Democrats' Scheme in Mississippi Fails

Democrats' Scheme in Mississippi Fails
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It was the most important contest in America that nobody knows about.

Everyone is examining last week's Republican romp in governorships and state legislatures across the country, including historic majority margins in Pennsylvania's state Senate, a blowout in Kentucky and Virginia's refusal to be pushed into the Democrat-blue column.

Meanwhile, a small but important school funding initiative, well financed by the left, failed in Mississippi.

Democrats have decided that they will try to win court cases since they cannot win down-ballot offices, thanks to a leftward pitch under Barack Obama. (They've lost 13 U.S. Senate seats, 69 House seats, 11 governorships, 913 state legislative seats and a majority of 30 state chambers in less than six years.)

It is an attempted power grab that is very similar to President Obama's use of executive orders.

Rather than trying to flip the House back to the Democrats' control, Obama has bypassed it with executive orders; the Democrats' strategy in southern and Republican-red states is to bypass legislatures with court actions.

You see this happening on gun control via state ballot initiatives. Billionaire and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg lost big last week in two state Senate races in Virginia. He dumped $2.3 million into trying to wrest the chamber from Republicans, but the GOP held the seats.

Bloomberg now will focus on gun-control ballot initiatives, such as one in Nevada and possibly another in Arizona.

In Mississippi, the teachers' unions and some wealthy advocates put a referendum on the ballot that would require the legislature to fully fund the education formula, a massive increase over current funding.

If you sue the state of Mississippi for failing to do its job (like not funding the education formula), the case is heard in Hinds County where the state capitol, Jackson, sits — the state's most liberal jurisdiction.

In other words, a judge elected by the state's most-liberal electorate would have the power to overrule any legislative decision about school funding.

That could include consolidating districts. So, in theory, you could have a city district and a county district side-by-side — one sufficiently funded, the other not — and the judge could order the consolidation of those schools to equalize funding.

This push was an elaborate scheme, dressed up as “fairness,” to transfer control of education funding from the legislature to the courts.

The left will argue that if schools were fully funded, the issue would never go to the courts. Yet the practical effect of this proposal would be to provoke a court fight — to govern by lawsuit.

Mississippi's Initiative 42 was horribly skewed to the left, and its proponents were flush with money. One national teachers' union produced a slick ad campaign that appeared weeks before the opposition's began. Polling language showed that if people didn't read the ballot initiative carefully, the opposition — led by Republicans — got killed.

The Democrats' pitch was that politicians never provide enough money for schools, so voters should approve the initiative and they would receive more education funding. Republicans made a simple but important case: The initiative would not produce more money for schools, just more power for a judge.

Despite the political odds and public sympathies against them, the GOP's pitch worked.

Why was this ballot fight the most important in the country?

Democrats picked Mississippi carefully. They have a high base vote in Mississippi (which comes as a shock to many people). The state has the nation's largest black population by percentage, as well as a long tradition of supporting Democrats. They might have a hard time winning there, but their followers automatically show up at the door in fairly high numbers.

If this scheme had worked, the left probably would have tried it across the country.

Brad Todd, a Washington-based GOP strategist who worked to defeat the Mississippi referendum, said Republicans haven't found the magic means to stop Democrats from pursuing this back-door method of winning power, but they did find a way to beat it.

“The other races across the country, where Republicans picked off wins everywhere, were a snapshot of the present,” Todd said. But “this race was a vision into the future.”


Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at
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