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Gov. Perry the 'smarty pants candidate'

Mac Gordon

Mac Gordon

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is being characterized in various ways by myriad pundits as his presidential campaign begins, but to me he's the "smarty pants candidate."

That's because when he delivered his first inauguration speech as Texas' governor in 2001, he included this phrase: "I don't want Texas to be the next Mississippi," or some such.

That went over real well in Jackson, the state capital, and throughout the Magnolia State where hospitality -- and, yes, much poverty -- persists. Of course, it wasn't the first time some jackass had uttered that phrase, and it likely won't be the last.

My boss at the time, Speaker Tim Ford of the Mississippi House of Representatives, quickly fired off a blistering retort to the Perry administration (on his own and at my prodding as his PR guy), wherein he singled out many positive virtues of Mississippi.

Ford told how Mississippi had made much progress in race relations, public education and economic development in recent years. The honorable speaker also made sure Perry and all Texans understood that Mississippi is generally recognized as the state that has produced more outstanding writers (William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, John Grisham, Willie Morris, Richard Wright, Greg Iles, among dozens of others) than any other state in this Union. I don't think Ford used this line but he could have: "Maybe we can't read in Mississippi, but we sure can write."

He also directed attention to such pop culture stars from Mississippi as Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll; Robert Johnson, who introduced Delta blues to the world, and B.B.King, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, who nurtured it; Jimmie Rodgers, the "Singing Brakeman" from Meridian considered by many as the father of country music; Metropolitan Opera soprano Leontyne Price; and such other musical luminaries as Bo Diddley, Charley Pride, Tammy Wynette, Little Milton, Little Jimmy Reed, Faith Hill, Conway Twitty, Mose Allison, Guy Hovis, Jimmy Buffett, Ike Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, Marty Stuart and, look, I could go on and on for days about this!

Ford also likely intoned the name of Jerry Clower, the renowned and beloved country comedian from my neck of the woods in Southwest Mississippi. I know Ford told Smarty Pants Perry that the University of Mississippi Medical Center was an early pioneer of heart transplant surgery and that a leading researcher there was Dr. Arthur C. Guyton, whose Textbook of Medical Physiology is a staple in medical schools around the world.

Perry got the point. He was excoriated by the Dallas Morning News for uttering the silly remark about Mississippi, and Texas' leading newspaper also pointed out numerous ways in which Texas actually trailed Mississippi.

Perry stumbled all over himself apologizing to Mississippi. But we didn't forget it. And still haven't.

Perry is the new darling of the Religious Right, Right, Right. I won't question his faith. He even recently issued an official proclamation urging a three-day period of prayer for rain in drought-stricken Texas. The New York Times reported that in one recent Perry speech, he equated public office with the ministry.

Whatever he says on the campaign trail, I'll bet you this: He won't mention Mississippi.

Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely and writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald.