There’s already a little grousing about the relative lack of intrigue promised by the 2013 Neshoba County Fair political speaking lineup among journalists, political gadflys and other old grouches.
To be sure, with statewide elections looming in 2015 and no contested local, judicial or federal elections, the state’s premier political stump won’t be covered with campaign signs in 2013. It should be relatively low-key year for political speeches.
The lineup features Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker Philip Gunn, State Treasurer Lynn Fitch, Attorney General Jim Hood, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, State Auditor Stacey Pickering, Agriculture Commissioner
Cindy Hyde-Smith, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, Central District Public Service Commissioner Lynn Posey, Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, State Sen. Giles Ward, R-Louisville, State Rep. Scott Bounds, R-Philadelphia, Circuit Judges Marcus Gordon and Vernon Cotton, Chancery Judge Joey Kilgore and District Attorney Mark Duncan.
Also speaking this year will be Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones, and East Central Community College President Billy Stewart. The Neshoba County Fair Board also invited University of Southern Mississippi President Rodney Bennett and Jackson State University President Carolyn Meyers to speak, but both had scheduling conflicts.
After watching political speeches at Neshoba since my childhood in the 1960s, I can tell you that neither politicians nor those who live at the Fair particularly mind the “off” political years. The pace slows down, the speeches are usually funnier and more personal, and the heat and tension of the campaign years is absent.
Politicians drop by, sit a while, and maybe even take time to eat before easing on to the next cabin. There is less of a retail political feel to the process.
For 117 years now, politicians have been plying their trade in speeches at the Neshoba County Fair. Fair oratory violates every rule of modern politics – rules which hold that people don’t like long speeches and that information delivered in chunks greater than 30 or 60 seconds aren’t absorbed or retained.
Fair speeches, back to those delivered by firebrands like Ross Barnett or Theodore Bilbo, were expected to be more about entertainment than enlightenment. That tradition has held up pretty well and those speakers who step up to the microphone without a joke or a story usually pay for it in tepid crowd response.
The consensus among many old-line fairgoers is that while Barnett’s singing and Bilbo’s caterwaulings were memorable, few fair speakers were more memorable than Robert “Blow Torch” Mason – the Simpson County blacksmith who made several statewide campaigns and rarely strayed from this central theme to explain why voters should support him: “My wife is a fine woman, a good woman. I want to move her to town and let her live in a fancy house with electric lights and air conditioning. She deserves it, and that’s why you should vote for me, so I can move her to town.”
Other populists like Jim Buck Ross, Jimmy Swann and John Arthur Eaves also left their mark under the Founder’s Square Pavilion. Eaves once told the crowd that the rich and powerful down on Capitol Street in Jackson were laughing at them behind their backs: “Then they get down there after they get elected and sit in those ivory towers in Jackson smoking those long cee-gars, tugging on those cee-gars with the air conditioner turned down so low you could kill hogs! And they laugh and chuckle at the taxpayers and working people of this state,” Eaves thundered.
Eaves lost the 1987 gubernatorial campaign, but man, what a speech!
Political speaking like that at Neshoba – where the candidate is under pressure from the heat, the crowd and the supporters of his opponents – is a dying art.
That’s why the tradition at Neshoba remains so dear to fairgoers and why politicians leave Neshoba proud to have endured the experience.
For more information on the Neshoba County Fair and for a detailed list of events and entertainment, visit neshobacountyfair.org.
SID SALTER is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.