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The Minority Legislator Lockout

Representative Philip Gunn (R). Photo courtesy of the Mississippi House of Representatives.

Republican House Speaker Phillip Gunn is making a move to cut retired state employees, teachers and educators from legislative office. Up until the opening of the session, retired public employees were hopeful they could still draw their state pensions while serving in the Mississippi Legislature thanks to a rule adopted by the Public Employees Retirement System Board. Gunn, however, wants to quash the PERS decision, in the name of stopping former employees’ “double-dipping” into state coffers.

If Gunn is successful, public employees and former teachers will have less incentive to run for office because they will lose access to their retirement benefits, according to former Rep. Jay Hughes (D-Lafayette), a college professor. More immediately, it could push four pivotal Republican legislators Gunn dislikes to abandon their seats. <side eye>

“This has nothing to do with whether they’re retirees or not, or Republicans or not,” Hughes told The Lighthouse. “It has to do with the fact that these four (legislators) are retired educators, and they do not fit his agenda of privatizing public education with school vouchers.”

For those who don’t know, the words: “public funding of private schools through school vouchers” and “school choice” are code words in Mississippi for “state-financed segregated schools.” School vouchers allow impoverished parents with bigoted values to afford the hackneyed, majority-white academies they all so desperately want to put their little barefoot kids in. Gunn has been working hard to make public financed private academies a reality in Mississippi, but even some Republicans know pulling money out of the education budget for countless private academies will bankrupt public schools—which are already underfunded by people like Gunn and their legislative stinginess.

Freshly-elected Rep. Billy Andrews, for example, is a Republican for Lamar County who, for decades, served as an attorney for a public school board. He remains an ally of public schools and doesn’t want them any further eroded from the inside out. Andrews may consider pulling up his tent if he loses his benefits, however.

“Gunn thought he had himself a super-majority in his House, but when it comes to education … he doesn’t have that super-majority…” Hughes said. “These four new candidates are retired educators, and they’re not going there (with him.)”

Gunn’s claim of killing the PERS rule to stop “double-dipping” is undermined by the very common practice of state agency heads who frequently recruit retired, PERS-eligible state employees through contract or temp agencies to work while simultaneously drawing retirement. Under present circumstances, double-dipping already happens a LOT and the eradication of this particular PERS rule will do nothing to stop it.

“So, this is not about double dipping,” Hughes said. “This is about moving forward with an agenda that will further segregate the public-school system under a new name.”

Left unsaid in Hughes’ argument is the fact that the public sector tends to employ comparatively more minorities and women than the private sector, according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers (AFSCW). In fact, the public sector is such a great equalizer in terms of minority and female employment that when public sector jobs collapsed after the 2008 recession, it disproportionately affected women and other minority groups.

Many of these same women and/or minorities will lose access to their state retirement if they dare to participate in the democratic process and win a seat in the Mississippi House or Senate.


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