Rob Roberson is wasting no time attempting to solve one of the state’s biggest issues – education.
The state representative-elect says he will schedule town hall meetings this winter to discuss school funding issues raised by Initiative 42. Those meetings, he said, need to involve the general public and advocates for and against the failed ballot referendum.
“We need to identify what we want our school systems to be and reverse engineer the issues from there. We have to identify the goals and talk about solutions, and we need to do this in an adult manner because it’s the only way to make a difference,” the Republican said Wednesday after securing his District 43 House of Representatives seat.
“Without us having this dialogue, I don’t think we’ll ever find a solution that works,” he added.
Roberson said he opposed Initiative 42 as it was written – constitutionally amending state law to prioritize school funding over other expenses – but he is “not against fully funding (the Mississippi Adequate Education Program).”
“I opposed 42 because of the potential threat it had to higher education,” he said. “We have to fund educational responsibly so that we do not hurt our public college system’s or our community colleges’ budgets.
“I want educators and supporters of 42, as well as those who opposed it – all of us to sit down and actually talk about this issue and find real solutions,” Roberson added. “My father used to tell me that a problem is nothing but an opportunity that presents itself. We have an issue here that must be dealt with.”
Republican lawmakers opposing Initiative 42, including state Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, said the Legislature would prepare budgets with 8 percent cuts in order to comply if the referendum passed. Those cuts would have affected all state agencies, Chism said before the election.
Roberson, a former District 37 representative and Starkville alderman, returns to the Miss. House of Representatives next year after securing about 64 percent of the District 43 vote against Democrat Paul Millsaps, a fellow Starkville attorney.
Roberson first defeated Mac Smith in August’s Republican Primary.
As redrawn by the Legislature, District 43 includes portions of Starkville and outlying Oktibbeha County – the Adaton, Longview and Sturgis areas.
“I’ve never run against two opponents who were as cordial as Mac and Paul. It was a good race, and I’m lucky to have run against two people who wanted to send a positive message,” Roberson said. “I think our message of inclusion — we generally care about this community and want to talk positively about things that move us forward – put us in a position to be successful. It was a strong message people considered, regardless if they were Democrats, Republicans or independents. It all comes down to trust. If you have the best of intentions for your community, I think that message transcends all others.”
Roberson thanked his grassroots base, which ranged from the Mississippi State University College Republicans to his campaign assistants, and the voters for supporting his election efforts.
“It’s time for all of us to get on the same page, and that involves tightening our belts here and making investments in our community – our roads and schools – that are going to benefit everyone in the long run,” he said. “We have to make people understand we have to invest our time, energy and money into what works for all of us. That doesn’t mean throw our money away, but we have to get a game plan together and move forward. The city, county and university have to pull in the same direction. We have some of the smartest people in our area that are problem-solvers, and we have to take advantage of that resource and really make the future better for our children.”
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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