If we are fortunate, we have the opportunity to be led by individuals who give of themselves to have meaningful impact on their communities. There are those, however, who manage to stand out, not merely by force of personality, but through a dedication to task and devotion to principle, as an example of what self-sacrifice and persistence can bring.
It is an easy thing to laud one’s public accomplishments, yet it is a another to witness the private contemplations and participate in the unseen toil that prefaces those material decisions affecting public policy. And while there are people in this world who increasingly embrace a disposition that every difference of opinion is a declaration of war, there are, fortunately, many more who hold the notion that these same differences, if taken into civil consideration, can yield better outcomes for all concerned.
Gov. Phil Bryant is one of those rare individuals whose steadfastness in the midst of today’s political whirlwinds, has made him a man for our time.
As USM alums (he’s much older), our paths crossed early in our careers as members of the Jaycees (Junior Chamber of Commerce), a civic organization for young professionals, stressing the importance of community service, the promotion of free enterprise, and the significance of faith in our lives. (If you ever are in need of a document that provides essential guiding principles, check out The Jaycee Creed.) These doctrines came into sharper focus when we were both elected in 1991 to the legislature. Recognizing Rep. Bryant’s leadership potential and personal philosophy, Gov. Fordice appointed Bryant as State Auditor, where he served from 1996-2008. Although he began his public service in the House of Representatives, as a newly minted Lt. Governor in 2008, Phil was not bound by the institutional processes and traditions at 400 High Street, and with his election, brought a fresh perspective to the legislative process. As a result, he approached work at the Capitol with a different mindset, leveraging his cordial personality in building relationships, and forging an effective team to implement conservative policy measures.
While he’s a little bit country, and I’m a little bit rock & roll, our personal and management styles proved a good fit. Having had the privilege of working closely with Bryant, as Senate President Pro Tempore, I was able to witness the behind-the-scenes commitment and balance he brought to conducting the affairs of our State. For anyone spending time with our Governor, it is clear that he possesses a character that reflects strong conviction, professional conduct, and a consistent demeanor. Embracing transparency, new technologies, a tireless work ethic, moral leadership, and compassionate humor to the job, Mississippi witnessed the emergence and growth of a politician with good instincts and reasonable speaking skills, into one of the most accomplished orators in our history who clearly had a keen grasp on the demands of his constituents.
Phil not only had a gift for arranging policy priorities, but displayed considerable foresight, patience, and willingness to adapt in wading through the myriad requests from Gov. Barbour, legislators, other Executive and Judicial Branch officials, and most importantly, Mississippians. If anyone was prepared to take on the mantle of Governor in 2012, it was Phil Bryant. It is no surprise that Mississippi recognized this fact, too.
As Governor, the hallmarks of Bryant’s career are too numerous to list, but he will be remembered for his strong fiscal management and job creation through significant economic development projects and passage of tort reform measures, as well as championing religious liberty and the rights of the unborn. We should definitely mention his passion for our military veterans through countless philanthropic Harley rides across the Magnolia State! Phil was universal in responding to all segments of our population, and he showed particular care to South Mississippi. Some of this was thrust upon him in the continuing coastal recovery following Hurricane Katrina and damages resulting from the BP oil spill, but he had the foresight to put unprecedented measures, procedures, and committees in place to sift through the mountains of policy regulations that came with implementing results. Gov. Bryant’s willingness to listen enhanced his ability to lead. As a result, he endeared himself to Mississippi’s southern reaches, like no other Governor before.
Clearly, none of this would have been possible without the selfless dedication of his wife, Deborah, who understood her husband’s affliction to engage on the public stage and strive to make a difference. Like all First Ladies, she spent many nights alone, raising their children, and when necessary, giving Phil much-needed counsel (who wisely took it, when given). By enduring more than her share of her own company, she lent her husband to the State of Mississippi for more than 30 years. For that, too, we are grateful.
Here’s to showing sincere appreciation to Gov. Phil Bryant, whose legacy is secure due to his steadfast adherence to principles, effective, results-oriented leadership, and devotion to his family and the citizens of Mississippi. Best wishes to this “Man in the Arena,” Deborah, and their family for a much-earned respite from the glare of public scrutiny.
Governor, as you have said to so many others, “Thank you for your service.”
Billy Hewes is the Mayor of Gulfport and a former State Senator.