As another session of the Mississippi Legislature beckons, it is impossible for someone who has watched those august proceedings from start to finish to wash away feelings of nostalgia.
Participation in a legislative session comes in many forms: Duly elected members of the body, staffers who do most of the heavy lifting, reporters who cover it, paid and unpaid lobbyists who seek to influence decisions on behalf of a client and taxpayers who foot the bill for the whole shebang.
The 2020 session of the Mississippi Legislature begins when it always does — the first Tuesday after the first Monday of the year.
Those who were participants before will likely be just as interested in what happens as those arriving for work at the Capitol on Jan. 7. Sure, a few will try to forget they ever witnessed the notable events, but most of us will at least cast an interested eye toward 400 High Street.
It was my good fortune and pleasure to cover several sessions from 1990 through 2009, first as a reporter for The Clarion-Ledger and then as a House of Representatives staff member. I saw and listened to it like fried chicken gravy attaches itself to boiled white rice.
The real action — the bills as introduced, debated and voted upon by members but usually written by a staff attorney — is not something that would interest the average human being. This is tedious work first undertaken in the bowels of the building by people with law degrees who eschewed the practice of courtroom law. Citizens back home will praise or rail against an elected member for some such measure, never knowing that an unknown attorney graciously put it all together.
Let me assure you that the lawyers who work for the Mississippi Legislature are intelligent and talented individuals with the best interests of the state’s citizens at heart. They toil for tremendously long, ungodly hours.
They often bear the ill will of the elected members of the Legislature who don’t like the final product or who have had some constituent back home tell them that they are an idiot for introducing such and such bill — or that they were brilliant for doing so.
More than a couple of these legislative lawyers play in Jackson-area rock music and classical music groups to help them forget where they work. Hello, Jimbo Richardson, Bob Davidson and Randy Dickerson (a computer technician). The best of holidays to you!
But this is not about just the lawyers. There are research specialists who dig through years and years of records to keep the current session’s proposals in proper context and perspective with the state constitution and previously passed laws.
There are clerks throughout the edifice who compile what is proposed, voted upon and signed into law (or not) by the governor. Many remain in these jobs for years for less money than they could make in the private sector because they love Mississippi and working for her people.
I think most would agree with me when I say that nationwide, lobbyists do not enjoy the finest of reputations. It’s generally a bad rap. The lobbyists who work our Capitol want the best for the state — and their clients.
It was my privilege to work the building as a reporter and communicator. My partner in crime for the Jackson newspaper was the tenacious, steadfast and veracious Emily Wagster-Pettus, now with the Associated Press, approaching her 27th session. She’s now the “dean” of the Capitol press corps. Bobby Harrison of Mississippi Today continues the fruitful work he first did for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, as does Geoff Pender of The Clarion-Ledger.
I was grateful to follow my dad, the late Charley Gordon, as a Capitol reporter for the Jackson newspaper. I cherish his press row nameplate in my possession: “Charles B. Gordon, Jackson Daily News.”
Now, will someone utter these words: “The clerk will call the roll.”