JACKSON — An episode that happened in the late 1990s when Terry Brown still served in the House speaks volumes about the Senate president pro-tem who died Thursday night after a nearly year-long bout with cancer.
Brown will be remembered as a big man with a jovial nature and ultra conservative politics.
Brown, R-Columbus, who had a long political career, perhaps reached his legislative zenith by being elected as president pro-tem of the Senate for the current term in 2012. In that position, he presided over the Senate in the absence of the lieutenant governor and oversaw the management of the Senate staff.
But he had a major impact much earlier in his legislative career as a member of the House.
In the late 1990s, then-Gov. Kirk Fordice, Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Speaker Tim Ford held a rare joint news conference to announce their support for a massive project that would include below ground offices on the Capitol grounds and a host of other significant improvements to the Capitol complex.
Then-House Ways and Means Chair Charlie Williams and then-Senate Finance Chair Hob Bryan also were on board. Bryan, D-Amory, played a key role in developing the project that was praised far and wide for not only its aesthetics, but its practicality.
Bryan said it would be the type project that would last for multiple generations and have a lasting impression on the state — much like the original Capitol that was opened in 1903. Its functionality would last not decades, but centuries.
The conservative Republican Fordice liked the project. It looked like a go with both Williams and Bryan, the two key committee chairs, in support.
The only problem is that legislation such as that is normally by general rule referred to two committees in each chamber — the money committee, Finance in the Senate and Ways and Means in the House — and the Public Building committees.
In the House, Brown chaired Public Buildings, Lands and Grounds. He did not like the project, saying it was too big and costly.
He killed it even though it had the support of the legislative leadership and a fellow conservative Republican in Fordice.
Later, Bryan developed a scaled-down project that included essentially the construction of a new Gartin Justice Building, Sillers Building renovations, and perhaps most important, the replacement of the long swath of horrible-looking concrete land between Gartin and Sillers with a green area.
The thing about Terry Brown is that he was who he was. He was comfortable in his skin, and even though his politics were staunchly conservative, he was viewed favorably by nearly all the Senate members of varying political persuasions as their leader.
Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton received national attention recently on cable news channel MSNBC, which identified the first-term elected official as one of four rising stars to watch in state politics.
The left-leaning cable news network mentioned the Democratic mayor as part of on-going continues political profiles of all 50 states, devoting a week to one or two. Morning program The Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd featured Mississippi’s “rising stars” on the Friday broadcast, appearing online today.
“He’s credited with showing strong leadership in both crises,” the MSNBC program host said of Shelton.
A producer for the show said journalists from throughout the state (including myself) and the cable channel’s own research helped determine politicians to feature. Other Mississippi political leaders featured are Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber, state Treasurer Lynn Fitch and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
The mayor winning in July 2013 began his first time to serve in elected office and changed a longtime trend of Republicans serving in the position. He’s the first Democratic mayor elected in Northeast Mississippi’s largest city in 28 years.
“It’s flattering to be recognized,” Shelton said Monday. “But the thought of us doing a great job is the result of a great team, not any one person.”
Relatively frequently supporters encourage Shelton to consider seeking a higher office. The Democrat with a libertarian side has emphasized fiscal conservatism during his relatively short time as mayor. Even supporters of his Republican opponent have said the attorney has impressed with his willingness to work with others.
As for the Tupelo mayor’s political future, he seemed open to a higher office when asked but likely not this decade.
“Certainly not at the moment,” Shelton said. “I plan on running for reelection in Tupelo in 2017.”
See the video segment below, which turns to Mississippi politics at the 54 second mark. Click here to view a Daily Journal interview with Shelton to discuss his first year in office.
Biggest news nearly two hours and 15 minutes into Tupelo City Council’s first of two work sessions for fiscal year 2015 budget:
This proposed budget balanced* and involves no tax increase. The asterisk means the city will have the first budget budgeted surplus since fy2008.
Other big news: tone, personnel salaries and city attorney position.
Tupelo City Council Mike Bryan after the e-cigarette ban failed to gain enough votes to even discuss the issue.
And then Mayor Jason Shelton addressed the 30 or so attendees interested in the proposed e-cigarette public ban.
Add questionable academic achievement to Democratic nominee Ron Dickey’s list of dubious claims.
Grand Canyon University’s alumni organization offered little support to back the Horn Lake resident earning a bachelor’s degree in emergency management.
This new information follows public statements less than a week ago clarifying he wore a green beret during his three years in the Army but never served in the elite special forces group.
