Mississippi's voice for business policy conducted its 30th Anniversary Membership Meeting on March 11 in Jackson featuring six statewide elected officials and hosting a number of legislators. BIPEC (Business and Industry Political Education Committee) invited all state legislators, but most of the lawmakers present tended to be Republicans or conservative Democrats who score high on BIPEC's annual business scorecard. Some new legislative faces in the room more aligned with the House Democratic leadership suggested interesting political maneuvering for a potential post-Speaker McCoy 2012 legislature.

The morning session kicked off with a panel discussion on the "State of Business in Mississippi" featuring Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Treasurer Tate Reeves, Auditor Stacey Pickering and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney.

Hosemann spoke on his efforts to improve securities laws, LLC and corporate structure changes, new 16th Section Land management, and intellectual property reforms. Hosemann said Mississippi is no longer just competing with Alabama or Louisiana, "We're in a worldwide economy and that's where we need to compete." He called recently signed Mississippi legislation the "best trademark laws in the country" and suggested his LLC legislation would be "great law, better than Deleware, better than Alabama, better than anywhere."

Reeves took the podium and elicited chuckles saying, "It's nice to be on a panel where I'm the old experienced guy. Well, I'm the experienced guy, Chaney is the old guy." Reeves spoke on the need for "true structural challenges" facing the state. He said, "Our problem in Mississippi is not on the revenue side of the budget; it is on the spending side. It's not about more revenue; its about better management."

"We can get through the next two fiscal years without true structural changes, but we can't get through the next ten or twenty years," Reeves said. He cited the Mississippi WIND Pool (Windstorm Underwriting Association Reinsurance Assistance Fund ) as an example of well constructed function of government and called it the "best run reinsurance pool in the country" as a result of how the legislature created it. "We can do that on all of state government," he said.

Reeves told BIPEC members, "These issues are complicated but they can be solved. Recruit candidates who are competent and have the courage and conviction to make the right decisions for our state, regardless of political calculations."

Chaney said it is his mission to make insurance affordable on the Gulf Coast, "Insurance is the key to business. If you can't insure it; you can't finance it." He also urged BIPEC to make a difference in elections, "You've got to have good people in the House and Senate; you've got to have good leaders in the Senate in the House."

Pickering spoke on his efforts to increase government accountability and transparency and noted since he took office 40 public officials have been found guilty, another 59 have been indicted, and there are 174 active cases against those who misuse public funds in Mississippi. He praised Governor Haley Barbour for carving out stimulus funds to ensure Mississippi properly spends federal funds. Pickering warned of "gotcha politics" from federal overseers of these funds in the future, and said Mississippians must be diligent to watch how these funds are used so local governments don't have to pay them back later.

Pickering warned our national debt will soon exceed our GDP (gross domestic product) for only the second time in history (the first was World War II). "This is no longer sustainable. We have to radically redo government." He said major policy changes can make significant positive impacts on the state, citing tort reform as a recent example.

Pickering urged those in attendance to get involved, "We're not going to win this Super Bowl by having a great quarterback. You and I are going to have to do the nitty-gritty blocking and tackling to win. The business community will have to be involved to make a change and you need to think big to do government differently and better."

Following the morning session, Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant offered remarks over lunch and Governor Barbour introduced Greg Casey, CEO of BIPAC (the national Business and Industry Political Action Committee).

Casey stressed "free enterprise is not a special interest" and spoke on his organization's Prosperity Project to engage on a grassroots level employers and employees in the political process. Casey said research shows, "The most credible source of information in the political environment is the employer" whom he said is twice as credible to employees as any political party or organized labor. In 2000, fewer than 5 percent of employees heard from their employer regarding elections; in 2008 that rose to more than 20 percent; and in 2010, "the organized footprint of business will be larger than unions for the first time in history."

If Casey is correct, future BIPEC luncheons may feature even more legislators and perhaps even a Speaker of the House.

Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Contact him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.