By Geoff Pender, Clarion Ledger, May 2, 2015
Gov. Phil Bryant’s recent veto of a Common Core bill marked a rare victory for state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who’d been the patron saint of lost tea party and conservative causes.
It also helped Bryant get his tea party groove back. He’s getting an ’attaboy from conservatives who were upset he backed incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran over McDaniel in the Great Republican Mudfest last year.
The veto was an election-year poke in the eye for Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, with whom fellow Republicans Bryant and McDaniel are often at odds. Reeves had championed the Common Core bill, ironically, to try to gain some tea party-conservative creds himself.
Bryant, Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn had declared a fatwa against the Common Core education standards, after state education officials had worked for years and spent millions to implement them. But they — Reeves and Gunn in particular — were late to the party. McDaniel and his supporters had been anti-Common Core before it was cool.
Many conservatives and libertati saw the “anti-Common Core” bill — approved by 93 of 96 Republicans in the Legislature — as not really anti-Common Core, just “political cover.” They complained it just created a commission to study state education standards and make recommendations. After weeks of consideration, Bryant smacked it with his veto stamp.
I had a pretty lengthy conversation with McDaniel after Bryant’s veto, and he sounded pumped. He was lovin’ on the governor, and appeared to forget his loyalists were carrying “Primary Phil in 2015” signs last summer at the Neshoba County Fair.
“No, I never questioned (Bryant’s) conservative credentials,” McDaniel said. “Phil is instinctively and intuitively a conservative, and this veto of (the Common Core bill) is evidence. Phil is my friend … Politics has its place, but it shouldn’t come between friends.”
And does McDaniel consider Bryant’s veto a victory for the “McGOP?” In the words of his friend Sarah Palin, you betcha.
“This is a major victory for conservatives,” McDaniel said. He said the mobilization of “various factions of the conservative movement,” including “Common Core mothers” (that would be a cool name for a band) is an example of what his new United Conservatives Fund PAC can do when it rallies the troops.
“We have the organization now to do that, as a result of the 2014 Senate campaign,” McDaniel said.
It had appeared McDaniel’s sphere of influence in state Republican politics had shrunk. The national tea party groups that buoyed him had gone home and taken their checkbooks, and McDaniel’s long, drawn-out legal challenge of the race he lost to Cochran had appeared to take some of the shine off his brand. His political foe Reeves was even trying to horn in on the anti-Common Core movement.
But McDaniel helped lead the charge — petitions, social media, ringing the governor’s phones off the hook — urging Bryant to veto the bill. McDaniel said he met with Bryant prior to the veto and discussed the matter. He called Bryant’s decision “a principled stand against Common Core.”
It’s the first legislative/public policy victory McDaniel’s been able to claim in quite a while. Of many legislative bills he authored this year, the only one that passed was commending the Laurel High football team. Reeves has had him in time-out in the Senate.
A political operative not too long ago told me they had never seen polling numbers so strong as those against Common Core among Mississippi Republicans.
It’s being viewed as a stalking horse for the Obama Administration to take over states’ public education, and it’s already become a major issue for 2016 presidential politics.
In 2015 Mississippi Republican politics, it’s not just whether you’re against Common Core, but whether you’re really against Common Core. McDaniel was ahead of the curve on this GOP issue.