Nick Knudson, GCU alumni events and promotions manager, confirmed Dickey’s attendance at the university for two years. However, the university’s records showed no one with Dickey’s name with a diploma from the institution.
“We did our research and are unable to confirm his graduation status,” Knudson told me Monday.
Mississippi Democratic Party chairman Rickey Cole said Dickey has an expectation of honesty when sharing biographical information with the public.
“We repudiate any dishonest or misleading statements made as part of any Democratic candidate’s campaign,” Cole said Monday evening. “We expect Democratic nominees to stick to the facts.”
The first-time political candidate seeking to unseat incumbent 1st District U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee seemed aggravated by my call Saturday and would not discuss questions of his academic background when I called his cell phone Monday evening. He insisted on answering questions by email, assuring a reply immediately after receiving it.
He responded after midnight but didn’t provide any answers to the questions:
For questions 1,2, and 3 I will need time to get this information. I will not be able to meet your Tuesday deadline I have a seminar to attend in Jackson Ms. Question 4 and 5 will be included with 1,2,3, I need to get the times and dates for the questions.
The Army food specialist also claims status as an Operation Desert Storm veteran, although military records show Dickey assigned to Korea and Fort Bragg, North Carolina during his service overlapping with the military conflict.
Veteran and law professor Michael I Spak with the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Ken College of Law said the legal term “puffing” describes Dickey’s behavior of over-exaggerating his credentials, such as listing the National Defense Medal as among his accolades.
“Notice that unmentioned is the fact that EVERY SINGLE service person who served during this period is authorized to wear this medal. (I.e., NOBODY didn’t get it,” Spak stated in an email. “Isn’t America a great country?”
First District Congressional candidate Flemron “Ron” Earl Dickey of Horn Lake made clear this morning he didn’t appreciate this reporter questioning him on the weekend about his 2012 felony bad check arrest, especially after I called two days ago about misrepresentation of his military record and on-going bankruptcy case.
First, you can click here to read my Friday piece about Dickey’s bankruptcy and “clarification” of literally wearing a green beret during his military service as a cook, not actually serving in the elite special forces group many civilians identify as Green Berets.
I learned this morning of Dickey’s Jan. 4, 2012 felony bad check arrest in DeSoto County and felt obligated to ask for his explanation. His tone and volume of his voice sounded quite different from our Thursday conversation.
He didn’t appreciate my questions or seem to believe journalists should call about his political campaign to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, Republican, of Tupelo.
“You didn’t ask me any questions when I first announced I was running because my life or campaign wasn’t interesting enough for you,” Dickey said. “You’re not going to treat me like a little boy on a street corner wanting to ask me anything.”
I asked if he planned to restrict reporters’ calls if elected to Congress.
“That’s not what I said,” Dickey responded. “You’re not going to twist my words around.”
In short, Dickey did not provide any substantive insight related to his bad check arrest. Expect more information as I continue reporting on Dickey’s campaign.
See my notes from the seven minute conversation between Dickey and me.
Robbie: Mr. Dickey?
Robbie: This is Robbie Ward with the Daily Journal in Tupelo. I want to speak with you for just a moment.
Dickey: All right.
Robbie: I want to ask about your 2012 felony arrest for bad checks.
Dickey: I talked to you more than kindly the other day and even offered you an exclusive interview, but you just wanted to ask about you wanted to ask about. You’re not going to keep calling me on the spur of the moment asking questions. I’ve been more fair with you and won’t answer any more of your questions. This is Saturday and I have a bunch of things to do. I need to get with my aides and schedule an interview with you.
Robbie: But do you have a just a moment to discuss your arrest?
Dickey: You’re not going to keep calling me whenever you feel like it just to ask me a question.
Robbie: I have the document from the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department.
Dickey: Keep looking in all of the records you want to look at. You’re calling me now two times in the last three days. You didn’t ask me any questions when I first announced I was running because my life or campaign wasn’t interesting enough for you. You’re not going to treat me like a little boy on a street corner wanting to ask me anything.
I saw what you printed (see link above), I don’t have a problem with it.
I do have a class reunion today. Can you pay me the respect I deserve as a Congressional candidate and not call me. I offered you an exclusive interview the other day but you said it wasn’t economical. (I actually said geography was the issue since he wanted to meet in person that day or at some point within the next month. I was on deadline for another story and couldn’t drive to Horn Lake.) What’s the problem now? Are you going to come to me?
