Cindy Hyde-Smith might want to look for some new speechwriters. The Republican U.S. senator’s keynote address Friday was one of the more forgettable speeches to be delivered in the 83 years that Delta Council has been holding its annual meetings.
Other than her remarks on flood control, for which there is keen interest in this region, most of Hyde-Smith’s 27 minutes at the podium were spent in a dry recitation of Delta programs and the congressional appropriations that had been sent to support them.
She may be a big fan of Donald Trump, but she did not pick up the former president’s ability to command an audience or to ad lib.
Not that Hyde-Smith was given the spotlight in Cleveland for her rhetorical abilities. Delta Council has been a fan of hers since she served as Mississippi’s commissioner of agriculture and commerce.
Since being promoted to the U.S. Senate in 2018, she has won even more fans in the regional development organization with her support of flood-control projects, in particular the Yazoo Backwater pumps that had been unfairly shelved since 2008.
Her blind loyalty to the former president was probably helpful in getting the Environmental Protection Agency to look more favorably on the project last year than it did the last time a Republican was in the White House.
Although there are some concerns that environmentalists opposed to the pumps will get Joe Biden’s ear, Hyde-Smith is probably correct when she suggests the first-term Democratic president has a lot more to worry about than a flood-control project in a rural part of the country.
The president is focused on trying to put the COVID-19 pandemic down once and for all, while convincing Congress to keep spending like crazy on massive infrastructure and family welfare initiatives. When you are arguing over how to spend the next trillion dollars or two of borrowed money, a $400 million flood-control project seems like small potatoes.
In addition, having Bennie Thompson, the Democratic congressman who is a polar opposite ideologically to Hyde-Smith, on board behind the project could mitigate any possible White House hesitation.
Thompson, Mississippi’s longest-serving member of Congress, may be politically outnumbered in this heavily Republican state, but he has acquired a lot of clout within national Democratic Party circles. His chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee gives him the influence within the House to line up votes for a project back home to help out not only flooded farmers in the South Delta but also low-income families that repeatedly are being inundated with high water.
Some things have changed significantly during the nearly four decades in which I have been attending Delta Council annual meetings.
For one, the audience is more diverse.
Early in its history, Delta Council was primarily a farmers’ organization, and it attracted a largely white audience to Delta State University.
But as Delta Council broadened its scope, especially its expansion into issues of education and health, the annual gatherings reflected the change. Many of the students, for example, recognized as Delta Honor graduates each year are African American. Since 2010, two African Americans have served as Delta Council’s president. Race aside, there are also more non-farmers involved with the organization’s leadership.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the social aspect of the gathering. As serious as the business session tends to be, there’s plenty of socializing and fun, too, capped by the traditional luncheon of fried catfish.
Seeing how people are dressed is a big part of the event: lots of seersucker, khaki, pastels and, of course, cotton.
One of these years, I need to invest in a seersucker suit to see if I can be a finalist in the Wear Cotton contest. I’ve got seersucker pants and a tie with a pattern of cotton bolls, but a navy blazer knocks me out of consideration every year.