Over a lifetime, I’ve seen a lot of ball games and eaten a lot of hot dogs and talked a lot of politics with friends old and new.
As a young sportswriter, I was always thrilled about the fact that my fellow scribes and I got paid to go to the ball games. It seemed a fantastic proposition to me both then and now.
But in later years, ball games also offered the opportunity as grand venues in which to engage in another well-loved hobby – talking politics.
Only the Neshoba County Fair with horse races as the backdrop from cabin porches has ever seemed a finer place to follow a sporting event and mix in a political gossip. If someone was cooking something tasty on the grill at the same time, all the better.
This weekend, I had a chance to watch an NCAA baseball game between the Mississippi State University Bulldogs and the Eastern Illinois University Panthers in one of the Diamond Classic Tournament games at Dudy Noble Field on the MSU campus.
It was as fine an afternoon for baseball as one could imagine. It was a cool, sunny March day with a slight breeze in the air. The game was competitive and exciting.
While I’ve eaten a lot of ball game hot dogs, this was my very first time to watch a ball game while seated next to the guy whose company made the hot dog I was enjoying. To be accurate, this was not exactly a hot dog, but a smoked sausage dog with a little relish and a lot of mustard.
Seated beside me at the game was state Sen. John Polk, R-Oak Grove, the chairman and retired CEO of Polk’s Meat Products – a Mississippi company employing more than 100 workers with 10 brands and a varied product line that includes multiple ham, sausage, salami and souse offerings for retail and institutional customers. The company is Mississippi’s largest smoked meat processor and has developed a national distribution chain.
But while Polk is proud of the third-generation family business that his parents founded and that he built before “getting out of the way and letting my daughter grow the company,” Polk talked most about the lessons he’d learned in the state Senate after winning the District 44 seat in the 2011 election.
“I didn’t get into politics because I needed a job,” Polk said bluntly, as he says most everything. “I looked around at the shape the state and the country were in and thought ‘maybe I can help make things better’.”
Polk ran a campaign in which he talked about “making a payroll every week since 1974” in his business and also said that “my wife accuses me of being a little bit tight with money.” He promised District 44 voters that he’d be just as tight with their money in Jackson.
The veteran businessman told me that there had been a learning curve of sorts since arriving at the state Senate. “In my business, change moved a lot faster than it does in the Senate, but I’ve come to appreciate and respect every single member down there,” Polk said. “I still want to change the status quo, but I’ve learned a lot about really listening to where the other senators are coming from.”
Polk is still as “picky” about his beliefs and values as he was before he left a highly successful business behind for a job he really didn’t need and he’s still not what one would call an easy compromiser.
“Picky” is part of Polk’s longtime advertising slogan.
But in a place where folks talk about the legislative process in terms of people “not liking to see how the sausage is made” in subcommittee and committee process, in the avalanche of pressure from lobbyists and special interests, and in the final analysis when some compromises actually prove necessary, Polk seems to shrug his shoulders and say “bring it on.”
Seems this ardent University of Southern Mississippi alum is one senator who saw a lot of sausage made before he arrived at the Capitol and isn’t averse to getting elbow deep in it again when necessary in the legislative process.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Salter is chief spokesman for Mississippi State University.