State Rep. Tommy Horne of Meridian is if for nothing else

AUTHOR: SALTER

State Rep. Tommy Horne of Meridian is if for nothing else usually a dependable source of amusement. He’s the legislative equivalent of a whoopee cushion and at times, his pronouncements carry about the same weight as the sounds that novelty item produces.

Thank goodness, the First Amendment protects Tommy Horne’s right of free speech while at the same time protecting freedom of the press for Mississippi newspapers.

Seems Horne doesn’t think much of newspaper editorial writers. GASP! What a shocker that little revelation is to those of us in the business.

Horne offered an amendment to a sales tax exemption bill this week that would require newspaper editorial writers who write for newspapers that refuse to accept unsigned letters to the editor to sign their editorials.

Quoth Rep. Horne on the House floor: “Most of the time they (editorial writers) hide behind the amendment right of freedom of the press and they’re really too yellow, too yellow to sign the editorials.”

This from a member of a Mississippi House of Representatives that once again this year refused to open legislative conference committees to the public. The primary venue where the nuts-and-bolts of the people’s business is conducted is the legislative conference committees and our House still refuses to let the people be present when this work is done.

Too yellow, Tommy? The State Senate voted earlier this session to open the conference committees, but the House balked. If you’re looking for folks “too yellow” to perform their work in the light of day, take a look at some of your colleagues and in the mirror.

Tommy Horne, that great champion of letting the sun shine in, has yet to exercise any leadership in the decades-long fight to open the legislative conference committees. Using his own argument, that’s Sunshine Special Lemon Yellow.

Openness for editors. Closed doors for lawmakers. That’s Horne’s logic, such as it is.

It gets better. Here’s Tommy’s take on why newspapers should publish unsigned letters to the editor:

“The freedom of your constitutional right to speak your piece is limited when a newspaper requires you to sign a letter to the editor and they don’t sign their editorials,” he said.

Forget logic here, he’s rolling.

Newspaper policies requiring signed letters to the editor are designed to allow newspapers to verify the sources of those letters. Should Tommy find himself the victim of an attack from an unsigned letter writer, he’d be on the steps of the newspaper howling like a stuck hog in about five minutes wondering how the newspaper could be so irresponsible.

And if he finds himself the target of a critical editorial the voice of the newspaper as a whole rather than an individual columnist’s it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the name of the newspaper in which the editorial is published, the name of the publisher and the name of the editor. That information is published every day or every week as the case may be.

It’s not a problem with me. My columns appear under my byline and in my own newspaper, I choose to end each editorial with my initials in parentheses because I always worried that there might be one or two geniuses out there like Tommy who couldn’t figure it out on their own.

Then Horne got down to the licklog and said what he had on his mind which was in essence that editorial writers as a class of people lack integrity and don’t have to meet special qualifications as do nurses, doctors, teachers and lawyers.

“All too often they (editorial writers) have no qualifications, none whatsoever, outside of the fact that maybe they’re willing to work cheap to be able to muckrake, use yellow dog journalism,” he said.

Well, let’s take a gander at qualifications for a seat in the Mississippi House. Anybody 21 or older who has a pulse, legal residency and the lack of a criminal record qualifies. Education requirements? Nope. State licenses? Nope. Aptitude tests? Nope.

The vast majority of state lawmakers are outstanding individuals who have distinguished themselves in various walks of life through hard work, education and public service. And then there’s a majority of members who don’t know a quorum from a kumquat.

The same can be said for the newspaper business.

The First Amendment gives Tommy Horne the absolute right to make a donkey of himself on the floor of the Mississippi House when he chooses to do so through freedom of speech. The same First Amendment protects the freedom of the press that allows Mississippi newspaper publishers to publish editorials unfettered by arbitrary, capricious interference from the government.

And working cheap? There’s no bill under consideration in the Mississippi Legislature for an across-the-board pay hike for editorial writers.

If memory serves, there is a little bill this year offering such a pay raise for legislators.

Tommy is squealing like the organ grinder’s monkey for more openness on Mississippi newspaper editorial pages but the noise gets a little garbled coming out of the Mississippi House of Representatives because it still emanating from behind closed doors in those secret conference committee hearings.

Click video to hear audio