*Each day's House Business is provided in the hyperlinks below.
DAY 1, Sunday, January 3rd
After much deliberation in the previous months, and after many number crunching sessions, I decided to purchase a used travel trailer to live in (as my home away from home) while serving down in Jackson. Hotel, apartment, room for rent, and cardboard box were some of the many options that I had. But with each of those options, except the last one, I would be spending almost my entire per diem and ultimately having nothing to show for it at the end of my term. Once all 7 of the Desoto County Reps arrived at the same decision, it became not only the most fiscally sound decision I felt that I could have made, but one of the most productive. For you see, we would not only be proximal neighbors at home in Desoto County, but actual real ones in Jackson while serving our districts. This would afford us accountability while away from our wives/husband and families, as well as a greater sense of comaraderie and collaboration in getting things done. It was a no brainer. Also, my wife and I have always wanted a travel trailer but couldn't justify the expens...and now we had a real reason to incur it.
Sunday after church, we loaded up for the 3 hour drive to Jackson, to the fair grounds only a couple miles from the capital. My brother graciously loaned me his duley to pull it down as my wife chased in her car. Eli got to stay with grandma's. It was an uneventful drive and we arrived at our destination about 8:30 PM. I backed in next to Steve Hopkins' (Rep for District 7) trailer, and began the process of dropping the trailer and hooking everything up. It was cold!
DAY 2, Monday, January 4th
Corey and I got up and went to breakfast with Steve Hopkins at Cracker Barrel. Then we were off to buy all of the needed supplies and groceries for my new home away from home. In the evening we headed to Secretary of State Delbert Hoseman's house for a legislator's party. They have a beautiful home, and were very gracious hosts. Each January, at the beginning of the legislative process, they have a party welcoming all of the legislators back to the capital.
This evening began what I am sure will prove to be an almost endless series of events and
outings meant for networking and getting to know folks. Having met so many people in the last year, my brain is a bit overwhelmed with all of the tasks that lay before me. You see, its not only names now that I must learn and memorize, but the counties they represent. Its not very hard to recognize the Secretary or Governor, but almost 200 legislators all coming at you fast and furious...well, it can feel a little overwhelming. I can only imagine what it must be like for any person that may get elected and is either an introvert or maximizing introvert. In this job, you must meet, get to know, and develop report with so many people. If one ever hopes to effectively make and pass meaningful legislation, relationships are critical. It is a networkers dream, and an introvert's nightmare. Mix in with all the networking, the manual that I am reading to learn about House Rules, Regulations, and Operating Procedure (all of which sounds like lawyer speak), and it can all be a lot to take in.
DAY 3, Tuesday, January 5th (THE BIG DAY)
My brother David and sister-in-law Tara, bought me my first ever tailored suit from Joseph A Banks a few weeks earlier for my swearing in. I was so proud to put it on and head into the capital this morning. I have had to purchase many new dress clothes over the past new year, but this suit will always remain my favorite for a variety of reasons. My attire for the past decade (other than Sundays at church which was usually business casual attire), consisted mostly of jeans, shorts, t-shirts, and tennis shoes. When working with youth, you wear what they wear. What suits I did have, quit fitting me some fifteen pounds and 10 years ago. This has proven to be one of the bigger
adjustments that I have had to face with my newly elected position. I think its really only the ties and dress shoes that give me the most discomfort, but I gladly wear them so that I might honor the office and represent my constituents well. On a side note, my neck wasn't too happy with a new shirt and tie by the end of this long day.
I headed off to the capital at 10 am. There was a Republican Caucus meeting (gathering of all the Republican Representatives), to determine who would be our nominees for the Rules and Management Committees. These are the first two committees that are established before anything else in the House or Senate. Both sides elect these committees. The Rules Committee sets the rules and procedures that will govern operations. The Management Committee oversees all the business aspects of the House (employees, staff, legal services, per diems, you get the point). These two committees are the only two that are peer chosen. For all of the other committees, it is the Speaker of the House who chooses what committees each Representative will serve on (Democrat and Republican), as well as who will chair each committee (most always someone with seniority). But for Rules and Management, it is determined by peers. Everyone splits into their respective Congressional House Districts (of which Mississippi has 4, and Desoto County is in Congressional District 1). There we make nominations from within and vote by ballot. We (the Desoto Caucus) attempted to get one of our fellow freshman, Representative Robert Foster (District 28), elected to the Rules committee but were unsuccessful.
