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Harper puts views in perspective

Legislative breakfast — the two words are enough to make me grab the covers and pull them over my head.

The regular sessions with local legislators in Jackson and state lawmakers in Washington have never been what I would call riveting.

Rarely are there surprises. Republicans claim government and taxes get in the way of people’s lives. Democrats say government and taxes make people’s lives better.

I pay attention to what happens in Jackson and Washington, D.C. I know where our lawmakers stand on most issues. So when I walked into Tuesday’s meet-and-greet breakfast with U.S. Represntative Gregg Harper from Mississippi’s third congressional district, I didn’t expect to come away with anything thought-provoking.

But I did.

As expected, Harper discussed many of the bread and butter issues most Republicans have been hammering as we head into the November election.

Energy was top among them — especially southwest Mississippi sitting on a potential oil boom with the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale efforts in Wilkinson and Amite counties.

Harper mentioned the Keystone Pipeline, President Obama’s opposition to coal and the obstacles to business and industry created by the Environmental Protection Agency. He talked about the importance of tapping into the oil reserves on federal lands and offshore.

Nothing was surprising until Harper started talking about his family.

The congressman’s words about his father’s death and the impact it had on his relationship with his children put into perspective everything he had discussed prior.

His message was simple — write a letter to your children.

Don’t write an email. Don’t send a text message.

Those types of correspondence are fleeting and quickly disappearing in digital cyberspace.

Instead, find a piece of paper, pick up a pen and spend a few moments writing a message to your children.

It is something Harper said his father never did.

He didn’t realize it until his father’s death but all of the correspondence that was written to him from his parents, was written by his mother. Now that his father is gone, Harper said he has nothing written in his father’s handwriting — no personal message that he can physically hold onto. He has only memories.

That is why Harper says he regularly sets aside time in his busy schedule to sit down and write letters to each of his children. He doesn’t hold onto the notes until he sees his children. Instead, he places the notes in an envelope, affixes a stamp and sends it in the mail.

The worst cynics might call Harper’s plea to the breakfast crowd as just another politician’s ploy to tug on the heartstrings of voters. After all, lawmakers will do anything to improve their dismal approval ratings, they might propose.

I tend to see it from another point of view.

After talking about trying to get things done in an extremely-polarized Congress, after talking about the frustration of dealing with bureaucracy and regulations, Harper put it all in perspective by pointing out that what remains in the end are the lasting relationships and the legacies we leave behind with our families.

If Harper and other lawmakers placed a priority on such thoughts, there might be less polarization and more cooperation. That would be another welcome message in future legislative breakfasts.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by email at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.