From my desk in the fourth floor press room of the state Capitol, I can look out the giant glass partitions and see blind Lady Justice sculptures, paintings depicting the history of our state, ornate marble, giant columns and much more than I can describe here.
And this time of year, this magnificent building is dressed in holiday attire – red ribbons, garland, almost too many Christmas trees and poinsettias to count. Often, holiday music from a school choir or from some other group can come filtering up the rotunda from the first or second floors where they perform.
As I glanced out the window recently, I saw a school group touring the building, all wearing red T-shirts except for one pint-sized Santa. Not to get involved in any cable news debate, but this particular young Santa Claus appeared to be African-American from across the rotunda.
The point is, I am fortunate, that from my desk, as I work, I have a breathtaking view of what I believe has to be the most majestic building in the state – one that can hold its own with most similar structures across the world.
Needless to say, I look out the window a lot – often being eyed or waved to by a passing tourist. Since I am on full view on the other side of the giant window, perhaps I feel a little like an animal on display in the zoo – much like a stately lion or powerful tiger I would like to think. But most others probably would say more like a monkey or dodo bird. It is not lost on me that those dodo birds are extinct.
I glanced up recently one day and did a double-take. My eyesight is not great, but from a distance across the rotunda it looked like former House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi.
After more intent staring, I ascertained it was the former speaker, a little more frail, walking with a cane – the result of a series of strokes he suffered early in his first term as speaker in 2004.
McCoy, 71, served in the House from 1980 until his final term ended in January 2012. The last two terms he served as speaker.
The Prentiss County native visited the Capitol when his father served in the same House as far back as the 1940s and ’50s at a time when travel was not nearly as easy from Northeast Mississippi. He not only saw history made in this building, but also was an integral part of making that history on so many pieces of legislation – the 1987 Four-Lane Highway bill, the Adequate Education Program, the Education Enhancement Act, Nissan.
The list goes on and on – as far as legislation where he was a key committee chair that either wrote or helped to write the legislation.
But on this particular day, Billy McCoy was a regular Mississippian – who wanted to see his state Capitol in all its holiday splendor. He was not here to meet with former colleagues or to lobby for a specific piece of legislation – as former legislators often do
He was here because as a former key legislator and as a lifelong Mississippian he loved the building, both aesthetically and for all it represents. It is a reminder that people can disagree on political philosophy and issues, but still love this state and country and the form of government we live under – regardless of who is in charge.
McCoy announced his retirement in 2011 on his own terms, but later that year his side lost a historic election, giving power in the House to the Republicans for the first time since the 1800s.
But that did not lessen his admiration for this building or all it represents. He recently came to simply admire it – for no other reason.
Nearly every time I call the former speaker these days for a comment on something, I get the same response, “Hold on for a second while I pull over.”
McCoy is constantly traveling, and since he has only one good arm, he is always careful about when he talks on the cellphone.
Nine times out of 10, he is traveling in Mississippi. He always talks about how much there is to see and do here.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol correspondent. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (601) 353-3119.