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Behind the curtain: ‘mule-headed farmers’?

An Associated Press wire story about Academy Award-winning actor and Mississippi native Morgan Freeman lending a hand to his business partner who is laying the groundwork to run for governor of Mississippi in 2011, notes:

“Freeman has written a fund-raising letter and is one of the hosts for a cocktail party in Los Angeles next week for Bill Luckett, an attorney seeking the Democratic nomination …

“‘Reform is hard in Mississippi because the base stock of this state is a mule-headed bunch of farmers,’ Freeman told the Associated Press on Sunday. ‘Those farmers have ruled the roost for so long because this is an agricultural state…’”

The actor, who has a home at nearby Charleston, Miss., and is a partner with Luckett in a much-publicized upscale restaurant and a funky blues club at Clarksdale, Miss., says in the letter quoted by the AP, “Holding on to the old politics of race, class, and region has starved Mississippi for too long (and he) … will work diligently to see that the rhetoric that has divided us will never again keep us from tackling such problems.”

While that kind of verbiage may play well with Freeman’s associates in La-La Land, one can only wonder that he’d choose to bad-mouth the state’s farmers in such public fashion — more so if they constitute the powerful political bloc he implies.

Which, of course, they don’t. Whatever political dominance agriculture may have had in Mississippi in an earlier era has been substantially diluted by the evolutionary trend to fewer, larger farms and the increased prominence and influence of business, industry, and finance (not to mention lawyers, who have for years filled many of the state’s elective offices and wielded significant influence on its laws and programs).

While agriculture and its allied businesses are still a major sector of the state’s economy, to say that farmers constitute a “base stock” that “rules the roost” sounds like a hackneyed plot from the myriad of stereotypical southern movies that Hollywood has churned out over the years.

As a group, the state’s farmers have no organized political bloc or power structure. They’re individuals, who make their own choices as to which candidates or measures to support.

From a collective standpoint, most are members of the Farm Bureau Federation, which represents farmer interests through lobbying at the state and national levels. In the western Delta area, many farmers are active in the Delta Council, which is very proactive on behalf of agriculture and issues that impact farmers.

But neither organization is limited to championing agriculture — they’re involved in virtually every sector of importance in the state, from education to industry to government, and their contributions to the progress of its citizens and its economy are far-reaching.

Mississippi is not without problems. Which state isn’t these days? But those problems aren’t occasioned by a cabal of malevolent farmers behind a curtain pulling the levers of political power.


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