Story should have included Democrats

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I was disappointed when I read the Jan. 4, story in The Natchez Democrat by reporter Ben Hillyer about Republican Gov. Haley Barbour’s speech to the Natchez Rotary Club.

Mr. Hillyer quoted the governor as criticizing state House members, headed by its Democratic Party leaders, for trying to pass legislation on opening day of the 2007 Legislature to fund public education. Yet the story had no response or reaction from the very people Gov. Barbour criticized.

The story included nothing from House Speaker Billy McCoy, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Johnny Stringer or House Education Committee Chairman Cecil Brown, all Democrats and all staunch supporters of funding education.

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The story also didn’t include anything from Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Dowdy, who criticized the governor and Republicans in a news release issued shortly after GOP House members blocked the full House from considering these bills on Jan. 2.

The proposals in question would have, among other things, fully funded the Mississippi Adequate Education Program; funded state universities, community colleges and junior colleges; awarded teachers about a 3 percent pay raise; and awarded university and community college professors a 5 percent raise. Their presence on the House calendar — and the fact they were up for debate on the opening day of the 2007 Legislature — show that education is the top priority of Democratic leaders in the state House.

This is not a debate about spending the bulk of the state budget early in the 2007 Legislature, as Gov. Barbour has said. Mississippi will spend more than $10 billion in the fiscal year that starts July 1. These education bills amount to a fraction of the overall state budget.

It’s a shame that The Natchez Democrat and Mr. Hillyer couldn’t take a few minutes to locate and interview Democrats to give our side. Instead, your newspaper gave readers a narrow-focused, one-sourced, one-sided story.

Terry R. Cassreino

Communications Director, Mississippi Democratic Party