PERRY/Gunn talks to the people
Wednesday, October 16, 2013 1:00 AM
"I recently was introduced to a crowd as a 'Christian politician' and someone in the back yelled 'make up your mind!'" House Speaker Philip Gunn said to laughter in Vicksburg last week on his second annual "Mississippi Solutions: An Ideas Tour."
Gunn traveled to Clinton, Clarksdale, Olive Branch, Oxford, Corinth, Starkville, Vicksburg, Natchez, Laurel and Pascagoula to "take the legislature to the people."
"Not everyone can travel to Jackson to speak with the Governor or the Legislature. We want go to the people and let them tell us problems, and if they have solutions, to hear those as well. We picked cities to give everyone in the state a location within an hour of their home," Gunn said on the road between Clinton and Vicksburg. I was given the chance to ride along with Gunn on one leg of the tour.
Gunn said, "About 50 to 75 percent of what we hear is frustration and venting, and that's good. Expressing frustration with an issue: this is a problem and y'all need to figure out what to do about it. Some people have proposals and solutions, and we hope to be able to take some of these ideas and introduce legislation based on them."
Gunn said at many stops, special interest groups have sent members to express their concerns. While that is fine, he said he really is interested when people bring unique issues that normally wouldn't make it to the Legislature.
Gunn noted one idea from a police officer shot and paralyzed in the line of the duty in Olive Branch. He continues to work on the police force but requires a specially equipped van with a lift to manage his wheel chair. The value of the van is high and so is the corresponding car tag. "We're going to look and see if we can give police or firemen disabled in the line of duty a break on their car tags. We'll have to examine it and see."
As we pulled up to the Vicksburg Convention Center, former state representative and now mayor George Flaggs stood on the sidewalk to welcome Gunn. Flaggs introduced Gunn as "my Speaker" and Gunn returned the praise, telling the crowd of nearly 70 people, "You have a smart and capable mayor. He gets it. He understands difficult policies and knows how government works. He hides it well," and people laughed, "but you have elected a good man to be your mayor."
In Vicksburg, Gunn heard issues involving persons with disabilities, highway patrol funding, Common Core, infrastructure development, education funding, fingerprint scanning at daycare centers and water fluoridation. His staff took notes and gathered contact information of those attending.
We left Vicksburg headed south on Highway 61 toward Natchez. Gunn made a call to discuss the tour with J.T. Williamson on Supertalk Mississippi's "The JT Show."
As we drove through historic Port Gibson, I asked Gunn if he found it difficult to balance his job as Speaker of the House and the top Republican in the chamber.
Gunn said, "I do have to remind myself 'I'm the speaker for everybody.' My role is to move things along and stay fair and balanced. Both sides get an opportunity to speak. At the same time, I'm the Republican leader and have conservative values and that's why we were elected and we have a responsibility to advance conservative policies."
Gunn said over the past several election cycles, "there has been a movement by the voters toward more conservative leadership. But a few Democrats refuse to embrace that change and that slows us down, that constant fight keeps Mississippi in the past."
He continued, "In the first year of the new term, there were a few individuals who wanted to cause disruption for the sake of disruption, but I think we're moving away from that. We're maturing. I do wish debates would be good faith discussions about policy. It is frustrating to have an hour debate and the vote be something like 122 to 0. What were we debating about?"
After a quick lunch at Roux 61, we pulled into Natchez for a few meetings downtown - joined by Representative Sam Mims - as well as a stop to sample Darby's famous fudge on Main Street.
Natchez City Engineer David Gardner briefed Gunn on the historic trails and downtown tourism projects. Gunn then visited with Tate Taylor who was conducting a casting call for his movie "Get On Up" based on the life of James Brown which will be filmed in Natchez and Jackson this fall.
At the Natchez town hall, Gunn heard about Blue Cross Blue Shield, guns, voter-ID, tourism incentives and more. Afterward, we headed back to Jackson, but Gunn would be in Laurel less than 12 hours later and then to Pascagoula to continue listening to the people.
Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.