Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Waycaster Hit the Nail on the Head

In a Letter to the Editor, Johnny Waycaster announced his withdrawal from the race for Alderman in Ward 3. That means there will be no Primary Election for Ward 3. For that seat, we'll have to wait for the General Election contest on June 3 between Democrat Gwen Ball and incumbent Republican Bob Pollard. This campaign definitely bears watching, since it pits the epitome of the "good ol' boy" over the committed citizen activist - and may very well predict the future of Natchez.

But let's go back to Johnny Waycaster for the moment, because his letter is really worth discussing.

The first question one has on reading the letter is why did he withdraw. There is no doubt that his candidacy would have hurt that of Dan Dillard, who is running for Alderman in Ward 6. Dan filed first, had been planning to run for quite some time, and had talked it over with Johnny ahead of time. So Johnny withdrew in favor of his friend and employee, and that says something positive to me about Johnny.

However, Johnny also cares deeply about Natchez and what he sees happening with its government. He has worked for years with the City and has an inside view of its workings that the rest of us can only guess about. He was so concerned that he was willing to put himself on the line and actually run for office - which so many are not. I don't think Johnny would have withdrawn if he didn't feel his opponent in the Primary, Gwen Ball, agreed with his basic principles and had a good shot at winning. I know Gwen and Johnny had several conversations before he made his decision. In fact, I wouldn't have been surprised if Gwen had withdrawn if Johnny had not. I guess they decided that running against each other wouldn't help them with their ultimate goal of getting rid of Bob Pollard. I also won't be surprised to see Johnny help Gwen with her campaign and continue to help her afterwards, if she's elected.

If you look at Johnny's letter, you can tell the concerns he had with Pollard and the rest of this Board. His letter was very eloquent and well written. Here is my interpretation in more down to earth language.

  1. Involve the public. Pollard and this Board do not ask for citizen's opinions - they just decide things among themselves. The only time the public is involved is when they absolutely have to do it. Then they make you sign up a week in advance and limit your remarks to 3 minutes. While you're speaking, they ignore you or make faces. They obviously could care less about the people's opinions.
  2. Act in public. The State Open Meetings law says very clearly that, except in rare, very specific circumstances, information sharing, debate, and decision making of elected officials is to be in front of the public. Pollard and this Board just meet in back rooms and over meals and entertainment provided by those looking for favors. When they vote in public, it is obvious that everything has already been decided ahead of time. In fact, I've caught them slipping and saying just that in public on occasion. And have you ever noticed that all the sneaky things they do come without any notice at the end of the meeting when most people have left?
  3. Obey the law. We all have to obey the laws, or we suffer the consequences. But not Pollard and this Board. They break the law regularly and then smile about it. The first time I noticed it was when they illegally raised their salaries. I wrote a letter - no response. I asked to speak to them - they changed the rules on speaking. I finally get a chance to speak - dead silence. They ignore the law all the time. The only recourse we have is to sue, and not many of us can afford that.
  4. Handle our money responsibly. We all have to learn to live with whatever our income provides, we know how to cut expenses when we have to, and most importantly, we know how to plan for the future. But Pollard and this Board don't have a clue about responsible financing. They didn't even pass a real budget this year. They spend money without knowing where it's coming from or what other programs it might affect. Neither Pollard nor any other Board member have any plan or vision for the future of Natchez. I once heard Gwen Ball ask the Board in a public meeting if they had a vision for Natchez. Dead silence - they probably didn't even know what she was talking about. Only one Aldermen even answered her. Alderman Middleton said his vision was "jobs". (Gee, how brilliant!)
  5. Manage our government. Pollard and the Board have no clue what a disaster area our city departments are, because none of them seems to know how to manage themselves out of a paper bag. This is not the fault of the employees. This is the responsibility of management, and in government, that's the elected officials. They also don't seem to understand the devastating effect this mismanagement has - not only on our daily lives - but on our economic development and our children's future.


