, the majority of the bills go in the garbage can.”
While most of the bills that pass are routine, Jolly explained that typically five or 10 are controversial.
“That’s the ones that keep you up at night.”
While those statistics represent a normal year, the tension will increase when lawmakers kick off the 2015 Session in Jackson in January, which also marks an election year for the lawmakers.
An example provided by Jolly that is expected to be on the 2015 Legislative agenda is franchise tax cuts.
“It sounds good, but the district I represent, I don’t know how many franchises we have,” Jolly explained. The money to fund the state government has to come from somewhere, he added.
“When you take the tax dollars out of state government, many times the county taxpayers will have to take up the slack,” he added.
Hot Button Issues
Jolly acknowledged that the failed beef plant in Oakland hurt a lot of political careers.
“I thought it was a good idea,” Jolly told Rotarians about the project, which came well before he was elected.
“You got to drive 500 miles to sell an old cow,” he explained, adding that he serves as vice-chairman of the agriculture committee and is a cattle farmer.
“They might have got the wrong man to run it, I don’t know,” Jolly continued, adding that the facility is now the home of Windsor Foods which employs more than 300 people.
Jolly listed several other failed factories in the state, adding, “you haven’t heard a word about those.”
“Everyday on Super Talk radio, all you would hear is beef plant, beef plant,” he said about the past coverage on the Republican-slanted talk radio network of stations across the state.
“Which we are paying Super Talk radio over $8 million,” Jolly added, referring to advertising revenue funded by state taxpayers on public information campaigns aired on the network.
“Some people think you can fix education by throwing more money at it, what’s your opinion?” a Rotarian asked.
“We are funding education less now than we did back in 2008 before the recession,” Jolly answered, telling Rotarians that he supports the state’s MAEP funding mechanism because it helps funnel tax dollars back to the rural counties in the state.
Jolly explained that the concept of the funding formula works, because when money is spent at the state’s larger trade centers, a portion of it is channeled back to the rural counties to help fund education.
Jolly told Rotarians he was against charter schools.
“I think it is going to hurt your public schools. Who is going to be running those charter schools? Every time the vote for these charter schools came up, you see the country of Turkey coming in there. That’s who is running these charter schools… they are going to be teaching our kids, I could not go along with that,” Jolly explained. “It would kill your public schools. The public schools keep a lot of your communities together.”
Rotarian Toni Hill cited Texas as an example of a state that did not implement the Common Core curriculum.
Jolly explained that legislators did not implement Common Core.
“We were debating charter schools and Gray Tollison (chairman of education) said ‘Man, you think these charter schools are something, you wait until Common Core gets here,’” Jolly told Rotarians.
“That’s the first we heard about it. When that was implemented, Governor (Haley) Barbour was head of the Governor’s Asso-ciation and state education board, they are the ones that put that in there. We still don’t know what it is really,” Jolly explained.
“And we voted for it and are asking our teachers to teach something that is literally stupid?” Hill asked.
“We didn’t vote for it, we voted on a pay raise for some teachers to go to a seminar to learn about it this year. That’s the only thing we voted for. But it’s here and all your leadership (in Jackson) is for it. And we have taken the money. Our state superintendent out of Maryland, she was brought in here and she is a big Common Core lady,” Jolly explained.
“I think they should have done it in increments,” Jolly added, citing the switch in the curriculum totally changes the way the student is taught.
“It’s going to kill our dropout rate,” Jolly added.
The Senator also explained that the third year of teacher pay raises are triggered by school districts’ performance, earning a ranking of an A or B rated school.
“That’s going to hurt little counties, I think, but we might change it before it gets here,” Jolly said about the raises.
“If I get an opportunity, I probably am going to vote against Common Core. I am going to listen to both sides. But they won’t bring that up this session… they don’t want nothing controversial down there this year,” Jolly continued, referring to the looming election year.
Other issues Jolly touched on:
• The Senator noted the success of Water Valley’s Main Street Association that has brought Water Valley statewide distinction.
“That ol’ Louisiana boy is doing a pretty good job for Water Valley,” Jolly said about Water Valley Main Street Director Mickey Howley.
• Jolly said under a new law, each county that does not have a driver’s license station can implement one of two options to better serve the people in the county.
One option is to have services provided one day a month, and the second is to put a kiosk in each county – and two in counties with two county seats.
“It is left up to your board of supervisors. If you’re interested in this, contact your Board of Supervisors and they can get it done,” Jolly said.
• Funding for the Mississippi Department of Transportation has been a contentious issue for the last three legislative sessions, according to Jolly.
“The Highway District commissioner in the Central District said last week that MDOT funds will be spent where the people are, which hurts rural counties,” Jolly said. “The rural people come in last. That’s where most of your infrastructure probably needs to be built,” Jolly explained. As an example, he pointed to low weight bridges that farmers need to cross to get their crops to the market.
“We are going to get some BP money. The state sued BP over the oil spill. I have been hearing $1.6 billion,” Jolly said.
Instead of raising taxes to increase MDOT funding, Jolly said he put a bill in to channel the BP settlement money for roads and bridges across the entire state.
Jolly said his bill would give the highway commissioners half of that money, split three ways. The other half would be equally divided between the 82 counties.
Jolly said the bill had resistance from coastal leaders, who wanted all of the BP money.
“This money is for the whole state. The coast already got theirs,” he added.