Meridian Star

February 13, 2014

Bill would limit Miss. politicos in tax-funded ads

EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS, Associated Press
Associated Press

MERIDIAN —

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi politicians would be banned from appearing in tax-funded advertising during election years, under a bill moving through the Legislature.

Senate Bill 2281 passed the Senate on Wednesday and goes to the House for more work.

"My constituents asked for it because they felt like a lot of elected officials may have an unfair advantage during an election year," said Sen. John Polk, R-Hattiesburg.

It's not unusual for elected officials to appear in publicly funded commercials promoting their official duties.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, for example, is appearing in TV ads now that explain Mississippi's new voter identification law. The ads are similar to campaign commercials that Republican Hosemann used to build name recognition when he ran for statewide office in 2007 and 2011.

In the campaign ads, Hosemann sat on a bench with a polite older woman who called him Dilbert, Philbert and Engelbert as he politely corrected her. In the voter ID ads, Hosemann follows people to explain what kind of government-issued photo ID they can show at the polls — and in one scene, he sits and talks to a man on a park bench, just as he sat with the woman on the park bench in his campaign ads.

Pamela Weaver, spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office, said the state has spent $41,789 to air the voter ID ads, with tax dollars budgeted by the Legislature. The ads are running in advance of the June 3 federal primaries, the first time Mississippi voters will be required to show identification.

Republican Tate Reeves, the current lieutenant governor and presiding officer of the Senate, served as state treasurer from 2004 to 2012, and appeared in TV ads to promote enrollment in a state-sponsored college savings plan. The ads featured the gospel song, "This Little Light of Mine."

During Senate debate Wednesday, Sen. Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula, stood at the side of the chamber and quietly sang, "This Little Light of Mine." Watson is part of the Senate Conservative Coalition, a group of Republicans who've said the Senate leadership is not conservative enough.

Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, said a former Jackson County sheriff — who has resigned and pleaded guilty to federal charges of obstructing justice and witness intimidation — used public money to pay for election-year signs with anti-drug messages.

"Conveniently, it said, 'Don't do meth,' and conveniently, beside that was his face on billboards," Wiggins said.

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Online: Senate Bill 2281: http://bit.ly/1erFbAQ

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus