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Brett Favre text messages reveal hypocrisy of Mississippi officials blasting Jackson

In 2020, Mississippi's state auditor said about $70 million in federal welfare funds has been misspent.
Photo illustration: Paper pieces showing images of money, shape of the Mississippi state, Brett Favre and a person in a raincoat carrying bottles of water.
Text messages suggest Former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, discussed steering federal welfare funds toward the construction of a volleyball stadium at the University of Southern Mississippi.MSNBC / AP

The stench of hypocrisy from Mississippi leaders smells as bad as the water that was flowing through the capital city’s pipes until a few days ago.

The stench of hypocrisy from Mississippi leaders smells as bad as the water that was flowing through the capital city’s pipes until a few days ago.

From the beginning of the latest crisis involving Jackson’s antiquated and broken water system, Republican state leaders told the world that the Black leadership in Mississippi’s largest city and Democrats in general were at fault. They accused them of being ignorant, of having loose fiscal morals, high-spending ways and a general inability to run good government.

In April, the Mississippi Legislature withheld $42 million intended for the city’s water-management infrastructure. “It seems the Democratic Party does not have a solid grasp on the duties of local government and elected city leaders as opposed to the role of the state and federal government,” Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Frank Bordeaux said after Jackson officials connected the failure of the water system to the state’s refusal to adequately help the city.

Referring to Chokwe Antar Lumumba, Jackson’s proudly radical mayor, a Jackson-area columnist wrote, “It’s almost as though Lumumba has deliberately let this crisis occur so that the national Democrats will give him billions which he can dole out to crony contracts.” Lumumba's office did not return a message left over the weekend seeking a response to that columnist's take.

But as they sniff their noses at Democrats’ stewardship of Jackson, and make fact-free allegations of corruption, Republicans, who run the state, have not proved themselves to be proper keepers of the state’s money. I’m not just referring to the fit of conservative pique that caused Gov. Tate Reeves to effectively send Mississippians’ share of federal tax dollars to other states by refusing to take the state’s full allotment of federal aid meant to help people avoid eviction. I’m also talking about Reeves’ Republican predecessor, Phil Bryant, who, along with NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, is a character in what that state’s auditor has called the state’s biggest public corruption case in the past 20 years.

Favre’s lawyer has acknowledged that Favre was previously questioned by the FBI for receiving $1.1 million of federal welfare funds from Mississippi in 2017 and 2018 to give motivational speeches he never gave. He paid that money back, but the state has said he owes $228,000 in interest.

The Mississippi state auditor alleged in March 2020 that about $70 million in misspent federal funds was directed to two state programs: the Mississippi Community Education Center and Family Resource Center of North Mississippi. And from there, millions of it went to questionable causes including, public records show, $5 million from Mississippi Community Education Center, to the construction of a volleyball stadium at the university where Favre’s daughter played.

Republicans, who run the state, have not proved themselves to be proper keepers of the state’s money.

Bryant, who was governor then, has denied any involvement in the steering of welfare funds to the volleyball stadium, and Favre’s lawyer said he had no idea the money was coming from the welfare fund.

Nancy New ran the Mississippi Community Education Center with her son Zach New. Both pleaded guilty to state charges of misusing public money. An attorney representing the News’ nonprofit organization entered into court last week text messages that he says show Favre and Bryant texting New about their plans.

The court record includes what New's attorney says is a text from Bryant to New that reads, “Just left Brett Favre. Can we help him with his project. We should meet soon to see how I can make sure we keep your projects on course.”

And a text from Favre to New that reads, “If you were to pay me is there anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?”

And a text from New to Favre that reads: “No, we never have had that information publicized. I understand you being uneasy about that though …” Then New to Favre the next day: “Wow, just got off the phone with Bryant! He is on board with us! We will get this done!”

In a July move that raised eyebrows, Reeves, who served as lieutenant governor when Bryant was governor, abruptly fired the attorney who had been hired to reclaim the state’s money just after he issued a subpoena to find out more about the roles Bryant and Favre played in the misdirected money. Reeves accused that attorney, Brad Pigott, who was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi by former President Bill Clinton, of having a political agenda. Pigott said his only agenda was getting to the truth of what happened.

Neither Favre nor Bryant has been charged with a crime. Favre’s lawyer told Mississippi Today on Monday that “Brett Favre has been honorable throughout this whole thing.” That newsroom reports that Bryant, who has previously denied being involved with the project, didn’t attempt to explain the text messages. He said in a statement that New’s defense team’s “refusal to agree to a protective order, along with their failure to convey the Governor’s position to the court, unfortunately shows they are more concerned with pretrial publicity than they are with civil justice.”

These are the people complaining about Jackson not being able take care of its people on its own?

Government officials who were in office when that $70 million flowed through the state and into the hands of undeserving people instead of the desperate and needy Mississippi families it was intended to help have no standing to talk about government mismanagement. In recent years, more than 40% of Mississippi’s budget has come from federal funds, and lawmakers just foolishly enacted its largest ever income tax cut, which means federal funds will become an even larger share of the budget.

These are the people complaining about Jackson not being able take care of its people on its own?

Right now might be the time for respectful silence from the state officials attacking Jackson about how government should and shouldn’t work, what leaders should and should not do and what citizens should expect from their elected leaders. There’s a volleyball court at the University of Southern Mississippi that refutes everything they say.