JACKSON — Political writing may make strange bedfellows (to paraphrase an old saying) but a collaboration of two fellows from opposite ends of the political spectrum can lead to a detailed and very readable account of a major transition in Mississippi politics.
That’s what happened when Jere Nash and Andy Taggart got together to write “Mississippi Politics: The Struggle for Power, 1976- 2006,” billed as “the inside story of a seismic shift in political control” by University Press of Mississippi, the publisher. The book, with a foreword by John Grisham, goes on sale November 1.
At first glance, the two political pundits could not be more opposite. Nash is from Greenville in the Delta and is a Democrat. He served as director of policy and chief of staff for Gov. Ray Mabus, deputy state auditor and executive director of Mississippi First. He is presently a consultant.
Taggart grew up in Moss Point on the Coast and is a Republican. The attorney served as executive director of the Mississippi Republican Party, chief of staff for Gov. Kirk Fordice and president/CEO of the Mississippi Technology Alliance. Earlier this year, he formed a consulting firm with Nick Ardillo and Glenn McCullough Jr.
However, the two authors share a passion for politics, and Taggart notes that “vocation often follows passion.” Although working in politics was not his goal, he was always interested in the political process.
“My first campaign was at 10 years old when I helped a neighbor who was running for county attorney,” he said. “I was always a Republican, but in 1975 as a high school senior I worked in the campaign to elect Pat Presley, a Democrat, to the state senate. I became interested in causes that grew out of that campaign.”
Nash, on the other hand, wanted to be an audio engineer and design audio components. He earned a degree in electrical engineering at Louisiana Technical University, and it was there that his interest in the political process was sparked.
“Until I went to college I was nothing as far as party affiliation,” he said. “I started dipping my toes in politics there. I was not partisan but was interested in causes.”
Taggart says the two have a deep seated sense of the value of the political process in common. “We believe what’s happened in our country is worth preserving,” he said. “I am not bashful about being called a conservative, but we view the objective facts and agree on many things.”
Nash agrees. “One’s political philosophy is more important than one’s party affiliation,” he said.
They describe their book as a textbook and behind-the-scenes look at the past 30 years of state political history. “It can certainly be used as a textbook for a class on history or political science,” Nash said, “but it also goes behind the scenes to describe ‘why’ something happened, in addition to telling what happened and when it happened.”
That being said, Taggart added, “It is not a ‘tell all’ book. Neither one of us believes in breaking the confidences that we earned while working for governors Mabus and Fordice or any of the other public officials with whom we have had the privilege of working.”
Each has written book reviews, op-ed pieces and magazine and journal articles, but this is their first book. They’ve been involved in the political process for 30 years, watching and participating. They’ve observed as the state has been transformed by the emergence of the Republican Party, the role of reapportionment in creating opportunities for black Mississippians to serve in elective office and by the transfer of political power from the Legislature to the governor.
“We thought those stories needed to be told,” Nash said. “We also knew that many of the people who had participated in that transformation had never been formally interviewed with a recorded oral history. So, for the last two years, we interviewed more than 100 people involved in the last 30 to 40 years of our state’s political history, and then tried to write a cogent, fun-to-read narrative of why the political landscape in our state currently looks the way it does.”
Just a few of those interviewed include Hodding Carter, Charles Evers, Harry Bowie, Wirt Yerger, Billy Mounger, Clark Reed, Buddy Klumb and Victor Marvar.
“Everyone we interviewed was very candid,” Nash said. “We allowed those heavily quoted to read their quotes in the context of the entire chapter. However, we could not interview everyone who’s been involved for 30 years, and they may not like it.”
Although the authors write as one voice, they do set out different opinions in only one section of the book, the chapter on tort reform. “We lay out our disagreements for the reader,” Nash said, “and while we disagree about the public policy aspects of tort reform, we agree on the political implications.”
The two say they could not have written this book individually. The Republicans would not have consented to interviews by Jere Nash, nor would Democrats have allowed Andy Taggart to interview them.
“Because we did it together, we could assure the people we interviewed that the final book would be balanced and fair,” Taggart said.
They spent about three years writing the book and were able to do it together because of technology. They met when they needed to do so, but relied heavily on electronic mail and recorded interviews.
“The closest we came to a disagreement was about the photos on the cover,” Taggart said.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.