Dearing has seen many changes in Jackson

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 1, 2009

NATCHEZ — For Sen. Bob Dearing the third time really was a charm.

It was in his third campaign that Dearing was able to secure enough votes for the seat he was seeking — that of state senator representing district 37.

Dearing had run two unsuccessful campaigns for county supervisor before being asked to run for state senate.

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And because he had been unsuccessful in securing a local election, Dearing was skeptical that he would be able to win a state senate seat when he was asked to run by former Sen. Troy Watkins.

“I never though I could get elected to the state senate,” Dearing said. “I couldn’t even get elected supervisor.”

Watkins urged Dearing to put his name in the hat since Watkins was planning on running for lieutenant governor.

Dearing was able to win election to the state senate and began serving in 1980. When the senate went in to session in January, it was Dearing’s 29th year in senate making him one of the two longest serving senators still in office.

Of course his long tenure in the senate has earned him much respect, but there are also other benefits.

“Having seniority in the senate gets you respect among your peers, you choice of parking at the Capitol, your choice of office location and your choice of senate seat,” Dearing said.

Those luxuries are a big change from when Dearing took his first trip to Jackson as a senator.

During his first term as senator the new capitol building was under restoration and the House and Senate met in the old Jackson Central High School building.

Dearing said it wasn’t out of the ordinary for four senators to share an office the size of a small conference room. The Senate and House also met in tighter than usual quarters.

“The senate met in the library of the old school,” Dearing said. “The house met in the auditorium. You could walk out of the library and across the hall onto the balcony of the auditorium.

“We could go watch what was going on in the house if we needed to.”

During Dearing’s first term there were a lot of new faces for him to learn, but he definitely wasn’t alone in his unfamiliarity. There were 26 freshmen senators in that term which is exactly half of the available seats.

“We had a joke that if we didn’t win reelection we might not ever serve in the real Capitol,” Dearing said.

But they did in fact get to serve in the Capitol. It was opened in 1982 for the special session. But that session was important for more than just the reopening of the capitol.

It was called to consider the education reform act of 1982.

Dearing said the education reform act along with the Four Lane Highway Program of 1987, later called Vision 21, are two of the most influential pieces of legislation passed during his stint in the senate.

“The Vision 21 program was a big thing for the state,” Dearing said. “That brought a lot of jobs to Mississippi. We were using Mississippi funds to fund Mississippi workers.”

Dearing said his only reason for running for a political office was to provide representation for his neighbors and to try to help them.

“Personally, I got into it because there are so many things that can be done to help other people,” Dearing said.

In 1983, Dearing introduced a bill that would eliminate state income tax deductions from retirement income after one of his Natchez neighbors brought the deduction to his attention.

“I was outside mowing my lawn and my neighbor came over to talk to me,” Dearing said. “He had just retired from (International Paper) and asked me about the state taking state income taxes out of his retirement checks.”

Dearing said he was astonished and made a phone call to Jackson to find out if that was so. After it was confirmed, Dearing resolved to change the legislation.

“Most people who are retired are living on a fixed income,” he said. “To them, every penny matters.”

Dearing drafted a bill and introduced it every year until it was eventually passed.

“Persistence does pay off,” Dearing said. “I bet many people now don’t know we used to tax retirement income.”

But Dearing’s years in Jackson haven’t been without some disappointment. He said one of his biggest struggles in office is having to cut funding for colleges in Mississippi.

“I regret not being able to adequately fund our community and senior colleges,” Dearing said. “It’s especially hard on our senior colleges because when we cant fund them properly, that is when they have to raise tuition.”

But he is hoping to see a day when funding for those institutions isn’t cut because he isn’t planning on leaving Jackson anytime soon.

“As long as the people here think I’m doing a good job and they keep electing me, I want to keep serving,” Dearing said.