Columbus Republican Rep. Gary Chism, the dean of the Golden Triangle legislative delegation, is resigning, citing family medical issues.
Chism, first elected in 1999 and now in his 21st session in the House of Representatives, will officially retire on June 30, he said Tuesday. He said he notified House Speaker Philip Gunn and Gov. Tate Reeves of his decision on Monday.
“My wife has had some health issues and I really felt like I should be with her,” said Chism, who left the session on June 3 and does not plan to attend any more sessions before his retirement.
He battled through his own health issues in 2017 when he suffered from a major stroke. Although he ran successfully for re-election last year, he said he had already planned for it to be his final term.
“When I had my stroke, I started thinking about how I was going to wind down,” said Chism, 69. “It really wasn’t as fun being in the Legislature as it was before my stroke. It took a long time to get my medicine right after the stroke and that made the work a lot harder.”
Although he intended to serve out his four-year term, his wife’s medical issues convinced him he needed to step down.
“It wasn’t a hard decision,” he said.
Chism, who took pride in his reputation as a staunch conservative, got a taste of what it’s like to be in both the minority and majority. He said he much preferred the latter.
“Democrats were in control of the House for my first 12 years and we Republicans just got run over like it was a train,” he said. “All we could do was try to derail the train when we got the chance. In the House, you push a button to vote and a red light comes on when you vote ‘no’ and a green light comes on when you vote ‘yes.’ I just about wore out that red light, but there was plenty of green left over.”
For the past nine years, Chism and the Republicans have been in the majority.
“Anybody would tell you it’s better to be in the majority,” he said. “You really feel like you can get things done.”
He said his proudest moment in the House came early in his career with the passage of the 2004 Tort Reform Act, which created a $1 million cap on non-economic damages in civil lawsuits and a $500,000 cap on medical malpractice cases.
“At the time, Mississippi was called the Jackpot Justice state,” he said. “We might as well have had a billboard on the highway when you crossed the state line. As someone in the insurance business, I saw what it was doing, so I was proud to be involved in fixing that situation.”
Chism is the House Insurance Committee chairman and a member of six other committees, including Ways and Means.
Starkville Republican Rep. Rob Roberson, who was starting his first full term in the House when Chism arrived in the Legislature in 2000 and returned to the House in 2016, said Chism was someone who, though a fierce infighter on the issues, was cordial and well-liked.
“With Gary, when the debate on a bill was over, it was over,” Roberson said. “He was friendly, respectful to his colleagues. That was one of his best qualities, I think. He would fight for what he believed in, but it was never personal with Gary.”
Gov. Reeves will call a special election to fill Chism’s unfinished term.
“I don’t know what he’ll do, of course, but there’s a chance it could be part of the November general election,” Chism said.
Chism said he will continue to work part-time at his business, Columbus Insurance, as well as spend time with his wife.
“I don’t really have any big plans,” he said.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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