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The Mississippi Democratic Trust has tapped Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman to deliver its response to Gov. Phil Bryant's State of the State address this evening.
Bryant will deliver his speech at 5 p.m. in the House chamber at the Capitol in Jackson. The governor's address and Wiseman's response will both air on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television and radio. The Democratic trust taped Wiseman's response on Tuesday in Jackson.
"I'm tremendously honored to be selected," Wiseman said. "As a proud Democrat, it means a great deal to me, personally, that the party asked me to make an official response."
Mississippi Democratic Trust Director Brandon Jones said the organization chose Wiseman for his leadership qualities and the fact he dealt daily with state policies on the local level.
"Parker is just an outstanding leader," Jones said. "People who have gotten to know him see him as a rising star in this state. I've been very impressed with Parker's leadership there in Starkville.
"Almost every law that is passed at the state capitol has a big impact on our communities," Jones added. "So I think mayors, (aldermen) and supervisors in Mississippi are uniquely positioned to address whether what the legislature is doing works."
Wiseman, who received and accepted the response duty on Friday, said he agreed that a local official could bring a particularly relevant counter-perspective to the Republican governor's policies and platform, especially since he said Mississippi Democrats found their most recent political successes largely in mayoral races across the state.
He said this evening's response would highlight Starkville's recent achievements, including more than 100 new businesses opening in the city over the past five years and C Spire's selecting Starkville last fall as one of the first nine cities in Mississippi whose residents will have access to 1-gigabit per second fiber Internet service.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for us as a city because it gives me the opportunity to showcase some of the wonderful things that are happening here in Starkville," Wiseman said.
Over the past year, Wiseman said he had particularly been disappointed with the positions Bryant and Republicans in the legislature had taken on education funding and heath care issues. He cited the state's $292 million shortfall for funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program and the legislature's refusal to adopt any kind of program to use federal dollars to expand Medicaid coverage to about 300,000 additional Mississippians.
With 25 states having already expanded Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act and 12 others either discussing or negotiating ways to utilize federal funds for some type of coverage expansion, Wiseman said that left Mississippi behind in a shrinking minority of holdouts who were essentially denying affordable health care coverage to the working poor.
"In the poorest state of the union, that is an atrocity," Wiseman said. "We have 300,000 citizens who could have access to health care under Medicaid expansion and 100 percent of that cost would have been covered by the federal government this year. Regardless of how you feel about the Affordable Care Act, I don't see how you can look at those 300,000 citizens eye-to-eye and tell them that they are effectively without access to adequate health care because you don't like the law politically."