Don't vote for candidates telling you they are for jobs or recreation or any other good sounding promise. None of those promises can or will be kept if that candidate does not agree to these five principles of effective government.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Natchez and Barcelona, Spain.

I was at work upstairs at the Library on Election Day. A man was there trying to use our wireless access with this laptop. He was having difficulty connecting, and we were eventually able to help him successfully connect. (By the way, this free wireless access is another great service provided by your Library that is used frequently, especially by out of town visitors.)

While we were working on his problem, I discovered he was from Spain. Eventually, I asked him what brought him to Natchez. He said he was a journalist from Barcelona, Spain and came to Mississippi to cover the Primary Election. But why Natchez, I asked. He said he had collected all of his information in Jackson. However, he found Jackson a boring city and was looking for someplace more interesting. His quick research told him Natchez was the most interesting place in Mississippi. Isn't that wonderful to hear?

He came first to the Library to write his story and file it with his newspaper. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I had lived in Spain as a child. He asked where, and I told him Mallorca. When he finished his work, he thanked us very graciously for all our help. I asked him to please send us a link to his story. And off he went to enjoy Natchez.

Since I only work part time at the Library, I left shortly thereafter. Sometime later that afternoon, he came back looking for me. Fortunately, someone told him exactly where I could be found - on the corner of Pearl and Market holding a Hillary sign - so he found me.

He said he got to thinking about it and decided he had a great story entitled "From Mallorca to Mississippi", and he came to interview me. It's been fifty years since I lived there, and I had to dig deep in my memories to find the information he requested, but he seemed satisfied. While we were talking, Mayor Phillip West walked by, and I introduced him. So he got another interview.

Overall, I think he was quite impressed with our little town. Who knows? When he writes about us, we may get some tourists from Spain!

UPDATE: The article ran in La Vanguardia, the largest daily in Barcelona, and even included a picture of me. If you can read Spanish, here's the link. Otherwise, here's a quote about Natchez:

"...Natchez, the oldest city in Mississippi, which was under Spanish control at the end of the 18th Century. One can still feel the splendor of a time when steamers transported cotton down the river. The impeccable antebellum mansions and the casinos attract the tourists. In this fertile country grow spectacular oak trees and magnolia, the state tree."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Shame on Mississippi

Mississippi once again has embarassed itself. In every state across the country, there are record voter turnouts. So what kind of turnout do we get in Mississippi? Light to moderate. Unbelievable!

We were the center of the political universe today. All eyes were on Mississippi, and they all saw that miserable turnout. We are the laughingstock of the nation again.

So the next time Mississippi goes to Congress and asks for something, guess what they'll say. Mississippi doesn't even care enough to go vote - they can forget it. And we'll deserve it.

I am truly ashamed of my state today.

UPDATE: Another thing that will not look good for Mississippi is our racism. Only 9% of black voters chose Clinton over Obama. Whites were slightly less racist, with 21% voting for Obama.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Lowdown on the Election on Tuesday

Tuesday, March 11, is Election Day, when we vote for federal candidates. The whole nation will be watching to see how we vote. For the first time in forever, Mississippi can make a difference. And we're the only game in town Tuesday - no other state has a primary. Dress nicely when you go vote - some national broadcaster might come to interview you.

Here are your choices on the Democratic ballot:

President: The two major Candidates are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but six other candidates who have dropped out are still on the ballot. If you've been reading this blog, then you know that I'm a BIG Hillary supporter.

U S Senator: Shawn O'Hara is a fringe candidate who runs in every election and never comes close, so your only choice is Erik Fleming. (However, I might write in Mike Moore, just for the fun of it.) They're running for the right to oppose Senator Cochran - lots of luck!

U S Representative for the Third Congressional District: Joel Gill did come to Natchez to talk to voters, but I was appalled. His platform was basically that of the far right - and pretty irrelevant to what's going on today. Since he seemed to agree with no Democratic issues, I asked him why he filed as a Democrat. He basically said it gave him a better chance of winning. Great reason! If he wins the primary, we're in trouble. Randy Eads is an impressive young guy. He's not a liberal like I am, but he is definitely a Democrat, with positions that should make most Mississippians comfortable. You can check him out at his website.

These are the choices on the Republican Ballot. I'm not presuming to tell Republicans how to vote.

President: Although John McCain has wrapped up the Republican Nomination, there are still eight other candidates on the ballot, in case you want to register a protest vote.

U S Senator: No one has dared to run against incumbent Thad Cochran.

U S Representative for the Third Congressional District: Since this is an open seat (Chip Pickering has retired) and the District is presumed to be Republican, there is a boat load of people running: James Broadwater, Gregg Harper, Gregory Hatcher, David Landrum, William Marcy, Charlie Ross, and John Rounsaville. I would guess Landrum, Ross, and Rounsaville are the major contenders. You Republicans can pronounce your favorites in the comments. This race will keep most Republicans from crossing over and voting in the Democratic Primary for President.

Here's a link to the list of precincts in Adams County.


There will be a Hillary rally in Natchez tomorrow (Monday, March 10) at 5:30 at the D W Howard Center, 225 Pilgrim Boulevard (formerly Wilson Road). Go out MLK, pass Gayosa, Pilgrim Boulevard is on your right. You’ll see the building on the left. (If you get lost, call my cell 601.870.5000.)

There will be FOBs (Friends of Bill) from Arkansas, representatives from the national campaign, and an awesome nationally renowned gospel singer – Benjamin Combs.

The campaign is still short on signs, although we’re hoping for some tomorrow night. But just in case, bring your own handmade signs.

There’s going to be a dinner afterward for the visiting dignitaries. If you are interested in attending, let me know ASAP.

BTW, I got a phone call tonight from a volunteer urging me to vote for Hillary on Tuesday. Volunteers are busy calling Mississippi from all over the country. How nice to be important!

HILLARY – YOU GO GIRL!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Report from Hillaryland

Jane Gardner went to the dinner with Hillary in Jackson last night and sends this report.

Last night I attended the Jefferson Jackson Hamer Day Dinner in Canton Mississippi where Hillary Clinton spoke to an estimated 2,000 Democrats. I was amazed at her poised patience, standing there with hundreds surrounding her for autographs and pictures as she made her way into the room, but it didn’t seem to faze her, she smiled and chatted with each one.

It must have taken 20 minutes before she eased toward the podium with the bucking donkey emblem in the background, appropriate since the Canton Multipurpose and Equine Center is used for rodeos (they covered the dirt floor with carpeting for the event). She then had to stand another 10 to 15 minutes while others spoke at the podium, but she never looked exasperated, just the opposite, she seemed eager and excited to be there.

Senator Clinton spoke to the people of Mississippi last night. This was not a pat speech; she spoke without notes, from the heart for about 30 to 40 minutes. She spoke of the blues originating from Mississippi, as well as rock and roll. She joked that her husband Bill expects to see Elvis the next day in Tupelo, where he’s attending a fish-fry. She talked about the many attributes Mississippians have made to the world, from our writers to our scientists; she spoke of the first heart transplant performed in our state, and of our sports heroes, and she said: “One just recently retired.” We knew she meant the great, Brett Farve.

Clinton spoke of ending the “No Child Left Behind” program started by the Bush administration. She reminded us that she was instrumental in starting the Children’s Healthcare Program, which we have in Mississippi, and she will ask Congress to expand this program; George Bush has vetoed this twice, she said. Clinton said she would end child hunger by 2012 if elected president.

She would end our dependency on oil by creating “green” jobs and many of these jobs could be in Mississippi. She said health care is a “moral right” and she will bring health care to rural areas in Mississippi.

Clinton received huge applause when she criticized Bush’s handling of Katrina saying: “I’ll do whatever I can to make up for lost time as your President.” She assured the cheering crowd that she would put into place a proper emergency response program.

