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BIPEC: Evaluations usher in era of accountability in politics

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
Jan. 15, 2001
Dick Wilcox sees the work of the Business and Industry Political Education Committee as one factor  an informational tool in helping his members decide which political candidate best represents their pro-business interests.
And, he believes the 20 years of research and evaluations his organization has produced for its members trade associations, corporate interests and individual business are helping define a new era of accountability in Mississippi politics.
Wilcox, president of BIPEC, told The Meridian Star editorial board his organization was created in 1980 under a mandate to rate and grade Mississippi legislators on their pro-business support.
BIPEC members decided political decisions, like business decisions, should be based on research
Since then, BIPEC has developed a sophisticated process of analyzing and evaluating not only votes but also how supportive legislators and, in the last few years, judges are of business issues. The process is based on a unique format developed by political guru Verne Kennedy, public opinion polls and vote histories.`
Business officials often see their political contributions as investments in improving business conditions, he said. By stacking a legislator's scores against a legislative district's scores, BIPEC's members can better decide which candidates and campaigns to support.
Mississippi legislators are generally less supportive of business now than they were 20 years ago, according to a recent BIPEC "legislative report card."
Wilcox attributed this to the fact fewer legislators now have actual experience in the business world.
Legislators' scores are assigned by how they vote on key issues and a number of other objective and subjective factors. More than 60 business leaders participate in the rating process. BIPEC's members consist of individuals, small and large businesses and more than 30 trade associations.
The ratings put legislators in four categories: business champions, moderate business support, marginal business help and anti-business.
In 1994, with a "Republican takeover in Congress," Wilcox said a firm ideological position emerged. At the same time, Mississippi politicians were "less white, less male, less Democrat and less conservative."
He said these legislators say they want jobs for people but "unfortunately, they don't understand what business people need."
In 1994, BIPEC added judicial elections to its scope because members of the business and professional community felt "they were getting beat up some in the judicial arena."
In 1996, BIPEC completed a study and scored of all nine members of the Mississippi Supreme Court. Wilcox said many in the judicial arena don't like being evaluated because they feel they "should not be measured on what they do to help business.
Wilcox said there are two kinds of judges, conservative "fundamentalists" who interpret the laws as they're written and "activists" who consider other circumstances and "extend or change" laws. Because judges are human and draw from their own experiences and values when they make decisions, he urges BIPEC members to get involved in judicial elections.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.

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