Incumbent candidates usually have an edge, and in the Republican primary race for governor this year, Phil Bryant is an obvious favorite. That’s not deterring Mitch Young from running however, appealing to the common Mississippi-native and self-funding his campaign. Young has lived in several states when he served in the Navy, but Mississippi has always been home. He currently works at Berry Plastics outside of Lamar County where he lives with his wife of 31 years. He has two children, and one grandchild.
What qualifies you to be the governor of Mississippi?
What doesn’t qualify me? I meet the criteria, but secondly I have been a citizen of Mississippi all my life, even when I was in the Navy, I never changed my residency even though it would have benefited me—I would have saved a lot of tax money. I always kidded around about running for governor until I got back in ’99 and I started looking around. Mississippi is truly a tale of two cities, you have Madison with a median income of $96,000 and 50 miles up the road you have Tchula with a per capita income of $6,000. That’s a $90,000 differential.
It’s time for Mississippi to decide if this is a good ‘ole boy network or (if) you can elect a citizen who gives a darn about all of Mississippi—specifically those who have been left out. We are about to celebrate a bicentennial and we’re still in last place. We are 50th in almost every category we don’t want to be 50th in and we’re first in almost every category we don’t want to be first in.
The only way I can tell that we are going to break that is to start putting people in office that care about the people. I like Phil Bryant. I think he’s a good man, but I think he’s a career politician.
How would you facilitate change?
I would like to build a team of architects; I’d like to build a team of engineers; I’d like to build a team of entrepreneurs: people who want to go into these towns (like Tchula) and say you know, we can fix this. I think what qualifies me to be governor more than anything else, not anything I’ve done, like I said, I’ve never been anything special, but I do have a plan and a vision.
What is that plan and vision?
Mississippi has 12 towns and 14 counties on the top 100 list of lowest median-income counties towns in America… if you were to implement economic recovery zones in these towns, you would draw business. First off they wouldn’t be able to use the lottery money in the surrounding areas because they would go shop-bare well because there’s nowhere to shop right now. If you could get business and infrastructure in there, like a Payless Shoes, a Dollar General, a Fred’s, it’s going to take some risk for business owners and entrepreneurs and people, but it will work.
We give billions to Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. It would cost millions of dollars to deploy a carrier, I know because I’ve been on one, around the world. You know, giving money to the people is great, but the problem with that is, you are going to forever be limited to what they give. That’s a handout not a hand-up. I am not saying take the money away, but what I’m saying is give them a place to spend it, an opportunity to trade that check so they can buy their own house and their own car. In these economic recovery zones that I’ve talked about, it’s not new, we’ve done them before after Katrina, giving tax breaks to local businesses (so that they) come back and rebuild.
A part of your plan deals with education…
You know, the education part of that, it’s not my idea, really. They do (it) in Australia. And they don’t have a systemic problem in their system because the way they look at it, your junior and senior year (of high school), they front-load you. They pay for your books, your school and they still have colleges and universities because the college people will be those who will decide to go back to college. There will always be people who take that class and improve on basic skills and develop and decide okay I’ve got that out of the way. There’s always going to people who just don’t want to do anything for a year or two and see what comes up and then go to school.
I think Governor Bryant is a good man, you’re supposed to kind of tear down the guy you’re running against, but I won’t do that. My problem is when you’re all about party preservation, it’s really those two (parties) against us. It’s funny that around election time, Republicans and Democrats act like they’re at war with each other and they pick issues that it’s amazing they never resolve—never. But they put us, citizens, in the middle of it, so that we’ll pick sides, so the electorate, picks sides. I don’t think Republicans are right on everything, and I don’t think Democrats are wrong on everything.
Where do you stand on issues like abortion or the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on same-sex marriage?
I am a social conservative. I am fully opposed to abortion. I’m a Christian too, a Sunday school teacher and a deacon. I know what the Bible says. I oppose same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court now said it’s going to be the law of the land, and I disagree with it, on the premise that I don’t think it should have been an issue that the Supreme Court decided, and the people of Mississippi have already decided where they want to be on that issue.
