One of Michael Watson’s signature campaign ideas includes moving driver’s license services from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety to the Secretary of State’s Office according to a recent interview and he could move the state forward with that and the other plans on his plate.
The DPS has had severe problems with long wait times and closed offices for driver’s licenses. If Watson’s plan to step in and correct this works he would be “the man” to every Mississippian. In Winston County alone, the complaints I have heard and questions asked about when the driver’s license’s office is open would fill this newspaper. If the Secretary of State’s eliminate any of the bureaucracy and find a way to properly staff the driver license stations he could move the state forward. Secretary of State’s office does already issues state ids for voters without identification so it may be a task the office could accomplish and cut down on some anger toward the ‘government’.
Watson, the newly elected secretary of state, has dozens of other priorities, with equally or greater merit to pursue as well..
He discussed some of those this past week with the Clarion Ledger newspaper. Among the good ideas:
• Scrapping the two-tier election process to which he and other statewide officials are subject.
Requiring a governor or other statewide candidate to win both a majority of the popular vote and a majority of the state’s 122 House districts had a pernicious intent when those provisions were included in the 1890 constitution: to make it harder for black candidates to win.
Today, it makes it harder for Democrats of whatever color to win because of how gerrymandered the legislative districts are. Although the governor’s race between Democrat Jim Hood and Republican Tate Reeves ended up not being close enough for the two-step process to become an issue, Hood’s math prior to the voting was illustrative of the unfairness of the two-pronged system. He calculated that he would have to win not just 50 percent plus one of the popular vote, but 54 percent in order to also win a majority of House districts.
Had he fallen somewhere in between, a Republican-dominated House theoretically could have awarded the governorship to a GOP nominee who wasn’t even close to winning the popular vote.
Maybe that will never happen, but Mississippi should take the possibility completely off the table.
• Eliminating the loophole that allows politicians to personally keep any surplus campaign funds they raised before Jan. 1, 2018. That provision was grandfathered in when the Legislature, under public pressure, enacted in 2017 restrictions on candidates using campaign funds for personal expenses.
Even though lawmakers were embarrassed at the time of the legislation by revelations over the food, clothing and apartment bills they had covered with campaign funds, they weren’t willing to make the reforms retroactive.
Watson is absolutely correct when he says they need to. No matter when the money was raised, it stinks that a losing or retiring politician can pocket it.
• Requiring that campaign finance reports be submitted in an easily searchable format.
Presently, the law still accepts paper documentation from candidates and their political action committees on where they got their money and how they spent it.
Although Delbert Hosemann, Watson’s predecessor and Mississippi’s next lieutenant governor, created a couple of years ago an online portal for submitting the data, still many candidates don’t use it.
As a result, it takes more time to try to connect the dots on campaign donations than it should.
If someone, for example, wants to see how much money a special interest group was giving to candidates during an election cycle, the search would require skimming through hundreds of pages of records to answer the question. With electronic filing, it would take a few keystrokes and probably just seconds.
Watson should have an ally in Hosemann in getting that mandate enacted, and possibly the other reforms, too.
And just may be the Secretary of State’s office will consider working with the legislature to have nonpartisan blanket elections (‘jungle style’) elections and eliminate party primaries.
Editor’s note: Joseph McCain is the publisher of The Choctaw Plaindealer, The Webster Progress Times and Winston County Journal. He maybe reached at newsroom@winston countyjournal.com or 662-803-5236.