After the meeting we freshmen were given our lapel pins by the speaker. I felt like a kid at Christmas. I don't know why I was so excited about it, maybe because it was starting to feel official...and who doesn't like a gold lapel pin?
At noon, we were off to the House floor. We sat in our predecessors desks. My wife, son,
mom, dad, and brother David came down on the floor and stood
around my desk for the swearing in. The room and upper galleries were completely packed. It was also such an awesome thing to see so many of our Desoto County Conservative Coalition folks in both of the galleries.
We began with a color guard, the pledge, the national anthem, and then a prayer. I felt myself holding back tears during the national anthem, and couldn't shake the feelings of how humbled and blessed I was to be standing and doing the very thing that our democratic process intended and established. So many hopes and dreams that were cast and fulfilled in this great nation, and so many people who paid a price having never seen it fully materialize.
The Secretary of State led the proceedings and swore all of us in. It was such a surreal moment. From there we dove straight into business. We took nominations for temporary Speaker of the House, voted by acclamation (voice), who then took over the proceedings, nominations, and election of the Speaker and the Speaker Pro Tempore (the one who acts in place of the Speaker when he is not available). From there they were sworn in by the Secretary, and each were given time for a speech. Speaker Philip Gunn's speech was particularly heartfelt, emotional, and very reverent.
I've had many an opportunity to speak with the Speaker at length. Since the primaries back in August, I have had dinner with him three times, and feel compelled to say this on his behalf; he is a true man of faith, full of integrity, and I am so very honored to serve under him in the house. I know that there are many who do not like him because of the stance he has taken on our state's flag, but I remind everyone that that is only his view and opinion. Everyone should be entitled to have an opinion, and no two people will agree on everything. He has stated that as a Christian, he felt the obligation to change it because he feels it offends many of his brothers. So regardless of whether his opinion conflicts with mine or yours, it does not change the value of the man. He was elected unanimously...even by the democrats. That should say something about the man. I think Mississippi's House will be in good hands these next four years under his direction.
We had a small break to see our families out, and that's when I bumped into the Desoto Times reporter Robert Long. He asked me a few questions, and I was actually quoted in the next mornings paper. You can read it here: http://m.desototimes.com/news/a-new-start-at-the-capitol/article_c0ec80f8-b4dd-11e5-afc2-a3eafad6c71c.html
After reconvening, we broke to our congressional districts, this time to include the democrats. There we took nominations and voted for two members each for both the Rules and Management committees. I don't know how the other congressional districts went, but the democrats offered no nominees, and no dissent to the republican nominations for either of the positions. We were in and out in about 10 minutes, and back to the house floor.
There we voted to approve the entire Rules and Management committees, and then moved on to desk and parking assignments. This was a long drawn out process where those with the most seniority picked first. Each class draws a number, and then picks his or her desk in that order. What this usually means, it that by the time we freshmen get to pick, the open seats are scattered all over the House floor. We Desoto County reps had hoped to sit next to each other, but with the exception of Bill Kinkade (District 52) and Jeff Hale (District 24), it didn't happen. Parking worked pretty much the same way. I got a spot almost exactly where my predecessor parked, who when he picked was also a freshman...imagine that. I like the spot though, while not real close, it is in front of the Capital Steps and is very pretty place under a tree.
When this process wrapped up, we adjourned for the day around 4:45 PM. I was absolutely starving, having had no lunch, and was headed off from there to the Governor's Mansion for a freshmen meet and greet. My sweet wife showed up with coffee and a muffin, after she had seen the rest of the family off back to Desoto County.