I answer to a higher power, and I do believe what the Bible says, so when we’re talking about same-sex marriage, I really don’t know how we are going to resolve this. I am not smart enough to know, but I think we need to work on it. Somewhere in the middle of every story is where the truth is, and on this subject, I don’t think the Supreme Court should’ve taken it up. I don’t think it was their issue, but that leads to a bigger problem that I have as governor or citizen. That is, I think the Supreme Court is more like political hacks in black robes doing what their party nominated them to do, doing their bidding, basically throwing out the Constitution. They don’t care what it is—they’ve proven that many times, or else you wouldn’t have split decisions like you have. Think about that for a second, almost every decision that they have now is 5-4 or it was 5-4 on same-sex marriage, but it’s almost always down party lines, is that really how we’re going to interpret the Constitution now? If it is, we might as well not have the Supreme Court, we can just leave it up to the President whoever that is, and he can decide how he’s going to interpret the Constitution. We can save a lot of time and money and aggravation if the Supreme Court is just going to do the party thing and make their decision.
What is your campaign focused on?
My campaign is about economic development. These issues are important don’t get me wrong, but it’s the issues that get us off track.
It seems like you’re focusing on economic development within education. Does that mean you are in support of Initiative 42?
Could you expand on that?
I believe that the best thing we can do in the classroom is that we set the bar high for teachers… You cannot set a standard and expect high school kids in Madison and Holmes County to achieve the same standard. You can set it all day long, but the police chief in Tchula’s testimony and what I witnessed and what I hear, the home environment is extremely important.
(My son) had nothing to worry about. He knew the lights were going to be on. He knew there was going to be food on the table. I made a vow that I was going to do what was necessary to guide and control my kids but I'll be darned if he’s going to dread me coming home, that’s not going to happen and I don’t want that for any kid. I think to set a standard like common core, I am not necessarily opposed but it’s the next big thing, the last “next best things” didn’t work, this isn’t going to work either. You’re not going bring up Tchula with the standard.
You don’t think fully-funding MAEP through Initiative 42 will work either?
I don’t think it’s going to get fully funded through Initiative 42. It will be another law that they blow off, look MAEP is the law right? It is. They choose not to fund it, now as a Republican, I think we need to fully fund MAEP. The bottom line is that the state says that 24 percent (is the amount) your school is required to fund of their fair share of whatever it costs—Madison has no problem paying that 24 percent. Tchula or Lambert? They’ve got some problems meeting their 24 percent, so the state needs to meet that.
The problem is that there are too many places in the state that they have to fully meet and fund. The other problem with MAEP was if you go back and read the history of this; they (Democrats) wouldn’t fund it when they had Democrats still in charge of the House and the Senate. Don’t say this is a Republican problem and don’t say it’s a Democrat problem. The right thing to do for Mississippi was to come up for a plan to pay for this because education is expensive. The problem is that our budget is only $6 billion, about $2.5 million goes to education and 42 percent of our income comes from the federal government which is 20 trillion dollars in debt.
So what’s going to happen when they (the federal government) say Mississippi we love you, but we can’t afford you anymore? We’re not meeting our obligations now. I believe we should fully fund MAEP, but I think the formula is bad because…it doesn’t pay for books, it pays teachers’ salaries, now it may not pay student teachers or administrators that comes out of different funds, it will pay for some upkeep of schools but it won’t build another…
Unless you change the equation, it’s not going to get any better. I don’t know if fully funding MAEP would help teachers’ salaries because I am not sure what’s not getting the money. Unless you go back to that economic development dynamic, Mississippi in its current form, the way that we get 42 percent of our state’s income from the federal government, I think everybody is going to be happy with what their making right now until you change that dynamic.
We won’t change the economic infrastructure (which is why) we have got to encourage the business environment. I’m a Reagonomics, trickle-down capitalist when you get right down to it: I believe that right-side economics is how we fix all of this. It’s not going to help if corporations hold on to the money and do whatever they want, but I don’t think that would happen under my plan if it’s implemented the way I want it.
Can you lay out your economic development plan in its bare bones?
The first part of it is in economic-depressed areas in the state, that have been languished for generations, the way we are going to fix this is bring in economic development and bring the schools up to speed. I would do that right away—I would set up economic recovery zones in all the towns with populations greater than 1,000 (person population) and (median) incomes less than $20,000. The state average is $38,000, and that shouldn’t be hard to do.
