In my almost two decades of watching and listening to fiery speeches made in and out of Mississippi’s legislative chambers, Wendell Hobdy “Hob” Bryan’s eloquence on tough issues remains the most memorable.
Sen. Bryan, a graduate of Mississippi State and the University of Virginia Law School, has been in the Legislature since 1984, representing Monroe County and parts of others. He’s known for taking stands against the conservative Mississippi norm, in favor of the underdog’s position and for what he perceives as utter hokum in the handling of the state’s finances.
Any laundry list of legislative speech-making specialists who have tilled the same troubled ground as Bryan would have to include – during my time in that hallowed space – such verbal luminaries as these:
Reps. Billy McCoy of Rienzi, Ed Perry of Oxford, Steve Holland of Plantersville, Ed Blackmon of Canton, John Reeves of Jackson, Mark Formby of Picayune, Bo Eaton of Taylorsville, Frances Fredericks of Gulfport, Tommy Reynolds of Charleston, Willie Bailey of Greenville, Cecil Brown of Jackson, Robert Clark of Ebenezer, Jessica Upshaw of Diamondhead, Robert Johnson of Natchez, Joe Warren of Mount Olive, Herb Frierson of Poplarville, Tommy Horne of Meridian and Ted Mayhall of Southaven.
And Sens. Terry Brown of Columbus, Terry Burton of Newton, Tommy Dickerson of Waynesboro, Alice Harden of Jackson, John Horhn of Jackson, David Jordan of Greenwood, Ezell Lee of Picayune, Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo, Debbie Dawkins of Pass Christian and Willie Simmons of Cleveland. (The House outnumbers the Senate, 122-52.)
Seasoned followers of state government will be surprised at some of my choices. But, this compilation is strictly mine from sitting there, day after day for many years, listening to these archetypal orators operate in the cauldron that is state lawmaking.
Truth should always be present in these presentations, however, I’m mainly referring to the speechmaker who uses various delivery methods to make his or her case – begging, moaning, exhorting, screaming, shucking and praying with no shortage of amour propre – much like a warhorse Baptist evangelist might in a come-to-Jesus moment during a tent revival on a sweaty Mississippi summer night, all the while gripping the pulpit with both hands.
Bryan has utilized all those methods of persuasion in attempting to sway fellow solons to join his side of an argument. He’s convinced many to stand with him due to his customary vast knowledge of the myriad issues at hand, in much the tradition of former lawmaking stalwarts like Sen. Howard Dyer and Rep. H.L. “Sonny” Merideth Jr., both of Greenville, and Sen. Ellis Bodron of Vicksburg. Bryan also has cost his position some votes. That happens when you rail against prevailing ideology.
In a recent podcast engineered by “Mississippi Today” political reporters Bobby Harrison and Geoff Pender, Bryan expressed amazement over the Legislature’s recent vote to enact a state income tax cut equal to almost 35% of state revenues. Following are mere snippets of Bryan’s frustration over the $525 million tax cut by 2026:
“They managed to pass the worst, most devastating, long-lasting piece of legislation since I’ve been here … (They’ll) further doom us to mediocrity for a generation with this tax cut … they sold this bill of goods on the notion that we’re going to give the money back to the people and take it away from this mean old government … I’ve got news. You get highways, roads, bridges, water and sewer through the government … There’s no outcry in Mississippi for an income tax cut … It’s surreal … It’s laughable …”
For Bryan’s full take on the tax cut, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mac Gordon is a native of McComb. He is a retired newspaperman. He can be reached at email@example.com.