Corey and I headed off to the Governor's Mansion from the Capital. Neither one of us had ever been in it, and she had never even seen it from the outside. Of course all of the "What do you think of our future house?" comments had to come out. It was very beautiful and majestic. Governor Bryant, Lt. Governor
Reeves, and Speaker Gunn were all there to welcome and encourage us. More networking. We Representatives were given gifts made by one of the Governor's staff who was also a former State Rep. We all got "Poking" sticks! What is a "Poking" Stick? Well, while the chairs that we sit in look very comfortable, I will assure you that they are not. Apart from their massive bulkiness, there is no lumbar support, and your bottom continually slides forward. Some of the reps flip their bottom cushions over so that they are sitting on the fabric side in order to keep their butt's planted. To reach your voting buttons, you must climb out of your chair and across your desk and push the appropriate button... hence the need for a "Pokey" stick. With your stick, you can reach your buttons without abandoning your precarious perch in your chair. It also doubles as a weapon or sword for anyone who still possess an inner 10 year old boy...which I do.
The food at the mansion was fabulous, and as folks eventually drifted out to one of the other three receptions going on in the city that evening, Corey and I held back and got to know the Governors wife. She took us on a personal tour of the entire mansion including their living quarters in the upper back. We even went outside and got a tour of the "Man Cave." What a precious time, and fabulous honor it was.
From there we headed over to the Hilton for the Mississippi Supervisors Reception. There we ate again, and spent time with Mark Gardner, Michael Lee, and Lee Caldwell (three of Desoto County's Supervisors).
When Corey and I left, we were physically drained and mentally exhausted. Meeting new people at every turn can take a toll. So many firsts. What a day! But we decided to keep it going a little longer and make use of the fact that Eli was back home with grandma. Star Wars in 3D was awesome!
DAY 4, Wednesday, January 6th
Got up and headed to a meeting with the Mississippi Association of Educators. Over lunch with some of my fellow Desoto County Reps, we learned about their accomplishments and legislative agenda for
this next year. After this meeting, those of us who are staying in the "Trailer Village" on the fair grounds, met with Cindy Hyde-Smith our Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce. We met with her staff and the fairgrounds staff. There we headed in to the House Floor, checked in, and took care of some general business.
It was the first time that I officially got to push the button on my desk. It was only to show myself present, but it was awesome! Funny how something so simple, felt so special. After we adjourned some of the other Desoto Reps and I went and got our official ID's and keycards. When you can get into any door of the capital, at any time of day, that's when it starts setting in that your official.
The evening's event was the Mississippi Gulf Coast Legislative Reception, attended by many folks including Desoto County's Supervisors that were still in town for their conference. It was a great evening of food from many gulf coast restaurants, chefs, and venders...done in sort of a Mardi Gras theme.
Day 5, Thursday, January 7th
My wife, Corey, headed back home early this morning to pick up our son and to work one of my shifts at the church. I signed on to co-sponsor a Bill that Representative Steve Hopkins has put together that would cease to charge for the first five death certificates for any veteran. They took care of us in this country by helping preserve our freedom, and it would be an absolute shame that any charge would be made for a needed death certificate when they pass. Anyone who has been through the death of a loved one (veteran or not) knows that there are many things that require an official death certificate (insurance, social security, etc.) This bill would allow a surviving spouse or family member to get up to five certificates free of charge.
For lunch, a group of us went to eat with the governmental affairs folks at Butler Snow. After lunch the House convened for some business and to conduct the swearing in of all of the State level positions (except the position of Governor). After we adjourned I headed back to my trailer to work on a few Bills that I plan to submit this session.
DAY 6, Friday, January 8th
The house convened at 9am, took care of necessary business, and then adjourned until Monday. I spent the rest of the morning in House Legislative Services working on the Bills I want to author with one of our lawyers. More on those later. One of the things that I was so thrilled about was that the house employs a staff of lawyers and proof readers to assist Representatives in conducting research as well as drafting bills. They are absolutely invaluable to the process, especially since there seems to be no cliff notes on authoring a bill in Mississippi. There are so many things that can kill a bill before it ever sees the light of day. If it is not in the right format, or conflicts with any previous codes or laws, it will die almost instantly. After finishing up there, I packed up and headed home to see my family. Wow, what a week!