In these zones, we roll back state taxes to four percent, actually I think they should be rolled back in the entire state because the only state with a sales tax higher than ours is California, and it’s at seven percent where the minimum wage is $7.50, why are we paying one of the highest sales taxes?
The second thing I would do is install a state lottery in these zones, and the money would be kept in these zones to improve schools, fully fund MAEP and set up economic development. We’d build infrastructure because if there’s no place for a business to come in, they’re not going there. The in-state lotteries are to set up infrastructure, have power lines prepared for businesses, roads, sewage and whole buildings (prepared for new business).
The third thing is usually (when) you start a business you don’t have to show a profit in the first five years and use the tax break, but you can’t do that on my plan. The reason I say that is because what I want to do is when I roll that tax back and move that plant or business in, for the first 12 months, I am going to give you state tax amnesty, but you have to show a profit and employ a certain amount of local people. And then every fifth year after that, you will have to prove you have made a profit. A lot of times, (one) will hold the company and start it up under a new name and get five more years with tax write-offs, with my plan you aren’t going to do that. Every fifth year after that you would get a state tax break that would encourage companies to stay and be there for the long haul. Over the course of 25 or 50 years, you are going to have several years in there where you get a state tax exemption. Hopefully we will spend that on your company, hiring more people.
Is there a fourth step in the plan?
Well, as they (businesses that move into economic recovery zones) approach their tenth year, they would get the break again. Every fifth year, you would get a state tax break but as far as the corporations that are already here, we are very generous with our corporate encouragement. Nissan and Toyota came here because they got a great deal, they wouldn’t have if they didn’t. Those businesses aren’t going to Tchula or Lambert, now subsidiaries might, but there’s a lot of things we can do. The education part of that comes in because when you can graduate a kid from high school with technical skills (like welding, electrical, bookkeeping etc.) using the transferable two-year curriculums set up by colleges or universities to bring these kids in and finish their last two years—think of how much money that’s going to save. Talking about the Pell Grants, first off, you’re not going to have people dropping out or people waiting for a year or two to decide. Your high school dropout rate is going to be lower, if you streamline the graduation process, there’s no way that’s that not going to cut costs.
If you get halfway through a major and you decide to change it, it costs you money and the state money, but with my plan you can work with counselors, teachers and administrators, work more in high school where you are and where you want to be. It forces you to kind of decide where you want to be. You’re not stuck with it, you can change later like everybody else, and I’m not saying well, ‘You’ve made this your body of work so far in school, so you’re going to be in forestry the rest of your life, you don’t have a choice.’ The way this works is you talk to your administrators and say look, maybe your body of work up to now isn’t that good and maybe as the teacher or administrator I would recommend that you continue to do basic skills but if you’re interested in doing this that’s the route you should take, I am just going to say it’s going to be tough on you and you will have to work harder on it than you’ve been working, but I’m not restricting kids, we’re not labeling kids.
In the surrounding area, when you drop the sales tax and encourage businesses to come in there and start up, as these businesses move in there, it’s going to benefit the whole state, not just them. This is the comprehensive plan that works from the outside in, but if you gave me this (governor job) and said, ‘Mitch, I want you to fix Mississippi,’ this is what I would do. I would give schools the tools they need to graduate seniors workforce ready with the skillsets they need for the first day…I am not for buying Alabama an Escalade, now what do I mean by that? We had 10,500 college graduates this year from colleges and universities. Half of them are not going to be able to find a job in their chosen vocation, specifically in Mississippi. The other half is going to have to go to Alabama or Texas or California or New York. If they spent $75,000, 60,000 or 40,000 dollars on their education and Mississippi has helped them with that, then we just bought Alabama an Escalade, and how much of our education system money, that MAEP money, how much of that can we continue to hemorrhage? It just doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve lived in California; I’ve seen the moving economy. It’s a wonderful thing to watch, and that’s what I want here.
If we start in these most economically depressed areas first, we can gradually expand to other places later after we get these places kick-started. If I can double the per capita income, even if I double it in Tchula, that’s up to $12,000, I’ve done a miraculous thing—not me, but the state has. All I’m doing is guiding policy and procedures where I think we need to go—we can go there.