By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – A contentious floor debate in the Mississippi House could finally be winding down when Billy Bowles, a Houston Democrat, would stand to ask, “Who wants this bill?”
That would restart the debate, Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, his long-time deskmate recalled Monday.
“He had a unique perspective and a sense of legislative timing,” Holland said of the former rural grocery store owner/legislator who died Sunday at Sanctuary Hospice House in Tupelo. He was 78.
“He was the ultimate servant of the people,” said former House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, who for 20 years sat on the same row in the House chamber with Holland and Bowles. “Plus he loved the Mississippi House.”
Bowles’ philosophy was simple – find out what group wanted legislation passed and why and whether there was a monetary boon for any group if the legislation was passed. In other words, Bowles served in the Mississippi House with a healthy dose of mistrust.
Another theme was that he thought he and his colleagues passed too many laws.
“He was a great protector of individual rights – especially gun rights,” McCoy said. “… He believes in simplistic government – a straight line to the people.”
“He was almost a libertarian,” Holland said. “He was not for a lot of in-your-face legislation.”
Bowles was elected to House District 22 in 1984 and served until January 2004. He served as chair of the Oil and Gas Committee and, as a freshman, was a member of the Transportation Committee and worked for passage of the historic 1987 Four-Lane Act.
When Bowles served, the district consisted primarily of Chickasaw County, but also included portions of Monroe and his native county of Lee. He was a graduate of Tupelo High School.
“Billy Bowles – he loved his family, he loved his wife, his children and his grandchildren,” said Rep. Preston Sullivan, D-Okolona, who replaced Bowles as the District 22 representative and was his cousin. “He loved, America, Mississippi and his district. He didn’t fake that. He was genuine.”
Former Rep. Bill Miles, D-Fulton, served in the House with Bowles and before then ran his campaigns. He said Bowles always faced tough re-election campaigns, winning by narrow margins.
“He wasn’t a fiery orator,” Miles said, but added he was beloved by fellow members because of sincerity and his sense of humor.
Miles said he was on the phone talking to Bowles when he had a stroke in the 1990s.
Soon after being taken to the hospital, Bowles instructed Miles to send word to Holland, a funeral director, that “he ain’t going to get me yet.”
Bowles got a big laugh a few days later when Holland visited him at the hospital with a tape measure – presumably to measure him for a casket.
Funeral services for Bowles are at 2 p.m. today at Houston First United Methodist Church.