I was already a fervent Hillary supporter, but after hearing her speak with such passion, hope, dignity and intelligence last night, I am in awe. I am in awe of her strength and energy; her steadfastness. You would never know she has been plowing away at this for months, day after day, in a different town, and many had counted her out, but because of the sheer belief in herself, knowing she can do what is best for the American people, she seems to be gaining strength as her competitor grows weary. Her voice is stronger than ever; this is the fortitude we need in the White House. I got the feeling she was just getting started and I can promise you that at 6:00AM this Friday morning, she was buckled, belted, buttoned, and coifed, at point, and happy to be on her way to Hattiesburg, to speak to more Mississippians at 8:30AM.

Sometimes you just know in your heart and gut, what is right, you feel it; it’s certain; it’s clear; it’s the universe agreeing with you and there is no question. Hillary is the right choice, not only for our country, but for the world. I worry we will let this opportunity, to make things better for all of us and our country, slip through our fingers, for instead, something that may appear shiny and new for the moment; maybe it’s going with whomever we think the cool kids are at the moment, but like I told my 22 year old son, “You’re just going to have to trust me on this; I know it’s the right thing to do and I know it’s the best thing for our country and for your future.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Why I'm Voting For Hillary on Tuesday

This article is for Democratic voters. You Republicans can go somewhere else.

I first met Hillary at the beginning of the 1992 Presidential campaign. I went very early to an event where she was to appear and got a front row seat. I was absolutely blown away. She spoke without any notes, yet there were no "ums" or stumbles. The breadth of her knowledge was incredible, and she spoke about substantive issues. She answered questions authoritatively. That's when I became a Hillary girl, and in 1992 and 1996, I voted for Hillary's husband.

Later that election, my daughter had a friend tell her that Bill & Hillary Clinton and Al & Tipper Gore were going to be eating at a restaurant where he worked, but the public didn't know it. My daughter arranged to be eating dinner there that night. When she told me, I told her it was Bill Clinton's birthday, which was not widely known. When they walked in the restaurant, she wished him a happy birthday. Bill was thrilled, and my daughter got to talk to them and got all four autographs on a napkin from the restaurant. That's when my daughter became a second generation Hillary girl.

And just recently, I went with my daughter and her husband to our courthouse, so they could vote absentee. When we walked in, my three year old granddaughter announced to everyone, "We're here to vote for Hillary Clinton!" Thus, we have our third generation Hillary girl.

I've been closely following Hillary ever since I met her, and I've read everything I can about her. When she declared she would run for President, I was thrilled. On behalf of my daughter and my four granddaughters, I believe it is very important that a woman becomes President of our country. Women have been second class citizens throughout our history. Although we have made great advances, we still have a long way to go. No one thing would further that cause more than electing a female President to serve as a role model for young girls.

However, since women have always had to do a job much better than a man to get any credit, that woman must be an excellent President - and I believe Hillary will make an excellent President.

There are several issues that concern me, but the most crucial is the role of our country in the world. The current President has single handedly destroyed our reputation worldwide, and Hillary has the knowledge and experience in foreign affairs that will be essential to restore our image abroad. Plus, she is one tough cookie and will not be taken lightly by anyone - and we can trust her to be our Commander in Chief.

Another Bush legacy is the financial disaster that is our economy. Bush inherited an unheard of surplus, and he has turned it into an unheard of deficit. We are indebted to China and other scary countries. The dollar is no longer respected abroad. The income gap between rich and poor is larger than it's been in this country since the age of the Robber Barons, and the middle class is disappearing. One of my favorite Hillary quotes goes something like "It took a Clinton to fix the economy after the first Bush. It may take another Clinton to fix it after the second Bush." It will take an experienced person to pull off this challenge. There's a reason why the working class is voting overwhelmingly for Hillary - they are the ones suffering now. The wealthy and the young can afford to vote for charisma - the rest of us need solutions.

