One look at the cover, and there is no doubt this political book by Jere Nash and Andy Taggart is a little off.
The cover photo shows former Gov. Cliff Finch and Col. Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, enjoying some finger-lickin’ good fried chicken at the Governor’s Mansion in January 1976 in celebration of the nation’s bicentennial.
“This one was designed to be very readable, something you can sit by your bedside,” Taggart, the Jackson lawyer part of the writing duo, said last week during an interview at the Mississippi Business Journal. “We tried to write a history for non-political junkies.”
Nash and Taggart succeeded.
“Mississippi Fried Politics” is a collection of stories, many of which were left on the cutting room floor from their first book (“Mississippi Politics: The struggle for power,” 1976-2006).
As it turned out, all are fit for the late-night comedy circuit. Jon Daily of Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” would do good to have the Mississippi tandem up for an interview.
“Andy and I spent a lot of time with a lot of stuff that we couldn’t put in the first book,” Nash, a Greenville native, said. “(With so much interest in state and national politics lately) We decided this year is as good a time as any.
The two credit their researcher David Warrington with being able to pull many of the stories together for publication.
And even though much of this book was leftover from the original historical accounting of the first book, they had to leave another 200-plus pages out of this one. Not bad if you want to have another book down the road.
While irreverent to a certain degree, the fun style leads everyone to have his or her own favorite story.
Taggart’s favorite is a story about former Gov. Bill Waller.
At the time Waller was inaugurated in January of 1972, the Governor’s Mansion had been condemned as unsafe to live in.
So, Waller and his family had to find other suitable quarters and eventually moved into what was then known as the Yerger house, in the Eastover subdivision in Northeast Jackson. It wasn’t until he had six or seven months remaining in his term that he moved into a newly renovated Mansion. During one of the holiday seasons when they were living in Eastover, the Waller family sent out its annual Christmas card, featuring a family photo, and that year the picture included their family dog. So, the story goes that one day, either right before or right after Christmas, when Waller had sent his security detail home for the holidays, there was a knock on his front door. Waller went to the door and looked out a side window and noticed an old pickup truck on the street and ‘two big boys with overalls waiting on the front lawn. Waller opened the door and had this conversation with the older man, the father of the two boys, who had driven down from Itawamba County that day and who was holding one of the Christmas cards:
“You are Governor Waller, aren’t you?’
“Is this your card?”
“Well, yeah. Do you like the card?”
“Don’t know that I do. I was over at a friend’s house and saw it on the mantle. What’s wrong is the dog.”
“What about the dog?”
“Where’d you get that dog?”
“That’s my boy’s dog?”
“No. That’s my damn dog. I’d recognize that dog anywhere. It’s one of the best rabbit dogs I ever had and I’ve been wondering where it had gone to.”
“I really don’t think it is your dog. We’ve had it for some time.”
At some point, Governor Waller asked one of his sons to fetch the dog, and he could hear another son crying in the back thinking he was going to lose his dog to this stranger. Governor Waller showed the dog to the stranger:
“Is this the dog you think is yours?”
The stranger took the dog, lifted its tail, checked out things down there, examined the dog’s teeth and belly and observed:
“I’ll be damned. That’s not my dog. I loved that dog. Let me know if you ever see him”
That’s just one of the more than 220 pages of stories that includes great yarns about memorable Mississippi political figures like Hodding Carter, J.P Coleman, Pete Johnson, Sonny Meredith, William Winter and many more.
My personal favorite has to do with Carter, Lyndon Johnson’s inauguration and a bottle of bourbon, while Nash’s favorite is a about whisky-drinking Bible study in Northeast Mississippi.
There’s plenty for everyone, and you will find your own favorites.
Nash and Taggart had their first book signing last week at Gum Tree Book Store in Tupelo. The next expected signing will be Nov. 21 at Lemuria Book Store in Jackson.
Contact MBJ managing editor Ross Reily at firstname.lastname@example.org.