A Conversation about Jim Bean

By Sen. Roger Wicker and Gov. Ronnie Musgrove

July 15, 2013

Jim Bean was once a mentor to both of us as freshmen State Senators. Jim was a personal friend as well as a colleague. As soon as we learned of his recent death, we got in touch with each other by phone. What follows is a short version of our reminiscing.

RM: Roger, we were surely fortunate to have the example of Jim Bean to learn from as young senators in our 30s.

RW: Right. And it wasn’t like he was an experienced legislator himself, having won a special election only two years earlier. It was partly that he brought such a great life experience with him to the State Senate.

RM: Jim Bean had already made a success of himself in business before offering himself for public service.

RW: I viewed him as almost an ideal example of a citizen-legislator.

RM: I agree. He was a person of integrity and honesty who brought such respect from his colleagues that he could lead them on some pretty complex issues. Plus, no one could ever accuse Jim Bean of playing politics or working a partisan angle.

RW: Of course, we learned early on that, if we were going to present a bill or an amendment on the floor, we needed to be prepared for a lengthy question-and-answer session with Jim. He wanted to understand an issue fully before voting on it. And at some point during the interrogation we were sure to hear that old line, “Now I’m no lawyer, but …”  Ronnie, you sure pulled a good one on him that day when you presented him with an honorary law license.

RM: It was the perfect moment. I even got the Bar Association to print that license, had it framed in his beloved “Black and Gold,” and waited for Jim once again say he wasn’t a lawyer.   We stopped the Senate proceedings then and there, and I unveiled the certificate, making Jim officially “a lawyer.”

RW:  Jim – along with the entire Senate -- was nearly brought to his knees in laughter.  Later, with misty eyes, he admitted that he had “always wanted to go to law school.”

RM: But Jim certainly did not need a law degree to get the job done.  He had a rare set of skills from a career in business that served our state well and made our government work better.

RW: He cared deeply about Mississippi and – more important – about the people of our state.  That no-nonsense style, wit, and intelligence could take a complicated issue and boil it down to the essentials. He was forward-thinking and knew what it would take to reach a solution.

RM: I remember his “roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-any-job-done” attitude well.  And, yes, I remember those tough, direct questions.

RW: One of the best Jim Bean questions was the time a Committee Chairman was explaining a complicated scheme for leveraging federal Medicaid dollars. It almost sounded too good to be true.

RM: Then Jim asked the unforgettable follow-up: “So, if we do this, can you assure me that none of us will go to jail?” That was the Jim Bean approach – to-the-point and often with humor.

RW: His 14 years in the Mississippi legislature produced quite a few classic moments, in addition to a long list of accomplishments – from community health centers, to children’s services, to education.

RM: When Jim said we needed to do something, most of us – Democrats, Republicans, the Coast, the Delta, Northeast Mississippi and all points in-between – usually took him at face value that he was right.

RW: We could use a few more like him today.

RM: No doubt about it.

Published in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger