• 32°

White's resignation a loss for state

By By Sid Salter / syndicated columnist
Oct. 2, 2002
When state Sen. John R. White announced his resignation from the Legislature last week, the people of Senate District 5 lost an honest, dependable senator. The people of Mississippi lost 18 years of Senate experience and 18 years of unquestioned integrity.
Apparently encumbered by both failing health and failing patience with the seeming inertia of the Legislature on core duties like congressional redistricting, tort reform and other issues that matter, White finally made the decision to go home to Prentiss County.
Senator values his privacy
White, D-Booneville, said he was resigning his post Oct. 5 because of dissatisfaction with legislative leadership. He offered no further comment on the resignation in a written statement last week and did not return phone calls to his office early this week.
To the surprise of none who knew him, the quiet North Mississippian isn't talking much about his decision. As always, he values his privacy.
The 65-year-old White, an optometrist, is in his 19th year in the Legislature. His district includes parts of Itawamba, Lee, Prentiss and Tishomingo counties. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove will set a nonpartisan special election to fill the vacancy created by White's resignation. White's term ends in January 2004.
Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck said White served in the Senate with distinction.
White attended only five days of a 19-day special legislative session that started Sept. 5. The session recessed last week until Oct. 7.
In the 1999 Democratic primary election, White held off the challenge of J.P. Wilemon, Jr. by a margin of 10,172 to 9,449 a difference 723 votes or 3.6 percent of the vote. White's district voted solidly for Musgrove in 1999, solidly for George W. Bush a year later and in 2001 gave the "old" Mississippi flag the highest support percentage of the flag referendum vote in the state at 87 percent.
At the time of his resignation, White chaired the Senate Local and Private Committee and held seats on the Appropriations, Business and Financial Institutions, Constitution, Highways and Transportation, Insurance, Public Health and Welfare, and Universities and Colleges committees. Those committees represent substantial legislative power and influence.
Public education backer
During his legislative career, White was a solid supporter of public education at all levels. With two community colleges in his district, White was a particular friend of the state's community college system.
He was also a friend of open government. White consistently supported expansion of open meetings and open records legislation and expressed the belief that the public had a right to know what went on behind closed public doors.
While the timing of White's resignation during a contentious special session on tort reform does belie the frustration with the legislative leadership (or, more to the point, the apparent lack of it), it's clear to legislative friends and the press observing the process that the Booneville senator has been struggling with health problems for some months.
But whatever the ultimate reason for White's resignation, it should be remembered that Sen. White indeed as Lt. Gov. Tuck said served with distinction. His voting record was progressive and his influence was used to leave Mississippi better than he found it when he came to the Legislature back in 1984.