Studio portrait of Sid Salter. (photo by Beth Wynn / © Mississippi State University)

By: Sid Salter

William “Bill” Renick, Sr., of Ashland is a solid choice by President Joe Biden to represent Mississippi’s interests on the Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors.

Like Richard Howorth and Glenn McCullough before him in that role, Renick brings a quick, analytical mind to guiding the fortunes of the nation’s largest public utility. But Renick’s life experience in rural Mississippi and his extensive Mississippi political resume should make him effective on Day One.

Renick, 68, has a unique 50-year background in public service – holding elective office in municipal, county and state government – winning election as an Ashland alderman at the age of 18. He also held appointive office as an economic development leader and as a hospital administrator. After serving in the Mississippi Legislature, he served both former Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and former Lt. Gov. Eddie Briggs as chief of staff.

Renick even did some lobbying in Jackson as president of the Mississippi Retail Association.

Quick with a joke or a story and possessed of an authentic gift for putting people at ease, Renick also displayed throughout his government service a willingness to engage on behalf of causes he supported and to give as good as he got in political combat. Those qualities made him effective both in partisan battles and in struggles over the division of the governmental resource pie.

Renick was a trusted source during my time covering state politics. He came close to making a gubernatorial bid against incumbent Republican Gov. Haley Barbour in 2007 but wisely dropped out of that race before the ballots were printed. Whether in a legislative vote or in sizing up the potential for political success, Renick is a master of reading the tea leaves.

I remember getting an earful of the famous Renick temper while he served as Musgrove’s chief of staff. Like a lot of my favorite politicos over the years, Bill’s vocabulary in profanity when angered allowed him to paint rather vivid imagery. But there has always been far more laughter than confrontation in our interactions over the years. He will do a marvelous job on the TVA board.

For me, it’s challenging to think of the TVA and its impact on the South without returning to the lyrics of an old Bobby Bare country song made famous in the late 1980s by the country music supergroup Alabama.

Bare wrote a piece called “Song of the South” and the lyrics tell the tale: “Well, somebody told us Wall Street fell, but we were so poor that we couldn’t tell, cotton was short and the weeds were tall, but Mr. Roosevelt’s gonna save us all.

“Well, Momma got sick and Daddy got down, the county got the farm and we moved to town, Papa got a job with the TVA, he bought a washing machine and then a Chevrolet… .”

The TVA initially brought jobs to the impoverished South in the teeth of the Great Depression, but in the long view, it brought decades of economic development that spurred a greatly improved quality of life. In short, it brought hope, progress, and gave isolated rural communities a puncher’s chance to grow and thrive.

At inception in 1932, the TVA was designed to bring electric power to those who had none when only about ten percent of rural American households and only two percent of rural Mississippi households had electricity. TVA, now the nation’s largest public utility, today supplies electric power to about 10 million people in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

In Mississippi, municipal and cooperatively owned utilities sell TVA electricity in the counties of Alcorn, Attala, Benton, Calhoun, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Clarke, Clay, De Soto, Grenada, Itawamba, Kemper, Lafayette, Lauderdale, Leake, Lee, Lowndes, Marshall, Monroe, Neshoba, Newton, Noxubee, Oktibbeha, Panola, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Quitman, Rankin, Scott, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tippah, Tishomingo, Tunica, Union, Webster, Winston and Yalobusha.

Despite a lifelong affiliation as a “yellow dog” Mississippi Democrat, Renick’s demonstrated abilities as an economic developer and public administrator saw his nomination win the sincere praise of both of Mississippi’s Republican U.S. senators as the nomination moves to the Senate confirmation process.

The preponderance of the leadership of the state’s planning and development districts is also supportive of the nomination at the grassroots level.