ACROSS THE TABLE Dem Flaggs gets Tea Party interest, applause

Published 11:45 am Friday, October 14, 2011

An entrenched Democrat generating rounds of applause at a Tea Party meeting?

It happened Thursday in Vicksburg as state Rep. George Flaggs mixed homespun talk and thoughts on education funding and the future of the state’s retirement system with the Vicksburg Tea Party at Shoney’s.

“I don’t believe I could be where I am had it not been for the education system,” he said to about 30 people jammed into a rear dining room of the restaurant. All but six were from Warren County, based on an earlier show of hands. “The money ought to be for the students and the teachers — not for administrators, not for the administrator having an administrator. I just think the money should be in the classroom.”

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Flaggs is the first Democratic officeholder to address the local brand of the nationwide movement, mostly associated with its influence on Republican politics. Vicksburg’s longest-serving state legislator, who faces Republican Sam Smith on Nov. 8 in his bid for a seventh term, said he fielded a cell phone call earlier in the day from a Washington, D.C., phone number from someone who discouraged his appearance at the gathering. After his address, he said he didn’t know who placed the call and couldn’t remember the number — but it didn’t matter to him.

“For those folks who told me I shouldn’t go speak,” Flaggs said. “I say I’m going anywhere in this country and this state and speak on what I believe in.” Flaggs credited his late father with the value “to not make a commitment rather than to make a commitment and break it. I still live by that value.”

Flaggs, 58, chairs the House Banking and Financial Services Committee and sits on the Appropriations, Executive Contingent Fund, Gaming, Insurance, Investigate State Offices, Legislative Budget, Medicaid and Public Health and Human Services committees.

Calls have rolled in on his recent concern over so-called “13th checks,” or cost-of-living payments taken at year’s end by state retirees, and whether they’d be phased out by a commission appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour to study the Public Employees Retirement System.

“I believe the retirement system is a promissory note that the state made to the state employees whether they’re firemen, policeman, nurse or whoever,” he said. “And we should honor that.”

Flaggs said he has spoken with Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel, the commission’s leader, and the governor’s office on the issue, and plans to attend the commission’s Oct. 31 meeting.

“I have agreed to go to their meeting and will present what I think the challenges are, and leave it there,” he said.

Flaggs’ appearance was but one curiosity on the Tea Party’s list of speakers, both planned and unplanned.

Bill Molitor, district director of Mississippians For Fair Tax, spoke for a half-hour on the ins and outs of the long-debated but still-conceptual plan to replace the federal income tax with a national consumption tax, casting it as better than the “999” plan pitched by Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain.

“The 999 tax adds tax,” he said. “The fair tax puts it into one pot.”

Warren County District 2 supervisor candidate De Reul and her campaign staff, regulars at past Tea Party sessions, attended Thursday but did not speak.

Also attending was Bubba Comans, the Democratic nominee for Warren County sheriff. Comans was offered the podium as Flaggs left to urge audience members to “get involved” and encourage others to vote.