Analysis: Miss. lawmakers rate 'oh-10' on debates

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

Anyone with a decent Internet connection can go online and watch the Mississippi House or Senate debate lofty and substantial matters of state.

On some days, legislators are so entertaining that someone should sell tickets, maybe as a way to plug holes in the state budget. The arm waving, the pious declarations of truth, the mangling of the English language — it’s all quite something to behold.

Forthwith, some examples from the now-in-recess 2010 session:

During a Feb. 3 debate about revising squirrel hunting season, Rep. Earle Banks, D-Jackson, confessed something that’s true for many: “I do my hunting at Kroger’s.”

Rep. Scott Bounds, D-Philadelphia, offered this: “Up my way in Neshoba, people like to eat scrambled eggs and squirrel brains.”

The squirrel bill passed the House but was shot down later in a Senate committee.

During a Feb. 17 debate, the House killed a proposal by Rep. Jessica Upshaw, R-Diamondhead, to let the governor cut the legislative budget when revenues are weak.

Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville, argued some lawmakers are already working a full-time job on part-time pay: “You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip, and we’re all turnips up in here.”

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant has an easygoing way of presiding over the 52-member Senate, kind of like a Rotary Club president or an emcee at a company dinner.

On Feb. 18, Republican Sen. Merle Flowers of Southaven introduced DeSoto County residents who were at the Capitol for their annual ritual of making fried pies for lawmakers.

“Fried pies are so good, and so good for you,” Bryant responded.

Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, brings folksy management to the 122-member House. Before lunch break Feb. 3, he told colleagues: “Get you a banana sandwich and bring it back. We plan on putting in some hours today.”

March 9, when the House was loud, McCoy gaveled and said: “There’s no need getting hookedy hook about this.”

Sometimes it’s hard to break decade-old habits. Many lawmakers talk about the fiscal “oh-10″ and “oh-11″ budgets. After the turn of the century came fiscal ’01 (“oh-one”), ’02 (“oh-two”) and so forth. Why the zero before ’10 or ’11?

In what appeared to be an unintentional slip March 9, Democratic Rep. Bo Eaton of Taylorsville referred to an environmental group, the Sierra Club, as “the Sahara Club.”

During debate Feb. 4 on an animal cruelty bill, Democratic Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones of Canton asked a colleague the difference between a “Chi-chi-hua-hua” and a Rottweiler. Jones, who has owned several of the small, shaky dogs, later said he knew he was adding an extra syllable. He said it’s the way his grandma pronounced it.

And who doesn’t love a good debate about spitting?

Legislators considered banning all tobacco products at youth sporting events. Democratic Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville said March 10 he wasn’t about to tell some grandfather he couldn’t enjoy a plug of chewing tobacco while watching a youngster play football.

“Everybody in my family chews and dips and smokes and cusses and raises you know what about everything,” Holland said.

The final version of the bill, pending with the governor, would limit smoking at school sporting events, but not dipping.

There’s still nothing to stop folks at home from enjoying a smoke or a chew while watching debates on the Internet — or from offering leftover squirrel brains to the Chi-chi-hua-hua.