JACKSON – Even in a slow year where little news was made, politicians speaking at the historic Neshoba County Fair couldn’t help but make comments that a week later still are head scratchers.
Take Gov. Phil Byant, for instance. After his fair speech, while meeting with reporters, during general chit-chat the Republican governor revealed he had just finished reading a book about the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which has been chronicled, often with a great deal of poetic license, in both movies and literature.
It was a bit of a head scratcher that the governor showed interest in a famous and bloody confrontation that took part, at least in part, over gun rights.
The Earp brothers, who in literature and media accounts, have become the heroes of the gun battle, actually were enforcing gun laws. That’s right. The Earps were enforcing Tombstone Ordinance No. 9, requiring people to give up their weapon upon entering the town limits.
It could be argued that the Cowboys, who have been described as a precursor to modern gangs or the mafia, it could be argued were only defending their 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear weapons when they were confronted by the Earps. Now granted, when the gunfight occurred near the O.K. Corral, Arizona was not a state, but it was a U.S. territory and surely most people would argue citizens of a U.S. territory would have the constitutional rights granted by the 2nd Amendment.
Yet, here the Earps were trying to force the Cowboys to give up their weapons.
Only a couple of hours before the governor talked about the gunfight while meeting with members of the media in Sid Salter’s cabin at the fair in the cool comfort of air-conditoning, Bryant had been on the stage under the hot Founders Square pavilion where he spoke forcibly for gun rights.
He defended legislation passed during the 2013 legislative session that supporters say clarifies that Mississippians have the right to carry weapons openly with no permits. He evoked another famous gun rights advocate – Dirty Harry – when saying of legislators who wanted to pass a bill to repeal the law, “Go ahead, make my day. I will veto that bill faster than a shot out of a Winchester.”
The governor also criticized those who went to court to try to stop the enactment of the new open carry law, saying they were trying to take away constitutional rights. He went on to bemoan liberals, whom he said went to court too often to try to block the enactment of legislatively passed laws.
This also was a bit of a head-scratcher since the governor went to court himself with great fanfare to try to block the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Asked if he would have sued the Earps for trying to take away gun rights, the governor smiled and indicated that he did not think it would have been a good idea to try to take the Earps to court.
Bryant was not the only politician, though, who had comments that were head-scratchers.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said he recently asked his wife whether she could imagine in her wildest dreams that he would be a statewide officeholder speaking at the nationally known Neshoba County Fair.
Chaney said his wife told him, “You are not in my wildest dreams.”
Then there was Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, whose chief Senate allies have reportedly been referred to a “Tater Tots” by some who might view Reeves as not conservative enough. In his Fair speech, Reeves embraced the nickname.
“You might be a Tater Tot if you believe your elected officials should fight to protect your rights” or “you might be a Tater Tot if you agree we should fight wasteful spending and excessive government wastes.” Such phrases were interspersed throughout the Republican lieutenant governor’s partisan speech.
Some viewed it as an obvious slight that Bryant praised Speaker Philip Gunn, but not Reeves during his speech. Perhaps, it was obvious, but it could have been nothing more than the fact that Gunn spoke immediately before the governor and they crossed paths as one was going to the podium and the other was leaving.
The governor’s more head-scratch moment, in my humble opinion, came when he spoke of political pundits trying to identify who was actually “ running the Legislature.” It should not be lost that many political pundits have identified Reeves as the being that person.
Bryant responded at the Fair that the real power in the Legislature is not any politician, but “the people.”
That is theoretically true, but the Earps proved back in Tombstone that often might makes right in politics.
BOBBY HARRISON is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (601) 353-3119.