- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant was inaugurated for a second and final term Tuesday and made his strongest pitch to date for letting parents use tax dollars to send children to schools of the family’s choice.

While he didn’t offer a detailed proposal, Republican Bryant appeared to advocate letting people use the money for public or private schools.

“It should be a parent’s right, not just a privilege by income or social status, to take his or her hard-earned tax dollars and send their child to a school they choose,” Bryant said. “Unfortunately, there are some who are content with keeping children trapped in failing schools.”

Critics say some Mississippi schools suffer from weak tax bases that are the result of longstanding poverty and lingering resistance to integration.

An open-ended proposal to let people use tax dollars for any school could hit opposition from wealthier suburban districts that might not want a rapid influx of students from less affluent areas. And, many education advocates have long said public money should not go to private schools.



“We should heed the lessons of history and not stand in the school house doorway and resist school choice in the name of district integrity, or average daily attendance,” Bryant said. “I see little difference when a parent’s power to choose is taken away, whether by a school board or an offensive state law.”

His nearly 25-minute inaugural speech included few details about policy proposals because his staff said he will unveil those in his State of the State address on Jan. 26. Speaking to about 1,200 spectators on the south side of the state Capitol, Bryant built his speech around the theme, “Imagine Mississippi.”

He repeated familiar lines from campaign speeches about protecting gun owners’ rights and trying to make Mississippi “the most job-friendly state in America and “the safest state in America for an unborn child.”

In one of his few references to the state’s troubled history, the 61-year-old Bryant said: “When we recognized the undeniable truth that all men are created equal in the eyes of God, we brought to an end the dark days of segregation. This occurred in large part through the determination of the civil rights movement and the courageous men and women who gave their very lives for freedom’s cause.”

Bryant did not mention the Mississippi flag, which is the last state banner in the nation to prominently feature the Confederate battle emblem.

Public display of Confederate symbols has been widely debated since last summer, when nine black worshippers were massacred at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The man charged in the killings had previously posed with the Confederate battle flag in photos posted online. The Mississippi flag fluttered from poles outside the state Capitol Tuesday, but they were dwarfed by an American flag as wide as the columned portico on the south side of the building.

Two men with a Confederate battle flag stood on a Capitol sidewalk during the inauguration ceremony.

Bryant has previously said he supports the result of a 2001 statewide election in which Mississippi voters chose to keep the Confederate emblem on the flag. He said if the issue is to be decided again, it should be done during another referendum.

Security was tight for the inauguration, with extra police officers and Highway Patrol troopers in and around the building and helicopters overhead. After the ceremony, a parade followed in downtown Jackson, and a $50-per-ticket inaugural ball was set for the evening at the Jackson Convention Complex.

Bryant easily defeated the Democratic nominee, long-haul truck driver Robert Gray, in the November election.

Bryant’s first inauguration, in 2012, was moved inside the Capitol because of rain. The weather cooperated Tuesday, with a clear blue sky and temperatures in the 50s.

Before winning an open governor’s race in 2011, he previously served four years as lieutenant governor and 10 as state auditor. Bryant started his political career as a state representative from Rankin County.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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