The Mississippi legislature is not conservative

By Aaron Rice
January 8, 2020

The American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Legislative Accountability has produced its 2019 report for every state’s legislature.  The report, similar to the one ACU has produced annually for members of Congress for nearly a half century, is designed to reflect how state legislators feel about the role of government in the lives of individual citizens. 

Spoiler alert, the Mississippi legislature did not fare well.

Conservatism, at its core, is a political philosophy based on the inherent rights of the individual and his/her natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It flows from the Lockean ideas enshrined in our founding documents that the role of government is to defend and protect our Life, Liberty, and Property. Thus, the votes of a conservative member of the legislature should reflect a commitment to limited government, free markets, and personal responsibility. On the whole, a conservative should be voting against bills that would expand the size, scope, or cost of government and for bills that would reduce taxes, regulations, and burdens on small and mid-sized businesses. 

The ACU Foundation report reviewed each piece of legislation voted on in both chambers of the legislature to produce average scores of each chamber as well as individual scores for each sitting member. In the previous session, Mississippi trailed only South Carolina as the most liberal legislature controlled by Republicans, according to ACUF’s Year in Review.

The Mississippi legislature’s overall conservative score continued to fall in the 2019 session (from 49.94 percent to 47.52 percent). 

“In the 2019 session, numerous Mississippi lawmakers fell trap to crony government spending programs, and unnecessary interference in the marketplace,”said Center for Legislative Accountability Director, Fred McGrath.  

The share of lawmakers earning awards varied by chamber, with just four Republican representatives and zero Republican senators earning awards. Democrat representatives earned an average score of 33 percent, slightly besting Democrat senators who earned an average of 32 percent. 

The top scores in the House belonged to Reps. Joel Bomgar (R-Madison), Dana Criswell (R-Olive Branch), Ashley Henley (R-Southaven), and Steve Hopkins (R-Southaven). The top score in the Senate belonged to Sen. Michael Watson (R-Pascagoula), the incoming secretary of state.

ACU Foundation researched and selected a range of bills before the Mississippi legislature that determined a member’s adherence to conservative principles. They selected bills that focused on Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of the “three-legged stool”: 1) fiscal and economic: taxes, budgets, regulation, spending, healthcare, and property; 2) social and cultural: 2nd amendment, religion, life, welfare, and education; and 3) government integrity: voting, individual liberty, privacy, and transparency. This wide range of issues gives citizens an accurate assessment that conveys which of Mississippi’s elected leaders best defend the principles of a free society: Life, Liberty, and Property.

Frankly, I’m not surprised by the results. I have to come to understand that too many members of the Mississippi legislature and too many citizens on the Magnolia State equate “Conservatism” with “Republicanism.” It’s simply not so. Conservatism is a philosophy and Republicanism is a party. It’s not enough to be a supporter of our Second Amendment, traditional family values, and Judeo Christian beliefs. Most members of the Mississippi legislature, and certainly virtually all Republicans, fit that description. In addition to those ideas, we also need representatives who will vote to preserve the proper role of government.

As citizens, we need to hold our elected representatives accountable to self-governance and insist that they each learn to say “nay.” A conservative will say “nay” to increasing spending, expanding government dependency, adding taxes, and increasing regulatory capture.

In 2019, the Mississippi Center for Public Policy decided to read every bill that made it out of committee from either chamber and to score each bill based on a simple “green, yellow, red” system. On our website, you can find a summary of every bill, which we do in real time as the bills comes out. Then, you’ll see what we think of the bill. If we think the bill expands the size, scope, or cost of government or weakens individual liberty, we’ll mark it “red.” If the bill improves competition and consumer choice or preserves liberty, we’ll mark it “green.” If we need more information or don’t consider the bill to be a meaningful action, we’ll make it “yellow.” We do this not only to aid members of the legislature, but also do give the public a chance to see if their own representative votes like a conservative, or only talks like one.

This year, citizens will be able to compare how often their own representative votes for Life, Liberty, and Property directly on the site. It’s a new feature for this session. We’ll be watching…and so will the ACU.


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