Mississippi, we’ve got to discuss this group called “Empower Mississippi.” In case you’ve never heard of them, Empower MS is a political group pulling the strings behind some of the biggest political races in the state. Armed by their financial wing, Empower PAC, they’ve been making campaign contributions in high-profile races from Ocean Springs to Olive Branch. So we should probably all be up to snuff on who they are and what they do.
Five things you need to know about Empower MS:
1. They have lots and lots of money.
There’s no real way to sugar coat this. Empower PAC is big time cash. We’re only in the election primaries, but they’re already dishing out some $360,000 across the state to fight against any and all candidates who are friendly to public education.
2. Almost all of their money comes from outside of Mississippi.
Of the $368,250 they filed last quarter, $360,000 was from an out-of-state corporation founded by Michigan billionaires Dick and Betsy DeVos. That’s 98% of their bank roll. Folks, 98% of the money “Empower Mississippi” is currently using to influence Mississippi politics is from outside of Mississippi. You deserve to know that.
3. They are using their massive bankroll to replace Mississippi’s public schools with taxpayer-funded education businesses.
Empower MS has what they call “School Choice Scorecards” on each of our legislators, based on just four bills going back to 2012. These four bills include a charter school bill and three bills to introduce vouchers into Mississippi. That’s it. That’s their whole assessment of legislators on education, because their sole purpose is to promote ways for taxpayer money to be channeled to private corporations. Because that’s what vouchers and charter schools do: they take taxpayer funds and send them to private entities. And Empower MS is here to make it happen.
4. The charter school law they sponsored opens the door for foreign indoctrination of Mississippi kids.
When the Mississippi legislature passed the Mississippi Charter School Law in 2013, several amendments were suggested which would protect Mississippians from foreign interests injecting themselves into our political process. All, however, were voted down in favor of a stripped-down, hoops-free bill to allow ample opportunity for outsiders to fleece Mississippi taxpayers.
For example, consider Amendment 12 to the bill: “No public charter school organization and no legal entity which contracts for educational services with a charter school may contribute to any candidate for public office or expend any funds to influence an election.” Simple. Common sense. But struck down by the Legislature.
One version of the law, House Bill 369, wanted to “Bar foreign organizations from running charter schools and foreign teachers on limited visas from working there.” However, that provision was also eliminated from the final version of the law. It was reworded to prevent employees in “nonimmigrant worker visa programs,” but it opens the door to “sources of private funding and all funds from foreign governments, foreign legal entities,“ (l. 612-616) as well as “a charter school proposal from an applicant that currently operates one or more schools in ANY state or NATION.” (l. 658-660)
The fact Turkish nationals have been holding lavish receptions in Jackson and accompanying legislators on overseas trips has been called the worst kept secret in Jackson. It doesn’t show up much in the media. You generally have to find out from journalists outside Mississippi. But considering the biggest charter school company operating in America is owned and run by a Turkish Muslim priest, perhaps what our legislators and lobbyists are really up to is something Mississippians ought to know about. At the very least, we deserve a straightforward answer to the question: “Who exactly are you selling our education system out to?”
5. They sound pretty; they play dirty.
But “Empower Mississippi” sounds so positive! They’ve gotta be all about helping the little guy, right? Giving power to the people! And they talk about school choice! Who doesn’t love having more choice, especially when your public school is failing you?
Right, except the reality is, the “choice” they offer involves taking your taxpayer money and handing it to someone else with no strings attached, or at the very least, fewer strings than in the public school system. And those strings are important. They help taxpayers make sure their money is being spent wisely. Empower MS wants to cut those strings so you don’t get to see how your money is spent. The failed policies of charter schools and vouchers have endured so many losses in other states, now the national and international players think they can pull one over on us country folk in Mississippi.
Despite their message of “empowerment” and “choice,” Empower MS has no real success stories to share, so they operate by deceiving voters and by tearing down Mississippi officials who have the audacity to support our own Mississippi schools. They’ve actually hand-picked candidates in some counties (like noteworthy Desoto) for the sole purpose of unseating Mississippi legislators who are friendly to public education.
Here’s a mail-out from Empower PAC to influence the Pearl-area Republican primary between Ray Rogers and Randall Stephens, who has also accepted $23,200 from Empower PAC.
See anything about how terrific Randall Stephens is, or school choice, or “empowering” Mississippians? Me neither.
Or here: compare these campaign pieces from a Desoto County Republican primary. On the left in each picture, you have the chosen messaging to voters from Empower PAC. On the right, you find mail-outs from Forrest Hamilton, a Republican conservative Empower MS is trying to get rid of for simply sticking up for Desoto County’s already-successful school system and advocating for small town conservatism.
And they actually want us to think this out-of-state buyout of Mississippi politics is going to “empower” somebody?
I’m not buying it. And neither should you.
How can you take action?
1. Get informed about your local primary race.
If you don’t know the candidates in your race, do a google search for your county’s sample ballot.
2. Look for clues of Empower MS’s influence.
Here’s a list of which candidates they’ve given money to. That’s a great place to look to see where they’ve bought influence.
You’ve also got to listen to your candidates and read their materials. Look for key words like “choice,” “control,” and “failed schools.” They’re smoke screens for an agenda to transfer your tax dollars to the pockets of millionaires.
3. Follow the money.
Follow the money trail, folks, because the influence over Mississippi’s future is being bought and sold right now.
Have a great week! See you at the polls August 4th!