The lives of some Mississippians are about to get more complicated. Daily commutes will change due to emergency bridge closures across the state, with more than one-fifth of those right here in Jones County.
All of this, because the federal Department of Transportation is threatening to withhold federal dollars — our tax dollars. Money that came from our pockets.
There is no doubt that we have infrastructure issues that need to be addressed. Many of these problems have been exacerbated by changes in federal requirements that force counties to divert dollars marked for repairs into inspection expenses. But I believe there is more to this emergency declaration than mere safety.
The term “structurally deficient” doesn’t necessarily mean “unsafe.” County supervisors have dealt with situations where locally hired inspectors have said certain bridges were adequate, while federally mandated inspections show the same bridges to be deficient. Of course, Washington knows better, right?
The American Road and Transportation Builders Association has ranked Mississippi as having the eighth-worst bridges by total number, and 12th worst by percentage. Yet, none of the states with a worse situation were forced to declare a state of emergency.
So, why, in the span of seven days, are bus drivers, emergency responders, delivery drivers and average citizens having to change their driving patterns? I believe the answer lies in “the swamp.”
Let’s look at the events over the last three months. It was widely reported that in January, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R. Ky.) urged Gov. Phil Bryant to appoint himself to the then-soon-to-be vacated senate seat, at the time held by Thad Cochran. According to the Washington Post, President Donald Trump backed the plan. Bryant was not keen on the idea, as he seems ready to exit elective politics, presumably to take a role as a paid lobbyist.
Gov. Bryant’s list of Thad Cochran replacements grew shorter by the day, as those who were acceptable to the Washington Establishment declined to accept the appointment. This forced Bryant to settle on Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith, who brought no excitement to Washington insiders, including President Trump. Polling data from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, McConnell’s own henchmen, showed Hyde-Smith in third place behind previously declared candidate, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, and a Democrat. No doubt, McConnell wasn’t happy.
On Monday, April 9, Cindy Hyde-Smith was sworn in as the new U.S. senator from Mississippi. On Tuesday, April 10, Gov. Bryant received a call from federal Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao — McConnell’s wife — threatening to withhold federal money if 83, then 102, bridges across the state aren’t closed immediately and repaired.
Gov. Bryant was forced to declare a state of emergency, rushing boards of supervisors, emergency management agencies, school districts, mail routes and the general public to make the necessary adjustments to their routines. This is more than an inconvenience, it puts a strain on the very services we pay for with our tax dollars. Calls for a special session of the state legislature to address additional funding are looming.
Why was it such an emergency that the bridges had to be closed immediately? Why did Secretary Chao herself make the call and not one of her underlings? Does Chao know anything about Brushy Creek, Tallahoma Creek or Bogue Homa Lake? Why weren’t any of the states with worse bridge conditions forced into the same state of flux? Why hasn’t Chao fully divested her shares of stock in a road and bridge materials company, one in which she previously served as a director, that has nine locations in Mississippi?
I believe this whole ordeal is the Washington D.C. swamp at work. This is Mitch McConnell stretching his tentacles into our state and punishing us for a decision made by the governor, who has apparently lost his backbone and is not fighting back. The final tally may well reach into the billions of dollars to those of us who pay taxes.
Gov. Bryant made two mistakes. First, he couldn’t find a willing replacement for Cochran who was suitable to the Washington Establishment. Second, he didn’t appoint a fighter to push back against the federal overreach that has found its way into our daily lives. I have yet to hear publicly from our current senators about this. Who do we have fighting on our behalf?
I may be totally off base with my assumptions. But, when I look at the facts that surround this fiasco, they all point to the problems that so many of us have grown to accept. I say, enough!
There is but one solution – DRAIN THE SWAMP!
Jerel Wade is an educator and small-business owner from Jones County. He can be reached at email@example.com.