JACKSON — J. Walter Michel III is a third-generation commercial Realtor who also finds time to serve in the Mississippi Senate. He felt the call to public service at an early age and at 30 was elected to the House of Representatives.
“I enjoyed that and wanted to continue to serve, so when Sen. Dick Hall was appointed to the Mississippi Transportation Commission by Gov. Fordice, I entered the special election to fill his unexpired term in the Senate even though there was only half of his last year remaining in the term.”
The Jackson Republican then went on to run and win election to two full terms in the Senate. With his real estate background, he requested to serve on the public properties committee that oversees all parks, buildings and land the state owns. He is now vice chairman of that committee, chairman of the municipalities committee and vice chairman of the finance committee. The municipalities committee deals with a variety of issues pertaining to the state’s cities, and finance deals with crucial tax measures.
Presently, the public properties committee is trying to decide the best way to develop the property that formerly housed the State School for the Blind in a bustling area of Jackson. The finance committee is wrestling with the tobacco tax.
“It has not been brought up yet but there’s a lot of interest in it,” Michel says of this tax bill. “About 25% of the people in Mississippi smoke. I’m not hearing from them but I’m hearing from the 75% who don’t smoke. The bill has a chance of passing but it might not be veto proof.”
Michel is proud of a tax measure which he authored. It’s called the sales tax holiday bill. He first introduced it in 2003 and has done so each year since. Last year the measure passed the Senate but failed in the house.
“At that time only three states had it and we could have been on the cutting edge,” he says. “It didn’t pass that year and now 16 states have it.”
The Jacksonian says the sales tax holiday will be a good economic measure for the state. It calls for a weekend — probably in late July to help families with back-to-school shopping — with tax exemptions on four articles up to $100 each. Michel believes the sales tax holiday will boost revenues because retailers will have sales and shoppers will purchase other items, including food and gasoline.
Michel, 46, has been a commercial Realtor in the metro area for 23 years. He manages his business matters and Senate service by bouncing back and forth during the three-month session. It’s about a 10-minute drive to his office on Ridgewood Road.
“Being in Jackson where I can run back and forth between the Capitol and the office is an advantage and disadvantage,” he says. “It gives me time to return phone calls and open the mail in my office, but I have no efficiency tips to pass along.”
He likes the variety and versatility of being a Realtor. “No two days are alike. It’s been rewarding over the years and I continue to enjoy real estate,” he said. “One day I may have on jeans and show hunting land to a client. The next day, I may wear a suit and tie and work on leases at my desk.”
He first worked as a broker on commission but now as the owner of seven buildings and some land, he participates as an owner in the firm established by his grandfather in 1927. J. Walter Michel Sr. founded the agency when he moved his family to Jackson from New Orleans. He accepted the job of property manager for the Lampton Building (now known as the Electric Building). Two years later, when Mississippi’s tallest building, the Standard Life Building, was built, the agency expanded its scope to include leasing brokerage to its real estate services. The senator and his brother, Henry R. Michel, carry on the family real estate tradition.
“The Jackson market stays good with steady growth,” he said. “There’s no boom or bust. We don’t have that.”
However, if he had not become a Realtor, Michel says he probably would have gone to law school. “I wanted to stay at Ole Miss longer, but the timing was right with real estate,” he said.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.