One of my longtime friends revels in the telling of a favorite political story about the day Tippah County Lake held a dedication ceremony in the early 1970’s. Tippah County Lake, of course, is an outstanding bass fishing lake located in northern Tippah County. It is managed and maintained by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Mississippi’s United States Senator, James O Eastland, had been chosen as the keynote speaker for the dedication celebration. My old friend and two other cohorts of the Senator met him at the Corinth airport and drove him the forty some odd miles to the lake and the awaiting dignitaries and crowd assembled for the dedication. These four gentlemen had all played an oversized roll in the election of Governor Bill Waller the previous year. Most political observers at the time attributed the Eastland endorsement, and the unleashing of his vast political organization, as the primary reason for Waller’s success at the polls. In fact, one leading state newspaper reported the election results with a headline succinctly declaring, “Eastland elects a Governor.”
As the group ushering Senator Eastland approached the entrance to Tippah County Lake, the Senator abruptly and emphatically roared, “stop the car.” “Boys, that looks like Buck Tatum over there pushing that lawn mower on the levy?” Eastland asked incredulously.
The men in the car affirmed that it was, indeed, Buck Tatum. They went on to explain that Governor Waller had asked Buck to resign so that he could be replaced by a younger man with a degree in wildlife biology, but was allowing him to stay on the job until he was eligible to collect his retirement. They went on to explain that the well known and respected Buck Tatum was now assigned a job as a maintenance employee at Tippah County Lake, which allowed him to stay close to his home and vast land holdings in Tippah County. Buck Tatum had held various top jobs with the old game and fish commission and had been instrumental in developing laws governing wildlife management for well over twenty years. He was also the most recognized sportsman/outdoorsman in the state at that time .
Senator Eastland listened intently, took a deep breath, removed his ever-present cigar, and after a long, perplexed pause exclaimed, “Boys, we’ve elected an idiot Governor!”
Off course the Senator’s judgment may have been a bit premature, because Governor Waller went on to have a successful term as Governor, and was among the south’s first so-called “new south“ governors. He did much to heal the long held racial divides in the state and improve the state’s image in the rest of the world. Likewise, Buck Tatum, who was like family to me, went on to become CEO and chairman of the board of the Bank of Falkner, and continued to be a force in state politics and public policy.
Almost fifty years later, this lighthearted, amusing tale begs the question the famously blunt Senator Eastland pronounced. Have we “elected an idiot Governor?”
Bless his heart. Governor Tate Reeves tries, but, more often than not, gets it wrong. In the midst of the world’s worst pandemic in over 100 years he seems mystified and confused. First, he has to be badgered and goaded by public health experts to act at all. Then, he offers a confusing and conflicting hodgepodge of executive orders. And worst of all, now that vaccinations are becoming more accessible, and we are approaching a time when we can at last have some hope of containing COVID-19, he ignores what we all know works and impulsively removes mask mandates. This rash move has caused leading public health officials to label the decision “inexplicable“ and “incredibly dangerous.”
Removing the mask mandate has all the wisdom of one who has suffered with fever and a serious bout with a common cold and, just as recovery is in sight, decides to take a long, leisurely stroll, butt-naked in the freezing rain. “Inexplicable,“ indeed.
Mississippi voters will decide the question of whether or not “we’ve elected an idiot Governor“ in a couple more years. I answered that question for myself months ago, and, apparently, so have a majority of Mississippi voters. Recent polling puts Governor Reeves’ approval ratings at a paltry 32 percent. One can only assume that’s the same 32 present who believe wrestling is real, the moon landing was fake, and Donald Trump won the Election!
–Steve PattersonGov. William Waller, Governor Tate Reeves, James Eastland, MS Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks (WPF), MS politics, Northeast MS news