Moak reflects on legislative career
Long-time Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, may have lost the election for District 53 to Vince Mangold, but after 32 years in the seat most would characterize his career as a success.
“I would think they would have kicked me out a long time ago if it wasn’t [successful]. I wouldn’t think they’d keep sending me back because I just sat there and twiddled my thumbs. … Like when you go buy your car tag, the little thing that says legislative credit that gives you about a 40 percent or 50 percent reduction in your car tag,” Moak said. “I shut the Legislature down one night and got that done, one other guy and I.”
Also among his accomplishments, Moak cites the construction of Lake Okhissa in Franklin County, the law following Hurricane Katrina that allowed casinos to be constructed within 800 feet of the coast and a grant to repave the roads in Bogue Chitto. He said great things have been accomplished in Lincoln County through the appropriations process.
“You look around and see the things that everyone enjoys like the livestock pavilion, the new Highway Patrol Station and the new National Guard Armory,” Moak said. “School of the Arts is the big one. … School of the Arts is one that a lot of people like to take a lot of credit for, but it’s something that a lot of folks worked on locally.”
The Democratic party lost six seats in the November election. District 79, a seat currently held by Bo Eaton, D-Covington, is still contested. Eaton and his opponent Mark Tullos, R-Releigh, tied in the election. Under Mississippi law, ties are decided by drawing of straws, which was done on Nov. 20. Eaton won the drawing, but Tullos was able to challenge the results. The final decision will be made by a Republican-controlled state House in January. If Tullos is selected, the Republican party will hold a 3/5 supermajority in the House, a position the party already enjoys in the Senate.
Despite losses, Moak said the names change slowly in the Legislature. Democrats were the controlling party in Mississippi from reconstruction until 2012, but over the years many Democrats have switched parties. On Nov. 5, two days after the recent election, District 4 Rep. Jody Steverson switched over from Democrat to Republican. Moak said more concerning than party affiliation is the trend — in Washington and in Mississippi — to toe the party line.
“You don’t need folks — whether it be the Democratic Party or the Republican Party — who are just going to sit around and vote red or vote green because somebody tells you to,” Moak said. “That just doesn’t need to happen. I have seen legislators — grown men and women — simply vote a particular way because they were told to. They have voted against things that I know is the position they would take on their own.
“I just think they’ve become concerned about the next election more than the stands that you take. That’s just no way to govern. I’ve made some votes before that probably should have beaten me a long time ago. You can’t cower under a rock. Sometimes you make votes that folks back home don’t understand. Part of leadership is coming back home and explaining why you made those votes, and giving them the information that you had. I’m afraid we’re getting away from that.”
As Mangold takes over the seat in January, Moak urged him to stick to his convictions, both in the face of party politics, but also controversy back home.
“You have to listen to the community, but you also have to have enough political courage to make votes that don’t always go along with the group. You can’t always be part of the herd and be successful,” he said. “Part of the job is about listening, getting the facts, and making a decision based on those facts. Sometimes, that’s not what everybody wants to hear. It’s kind of that gut thing. You have do what you believe is the right thing at the time. If you can do that, it’s always an easy day.”
Mangold earned about 58 percent of the votes throughout the district, but in Lincoln County, Moak lost by only 57 votes. Moak said he’s had a lot of support in the community and hopes to continue to stay involved in politics in some way.
“I’m not going to jump out there and do anything at the first drop of a hat, but the calls are really nice and I appreciate that,” Moak said. “They let me have the seat for 32 years. That’s pretty much the record for the state House in our part of the world, and I appreciate that.”
In the meantime, Moak said he’s still practicing law in Bogue Chitto.
“I’ll still be right there looking for good cases. So if you’ve got one, send them my way.”