Robbie: Are you going to this area anytime soon?
Dickey: I’ve been in Tupelo already. Are you going to come to me?
Robbie: When can we meet?
Dickey: I’ll have to get with me aides and schedule a time. I’ll get back with you on Monday.
Robbie: All right. Have a good weekend.
Dickey: You too.
Retired Army Special Forces soldiers from throughout the country continue to criticize Congressional candidate Ron Dickey’s claims as a “green beret” veteran intentionally deceptive.
News reports announcing Horn Lake resident Dickey qualified to run in the Democratic primary in the First
Congressional District identified Dickey as a former “green beret,” a description he and supporters have used until recent days. Prior to days ago, Dickey’s Facebook page for his Congressional campaign identified him as a green beret veteran. He identified as a “cook” in the military as recent as a day ago.
Dickey’s entire Facebook page for his political campaign has disappeared. Screen shots and social media page and his military record documents have not.
Reached on his cell phone Thursday, Dickey didn’t want to discuss the issue but relented after 15 minutes or so.
“It was a generalized statement that was made in my bio,” he said. “This is just something I need to clarify.”
To clarify, Dickey literally did receive a green beret but never served in the elite special forces group many civilians associate with the headgear. Dickey faces incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee and two other candidates in the November general election.
Retired Sgt. Maj. George Davenport served in the same 3rd Special Forces Company as Dickey, which included about 1,500 soliders at the time. Davenport and many other special forces soldiers make a solid distinction between the elite special forces and support staff such as cooks, mechanics and others who assisted but didn’t serve in the same role.
“He was very clever in his way of making his claim in the way the normal public wouldn’t pick up on it,” Davenport said. “I think it’s intentional deception.”
Dickey’s identification as a “Green Beret” veteran incensed members of the Facebook group, Special Forces Posers Patrol, which identifies people who incorrectly identify themselves as members of the elite fighting group. All retired special forces soldiers who discussed this with me live outside of Mississippi and can’t vote in the November general election. However, none said he would have their vote.
Tim Guth, an attorney in Wisconsin and former special forces soldier, said Dickey’s statements transcend an inaccurate phrase needing clarification.
“It’s not a misunderstanding,” Guth said. “He knew what he was doing.”
Dickey seems to have more than issues with Green Beret status. His background information previously posted online showed him as serving in Desert Storm, something not reflected in his official military records. He served in Korea during the Persian Gulf war.
William “Robb” Jewell of Houston, Texas, a former Army cook who served special forces soldiers in Desert Storm believes the inexperienced politician would never have received the avalanche of special forces veterans disputing the Mississippian’s military record.
“He’s getting what he deserves,” Jewell said.
Dickey said he plans to remain on the general election ballot, a decision supported by Mississippi Democratic Party chairman Rickey Cole.
“I think the most important thing is he did serve and was honorably discharged,” Cole said Thursday.
UPDATE: Dickey also has a pending federal chapter 13 bankruptcy case that began in 2010. He said Thursday prior to seeking office he checked to ensure federal law didn’t prohibit anyone with severe financial issues from serving in Congress.
Among the financial issues, Dickey said knee surgery prevented him from working as a truck driver. Federal court filings show his debt as up to $50,000.
The Democrat tried to stay optimistic while discussing his financial woes. He said people with high- and low-earning incomes can relate to money problems and hopes positions on health care, minimum wage and income inequality will win voters’ support in November.
“I’ve been described as the poor man’s candidate,” he said.
For what it’s worth, Dickey isn’t the first politician with money problems and likely won’t be the last.
UPDATE: See Dickey’s military and bankruptcy records below.
Jason Shelton‘s first year as mayor of Tupelo included violent shootings of law enforcement officers, a destructive tornado leaving behind millions of dollars in residential and property damage, encouraging recovery efforts and even finding ways to manage day-to-day local government functions.
The first-time elected official and first Democrat elected as Tupelo’s top executive in three decades spent time this week reflecting with Daily Journal politics and government reporter Robbie Ward. Not stuck too much in the past, Shelton also shared plans looking toward his second year including the upcoming budget process, consideration of public transportation, neighborhood redevelopment efforts and more.
Interested in Tupelo’s public transportation efforts? Ward 4 councilwoman Nettie Davis said the idea isn’t dead. Click here for the latest.
And what about Ward 6 councilman Mike Bryan? Find out here.
Comment below with your thoughts and questions.