- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

May 28

Mississippi Business Journal, Jackson, Mississippi, on losing with house money in state:

Mississippi’s economic development professionals have racked up an impressive record of wins in recent years. The victories have come from investments in companies that had already proven themselves winners.

The losses, on the other hand, reflect a gambler’s desire to score big on long shots as if playing with house money.

As the new decade arrived under the leadership of Gov. Haley Barbour, Mississippi rolled the dice on a pair of risky alternative-fuel and so-called green energy companies. The $26 million roll on the Twins Creeks Technologies solar panel manufacturing company came up snake eyes in quick order. Now the $75 million wager the state put on Texas bio-fuels company KiOR is looking more like a loser by the day.

Neither of these bad bets came from Gov. Phil Bryant and his staff nor Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Brent Christensen, an economic development professional who reshuffled some key decision-making posts after arriving from Florida in June 2012.

But not owning the mistakes should not keep Mississippi officials from learning from them.

And obviously plenty can be learned here, painful as it may be.

What sort of flawed decision making in the past led Mississippi to stand today on the verge of racking up more than $90 million in loan losses from the very risky Twin Creeks and KiOR investments?

Was due diligence sufficient to protect Mississippi’s taxpayers?

Watchers of the solar panel industry say panel makers in China were under-cutting each other at the same time Mississippi was placing its big bet on Twin Creeks Technologies. By the time Twin Creeks opened its state funded plant in Senatobia, the price of panel internationally fell to the point Twin Creeks realized it would be futile to start production. The result: Bankruptcy and a $26 million building owned by Mississippi taxpayers.

If Gov. Barbour and the state’s economic developers knew that risk before making the $75 million loan, a dereliction of duty has occurred. If they didn’t know it, a dereliction of due diligence has occurred.

Take your pick, either way the dice comes up snake eyes.




May 31

Sun Herald, Biloxi, Mississippi, on Bennett should clarify status of USM :

University of Southern Mississippi President Rodney Bennett has called the Gulf Park campus in Long Beach his “secret weapon” in moving the university forward and making sure it remains a “major player in higher education across the country.”

Has that “secret weapon” turned out to be a dud?

We ask because of the abrupt departure last week of Frances Lucas as vice president of USM’s operations on the Coast.

As the Sun Herald’s Mary Margaret Halford reported, Lucas began to consider leaving the vice presidency in January after Bennett handed down reorganization charts affecting her campus.

“A great majority of the decision-making was removed from the Coast campus and placed in the venue of many of the leaders on the Hattiesburg campus,” Lucas said. “The reporting structure basically changed — we had a centralized structure here, and we had a cohesive community of decision-makers. Most of those decisions are now being made by people in Hattiesburg.”

Decisions about academics, the Gulf Coast Research Lab and the Center for Higher Learning at Stennis Space Center are now being made in Hattiesburg, she said.

And when Lucas lost that power to the Hattiesburg campus, she said, she began to feel her talents could best be used elsewhere.

A university official said Bennett was out of town last week and could not be reached for comment.

When he is available for comment, we hope he will quickly clarify the status of USM’s operations on the Coast.

Over the years, USM’s operations all along the Coast have developed into what some expected would become a significant university presence.

Whether that process has been abandoned or only put on hold, South Mississippians ought to be the first to know.

As for Dr. Lucas, we thank her for her service to the Coast academic community and wish her the very best.




June 2

Northeast Mississippi Journal, Tupelo, Mississippi, on election turnout:

Off-year federal elections - those in non-presidential election years - rarely draw high turnouts. Yet Mississippi has a hugely important decision to make in Tuesday’s primary election for the U.S. Senate, and maximum participation is vital for the outcome to reflect the people’s will.

Voters in the Republican primary will choose between Sen. Thad Cochran, a 36-year Senate veteran who has risen to the top tier of the Republican leadership ranks and has served the state well. Cochran is challenged by state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville, who believes that Cochran’s efforts to funnel federal dollars to Mississippi military, education and local infrastructure projects have been misplaced and proposes to blunt that and other federal spending.

Cochran’s mastery of the existing system and his deal-making abilities contrast starkly with McDaniel’s promise to upend the system as it exists, even if Mississippi loses some benefits in the process. That, along with the distinctly different personalities of the two - Cochran a low-key deflector of attention, McDaniel an assertively high-profile figure - offer voters one of the clearest choices in substance and style of any Republican primary in modern state history.

Whether the ugliness of the campaign in recent weeks will stimulate or depress voter turnout remains to be seen, but supporters of either candidate can assume nothing on the eve of this nationally pivotal election. The few pre-election polls that have been made public indicate the race could go either way.

Whoever wins the GOP primary won’t be home free. Waiting in the wings will be Travis Childers, the former 1st District congressman and likely winner of Tuesday’s much lower-profile Democratic senatorial primary who is poised to run a serious campaign against the Republican nominee. As his unexpected victory in the 2008 1st District special and regular elections demonstrated, Childers is capable of winning against the odds - especially when the GOP opposition is embittered and fragmented, as it was that year and will be this time around.

Mississippi will be in the national spotlight Tuesday. The results of the Senate race will be of interest around the nation as a test of the strength of the Tea Party’s on-the-ground efforts and candidates funded by national super PACs sympathetic to its aims against a venerable senator with a long record of service.

Voters who choose not to be a part of Tuesday’s electoral event will be opting out of one of Mississippi’s most significant electoral decisions of the new century.



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