Michael Watson’s signature campaign idea of moving driver’s license services from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety to the Secretary of State’s office should be shelved — if not by him, then by the Legislature.
If there are problems with long wait times for driver’s licenses, as has been reported, then the solution is improving the staffing and processes within the state agency logically in charge of this responsibility, rather than creating a new level of bureaucracy.
Watson, the newly elected secretary of state, has other priorities, however, that are of great merit and should be pursued.
He discussed some of those this past week with the Clarion Ledger newspaper. Among the good ideas:
• Scrapping the two-tier election process to which he and other statewide officials are subject. Requiring a governor or other statewide candidate to win both a majority of the popular vote and a majority of the state’s 122 House districts had a pernicious intent when those provisions were included in the 1890 constitution: to make it harder for black candidates to win.
Today, it makes it harder for Democrats of whatever color to win because of how gerrymandered the legislative districts are. Although the governor’s race between Democrat Jim Hood and Republican Tate Reeves ended up not being close enough for the two-step process to become an issue, Hood’s math prior to the voting was illustrative of the unfairness of the two-pronged system. He calculated that he would have to win not just 50 percent plus one of the popular vote, but 54 percent in order to also win a majority of House districts.
Had he fallen somewhere in between, a Republican-dominated House theoretically could have awarded the governorship to a GOP nominee who wasn’t even close to winning the popular vote. Maybe that will never happen, but Mississippi should take the possibility completely off the table.
• Eliminating the loophole that allows politicians to personally keep any surplus campaign funds they raised before Jan. 1, 2018. That provision was grandfathered in when the Legislature, under public pressure in 2017, enacted restrictions on candidates using campaign funds for personal expenses.
Even though lawmakers were embarrassed at the time by revelations over the food, clothing and apartment bills they had paid for with campaign funds, they weren’t willing to make the reforms retroactive.
Watson is absolutely correct when he says they need to. No matter when the money was raised, it stinks that a losing or retiring politician legally can pocket it.
• Requiring that campaign finance reports be submitted in an easily searchable format. Presently, the law still accepts paper documentation from candidates and their political action committees on where they got their money and how they spent it.
Although Delbert Hosemann, Watson’s predecessor and Mississippi’s next lieutenant governor, created a couple of years ago an online portal for submitting the data, many candidates still don’t use it.
As a result, it takes more time to try to connect the dots on campaign donations than it should.
If someone, for example, wants to see how much money a special interest group was giving to candidates during an election cycle, the search would require skimming through hundreds of pages of records to answer the question. With electronic filing, it would take a few keystrokes and probably just a few seconds.
Watson should have an ally in Hosemann in getting that mandate enacted, and possibly the other reforms, too.