Nine years ago, during Delbert Hosemann’s first campaign for Mississippi Secretary of State, the only thing that stuck with most Mississippians outside of Hosemann’s hometown of Vicksburg was his unusual name.
In what can now be viewed as a bit of foreshadowing, Hosemann used even that to his advantage. A campaign ad featured Hosemann sitting on a park bench next to an elderly stranger who was struggling with the candidate’s name (“Wilbert? Herbert? Elbert?) and Hosemann gently correcting her, “No ma’am, it’s Delbert.”
Tuesday, Hosemann, now in his third term as secretary of state, was the guest speaker at the Columbus Rotary Club at Lion Hills Center. That TV ad, he said, won the election.
Since then, he’s made a name for himself in other ways — not only through his dedication to public service, but through his easy manner and spirit of collegiality.
Those traits are hard to find in state and national government these days. It’s like trying to find a “Delbert” in a room full of Phillips, Gregs and Jeffs.
In Mississippi, the Republican Party entered this year’s legislative session with its first super-majority and those in GOP leadership have used it like a bludgeon. The Democratic minority, hoping to maintain some semblance of relevance, has fought back with the only weapon at their disposal, the rules which can be manipulated to stall, disrupt or delay.
The end result has been a session dominated by petty bickering, boorish behavior and juvenile conduct that dishonors the Legislature and, by extension, the people of our state.
Standing in stark contrast to it all is Hosemann, who seems to cherish the idea of partisanship at a time when cooperation between the parties is considered almost treasonous.
Tuesday, Hosemann used his time to talk about two projects he and his staff have been working on.
The first was rewriting the election code for the state, a sweeping 400-page overhaul that is now working its way through the prickly, partisan legislature.
As is his style, Hosemann included a wide range of people to help put together the package, including former Lowndes County circuit clerk Haley Salazar and others with experience in running elections.
When that reform package went to the House floor, both Republicans and Democrats spoke in favor of the reform and when the vote was taken it produced a truly remarkable outcome in the bitterly divided House.
“The vote was 120-0 in favor,” Hosemann told the Rotarians. “How did that happen? It happened because we trust each other. It showed we are doing things right. We are treating each other as we should.”
For those who fear that government is simply too partisan to work, Hosemann provides an example from which we can draw hope. It did not happen by accident. More likely, the outcome is a testament to Hosemann’s commitment to public service over partisan politics and his fairness. In a word, he is that rarest of commodities in Mississippi politics: A leader.
That quality was also evident in the second project he discussed Tuesday — Y’all Business, an online data base to help promote business and jobs in the state. This was Hosemann’s baby from the start, born not by ideology but from a practical assessment of what is needed to move the state forward. The website can be found at YallBusiness.sos.ms.gov.
The interactive website, three years in the making at a modest cost of $50,000, provides an almost endless supply of relevant data to those who are planning to open or expand their small businesses throughout the state.
“Fifty-to-60 percent of all of jobs in the state come from small businesses,” Hosemann said. “Our people have always been known as hard workers. We need to make sure we are not only hard workers, but competitive hard workers and that relies on information. That’s the purpose of this website.”
At the end of his talk, Hosemann fielded some question.
One Rotarian asked Hosemann what he considered to be the most important issue facing the state.
He did not hesitate.
“Early childhood education, no doubt about it,” he said. “We’re going to get to work on that soon.”
He said it with a forcefulness that left no doubt about his commitment.
Given his track record, you can expect Hosemann to deliver a plan that works.
While the rest of our state government seems content to pander, play its political games and achieve nothing, Hosemann rolls up his sleeves, works and solves problems.
How unusual is that?
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]