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Mitchell: Expect the PSC to Make Some Headlines During 2016

Setting aside the few years Mississippi turned its membership card, a pretty significant birthday is upcoming.

On December 10, 1817, President James Monroe signed the papers admitting us as the 20th state. That means we’ll turn 199 in 2016. Of course, the fireworks will be saved for the bicentennial in 2017, but being 199 will be cool, too.

Maybe a few sparklers?


By the way, conservatism is nothing new in these parts. When 48 gents met in Washington (the one just north of Natchez, not the one on the Potomac) in July 1817 to write a constitution (required for membership in the United States), the document said only white men could vote and only if they owned property or were members of the state militia.

But times changed. We moved on. What else is ahead in 2016?

The Legislature convenes at noon on Jan. 5 for an extended session. “Normal” sessions are 90 days, but 30 days are added when a governor starts a new term. The extension predates the change to governors being able to serve two terms, so even though Gov. Phil Bryant is not new in office, lawmakers may meet for 120 days, if they want to.

It’s not yet clear how ambitious the Legislature will be. Voters increased Republican majorities in both chambers this year, but as in Washington (the one on the Potomac), having a majority does not automatically lead to big reforms.

A difference at the federal level, of course, is that the president is a Democrat, while Bryant is a Republican’s Republican. In some states that have become dominated by the Grand Old Party there have been drastic changes. We’ll soon know if such a blueprint exists for Mississippi.

As for the hot-button issue of the state flag, it’s not as hot button as it was. House Speaker Philip Gunn and Gov. Bryant took opposite positions on the banner earlier this year. Also, most state universities, many towns and counties decline to display it — but as was true in 2001 when a non-binding state referendum was held, most workaday folks are indifferent.

The more pressing issue for the Legislature — as is true every year — will be how to slice the revenue pie. Campaign commercials notwithstanding, Mississippi’s economy lags the rest of the nation and the revenue estimate for this year has already been reduced. Look for Bryant and Company to devote a lot of time and attention to job creation and job retention. It’s not headline stuff, as a rule, but it is crucial.

There will be headlines from the Public Service Commission.

Long an isolated populist Democrat on the three-member regulatory panel, Brandon Presley will be joined by former state Rep. Cecil Brown, also a Democrat. Presley will likely chair the agency that holds sway over most private utilities selling electricity, water, sewer, phone and other services. The PSC isn’t as powerful as it once was, but Presley, Brown and newly elected Republican Sam Britton could rankle a lot utility managers, especially as regards the much-litigated $6.4 billion Mississippi Power Company generating plant in Kemper County.

A big change is that Presley is an ardent believer in open government — meaning a lot of companies, large and small, are going to be required to operate in more sunshine than they may prefer.

The new year is also a presidential election year, of course. Mississippi, again, is not “in play.” It is a foregone conclusion that the Republican nominee, regardless of who emerges, will win the state’s electoral votes. That’s bad news for media companies in Mississippi, given that campaigns will be spending billions on ads – just not in Mississippi. It’s good news for state TV viewers who won’t get the same deluge as viewers in Iowa, Florida or any other swing state.

In the larger world, it’s safe to predict that sanity will continue to struggle with insanity. The chaos emanating from Isis will include more atrocities, more suffering.

A lot of politicians will continue to focus on blaming each other for the rise of this evil ideology. A wise course for us all would be to ignore the finger-pointers and listen to those who propose specific, realistic plans to end the terror.

No year has been all roses; none have been all thorns. Let’s hope for the best in 2016, and work to avoid the worst.

Happy 199th to us.


Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at cmitchell43@yahoo.com.

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