By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Phil Bryant’s voice quivered ever so slightly as he spoke of his grandmother, and it soared as he talked about his hopes for Mississippi.
“We must dedicate ourselves to the belief that we may fall separately, but we will surely rise together,” Bryant said in an 18-minute acceptance speech after being sworn in as the state’s 64th governor. “And if we are to rise together, we must do so with the inherent characteristics of Mississippi. We are a people of character who value hard work and treasure loyalty to our families, state and country.”
Bryant, 57, took the oath in a packed House chamber because of the rainy conditions, though it stopped raining about an hour before the start of the 60-plus minute ceremony – originally planned for the south steps of the Capitol as is the normal custom. Soon after the ceremony was over, the sun was peaking through what were still dark and slightly ominous-looking clouds.
“Mississippi has endured a Civil War, a Reconstruction, a Great Depression, poverty, racial strife and the worst natural disaster in American history,” said Bryant, who rose through the ranks of state government after beginning his career as a Hinds County deputy sheriff. “We have been branded by the rest of the world by these challenges. But the world cannot deny our resilience and perseverance.”
He said Mississippi is a state that seceded, but now is home to “some of the most patriotic people in this Union.” And Mississippi’s racial strife and poverty have inspired “some of the country’s foremost writers, musicians, artists and leaders.”
The Republican Bryant said, “Let us ascend to a place where the troubled waters can no longer touch us – a place where the view of the water is big and wide and beautiful.”
The state’s dignitaries, including most of the federal congressional delegation and former elected officials, crammed into the House chamber for the legislative joint session.
The congressional delegation and outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour sat on the speaker’s podium along with new first lady Deborah Bryant, their two children and a few others. New Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who replaces Bryant in that position, presided.
Most of the space in the House gallery was reserved for Bryant’s extended family. Many others watched on closed circuit or listened through the sound system in other areas of the Capitol.
As the Mississippi Mass Choir and the Mississippi Boys Choir performed, they were literally within less than arm’s lengths away from the spectators.
Bryant’s speech, as is the custom, was short of policy specifics. That kind of information is normally saved for the State of the State speech.
But he spoke in general terms of improving education through charter schools and early childhood education, and of improving the health of citizens and of the state’s economy through placing priority on the health care industry and energy sector.
He also said the state’s budgeting system needed to be based on performance measures and the state’s teen pregnancy rate must be reduced.
“The epidemic of teenage pregnancy in this state must come to an end,” he said. “Churches, schools, community organizations and most importantly, families, must realize that the highest teen pregnancy rate in America will eventually cripple our state.”
Senate President Pro tem Terry Brown, R-Columbus, said, “I thought he did a good job of putting it all together in one deal. I thought he did a good job delivering it. It was heartfelt.”
With Republicans in charge of the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature for the first time since the 1800s, Brown said, “We are in a position to deliver… If we don’t, it’s our fault.”
“I thought it was magnanimous,” said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville. “I thought he did his best day’s work … But it will take money to do what he wants to do. We will see how it pans out.”
Much of Bryant’s speech focused on his background. He spoke of taking the oath of office from Supreme Court Chief Justice William Waller Jr. on his grandmother’s Bible, and he paid homage to his two brothers and his deceased parents.
Looking in the gallery, he said to his mother-in-law, Doris Hays, “I extend heartfelt thanks for your acceptance and willingness to allow your daughter to marry a young deputy sheriff… I know you all… must be equally surprised.”