Dissing Mississippi? Outside politicians find it’s easy sport, while Miss. bristles

By Emily Wagster Pettus, AP
Friday, June 4, 2010

Minn. Dem finds dissing Miss. is easy punchline

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi is one of the poorest, fattest states in the nation. As a punch line, it’s the gift that keeps on giving for politicians in other places.

The latest candidate using Mississippi as an example of what-we-don’t-want-our-state-to-be is Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Matt Entenza.

One of three Democrats in a Aug. 10 primary, Entenza started running a TV ad in his home state Thursday with images of Minnesota construction workers, schoolchildren, fire trucks and police cars fading away.

“If budget cuts were always the answer, then Mississippi would be a leader in this country,” Entenza says in the ad.

It’s a line Entenza also weaves into speeches as he runs for a seat that Republican Tim Pawlenty will leave early next year.

Dan Turner, spokesman for Mississippi’s Republican governor, Haley Barbour, told The Associated Press on Friday: “Before someone makes a disparaging remark about Mississippi, they probably ought to come spend some time here.”

Entenza has been in Mississippi. He said he worked as an attorney for the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division.

“I got run out of Greenwood, Miss.,” Entenza said Friday after a candidates’ forum in Minnesota.

Barbour has cut Mississippi’s budget five times since last July, taking it from about $6 billion to $5.5 billion because of lethargic tax collections. Dozens of states have tightened spending and cut services during the recession.

Entenza said Minnesota has historically been near the top and Mississippi near the bottom on education and health care “and now we’re falling down to that level.”

“Their approach is super-low taxes, super-low service, and they just kind of leave people on their own,” he said.

There’s nothing unusual about politicos dissing Mississippi, a state consistently near the bottom for per-capita income and near the top for unemployment, obesity and other unfavorable rankings.

This spring, a Democratic state lawmaker from Illinois visited the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson and apologized for his clumsy defense of a $28 million renovation of the Statehouse in Springfield.

Rep. Jack Franks said in 2007: “Certainly, the chamber has to be nice and to befit a state of our stature. It’s not like we’re Mississippi. We’re a rich state.”

Franks told Mississippi lawmakers in March that it was “stupid comment.” They applauded.

Joseph Parker, a retired political scientist from the University of Southern Mississippi said, “Thank God for Mississippi” long has been a mantra in Arkansas, Louisiana and other states also perpetually near the bottom of lists where they’d rather be on top.

Parker said Mississippians are accustomed to being the butt of jokes.

“You may as well get over it and see it with good humor,” Parker said. “We can either put up with it or move away.”


Associated Press writers Brian Bakst and Martiga Lohn in St. Paul, Minn., contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects date of Minnesota primary.)

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