The Lighthouse has previously covered House Speaker Phillip Gunn’s war on teachers and schools. Gunn recently imposed a rule that cuts retired state employees, educators and coaches from legislative office by whacking their retirement benefits. Up until this year, retired public employees could draw their state pensions while serving in the Mississippi Legislature, thanks to a rule adopted by the Public Employees Retirement System Board (PERS). Gunn ignored the PERS decision, however, claiming he wants to stop former state employees from “double-dipping.” Gunn’s move will force many newly-elected representatives who happen to be retirees to resign or face a pay cut.
Gunn’s argument is idiotic, according to critics, because even if they do quit, the state will still have to pay these representatives’ retirement benefits while paying a salary to the new legislators who will replace them. The same amount of money will be leaving state coffers regardless of who serves as legislator. I’m going to type that one more time: The same amount of money will be leaving state coffers regardless of who serves as legislator.
The issue here is Gunn doesn’t want former teachers, coaches and people friendly to K-12 to serve in the House because Gunn seeks to undermine schools by funneling public school cash into school vouchers and private academies and needs anti-school allies to do it. The legislators affected by Gunn’s bogus rule ran their campaigns on the argument that pulling money out of the education budget for countless private academies will bankrupt public schools that are already dangerously underfunded.
Freshly elected Rep. Billy Andrews (R- Lamar, Forrest) served as an attorney for a local public school board. He remains an ally of public schools and does not want public school money dumped into academies, but Gunn’s rule will push people like him out of the House and make way for the Speaker to raze K-12.
The new news, this time around, is who is helping Gunn slash schools.
Andrews told reporters he and Gunn had a debate over his rotten rule and that Gunn suggested if Andrews and his school-loving friends didn’t like it, they should submit legislation changing state law. Andrews took Gunn’s suggestion to heart and did just that; he submitted HB 603 to allow school retirees to collect their full retirement while serving in the legislature. Rep. Earle Banks (D-Jackson) also submitted a similar bill, HB 601, to remove Gunn’s rule.
Gunn’s suggestion was in bad faith, however, because the Speaker immediately ordered conservative, anti-school allies in the House to strangle HB 601 in committee. Andrews told The Lighthouse he also doubts the House Appropriations Committee will take up his HB 603.
“House Bill 603 was not acted on and probably will not be,” Andrews said.
That vote in the Appropriations Committee did help identify anti-education legislators haunting the House, however, and it makes clear how voters should vote in upcoming elections.
Rep. Angela Cockerham is a former Democrat who switched to Independent once it became clear last year she could not win the Democratic primary in her town of Magnolia. She managed to carry the November election only with the support of Magnolia’s Republican minority and whatever Democrats down there who still don’t realize she’s an enemy.
Cockerham is the lone Black Democrat in the House who voted with Republicans to arbitrarily boot Democrat Bo Eaton from his seat in 2016 and hand the House to a Republican Super-majority. House leaders immediately rewarded her vote with a chair over the House Energy Committee. Ever since then, she has been a loyal ally of Gunn, and she’d helped make possible may hurtful laws and appropriation changes that handed tax cuts to out-of-state corporations.
Additionally, she delivered the goods for Gunn earlier this month, when she voted to kill HB 601 in the Appropriations Committee, according to Andrews.
“Cockerham voted against it,” Andrews told The Lighthouse.
The message here: Know your enemy. Skinfolks and kinfolks. You have to look past color, know your enemy and vote for your ally.