Without a doubt, the biggest immediate crisis in our country is health care. Not only is it devastating for individuals, but it is breaking the finances of local, state, and national governments. It is bankrupting businesses and keeping American companies from being competitive with foreign ones. Also, it keeps untold people from going into business for themselves because they can't give up their health benefits. Those who are knowledgeable about health care can tell you there is a world of difference between the two Democratic candidates on this issue. Hillary, a real expert, is the only candidate that will provide universal health care - that means everyone has coverage. Anything less is just a band aid and will not work.

Finally, Bush has destroyed the regulatory system of our federal government, so that we can no longer depend on the safety of food, drugs, bridges, etc; no longer expect the federal government to be able to respond to a disaster; no longer believe the research coming from federal agencies; no longer trust the words of the CIA; and no longer provide health care and support to the veterans who sacrificed for us. A President must understand how Washington works in order to repair our dysfunctional bureaucracy. By that I don't mean corruption and cronyism, but understanding the protocols and rules that have been in place for years. Hillary understands it well, especially as she suffered from her naivete when she first tried to reform health care.

Obama is a very impressive candidate. My concern with him is that he is an unknown, and I don't think we can afford a gamble right now. I much prefer that he runs as Vice President with Hillary, where he can gain experience and we can get to know him.

Hillary is the best choice for Mississippi Democrats on Tuesday, March 11.

(Cross posted on the Cottonmouth Blog.)

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Arts Are What's Happening

Natchez is on the verge of becoming a flourishing art community - and this is very exciting news. Why is this happening and why is it exciting?

Katrina was a devastating tragedy, but as the old proverb says, "it's an ill wind that blows no one any good". In this case, many artists "blew" into Natchez after Katrina. Many saw it as a temporary place, but they fell in love with Natchez and decided to stay. And word spreads among the artistic community, as more artists came to visit and to live.

So just how many artists do we have? We really have no idea. However, a little over a year ago, Jerry Dixon, an artist from Bay St Louis who now lives here, organized the first Natchez Artists Studio Tour. He knew artists' studio tours were very successful in Bay St Louis, so he decided to try one here. It was enormously successful. That first tour had 34 artists, and we were amazed there were that many here. This past fall, the second tour attracted over 50 artists! Who knew?

I've become involved with a new organization that has formed to benefit those artists - and our community. It's called ArtsNatchez, and you may have read about it in Tammi Gardner's Top of the Morning in the Democrat today. ArtsNatchez Inc is a nonprofit membership organization whose purpose is to promote artists and art in the Natchez area. As part of our mission, we are opening a cooperative gallery for local artists to be located at 110 Union Street - right next to a new studio that was just opened by the renowned artist Owen Shugard. Maybe we have the beginnings of an art section.

If you want more information about ArtsNatchez, send us an email. We're still accepting applications from artists, although we've almost reached capacity. But most importantly, we're looking for patrons and supporters. We're at the beginning of our campaign to raise enough funds for our first year's operating expenses. This is a chance for you to invest in the future of Natchez.

So why in the world should you care about all this if you're not an artist and you don't buy art? Easy. Art is a big business - and it feeds on itself. The more art you have, the more you attract. People who want to purchase art rarely will go out of town to visit just one gallery. Instead they want to go to a community with lots of options. And these are people with big bucks!

Let's look at some data from Arts & Economic Prosperity III, an exhaustive study done by Americans for the Arts. A successful industry is one that brings dollars from outside the community. Local spending just takes our dollars and redistributes them. But outside money brings new sources of income and new jobs. For example, if you open a new restaurant where only the locals eat, you are just taking money from some other restaurant. If, however, your restaurant attracts diners from all over, you are bringing new money into the local economy. Research has shown that 78% of revenues from art come from outside the community - but it stays here.

Here's another fact you may not know. When businesses are looking to start up or relocate in an area, 88% cite that the arts are one of the best indicators of quality of life. And here's another little know fact, the art business is one of the few growth industries in the country. Community after community across this country have utilized the arts as a basis to revitalize their economy. And Natchez can, too.