Analysis: David Green was a storyteller, workers’ champion

David Green
David Green
David Green

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — The late David Green filled two roles in the Mississippi House of Representatives.

One was to cool off the combatants when the legislative wars became too heated. The other was to fight for pay raises for 20,000-plus state employees, especially those back home.

Green was good at both.

In a 2003 debate over an effort to roll back salaries of some state government executives, Green spoke of a woman in his hometown of Gloster who has cooked school lunches for 27 years and still earned only $8,596 a year. He talked of employees at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield who made no more than $12,000 a year. By trying to repeal pay raises of some executives, Green said, “We’re asking folks to get rid of their Lexus and buy a Cadillac.”

Green died July 25 at his home from a longtime heart ailment. He was 62.

Green was known for folksy turns of phrase and eloquent, heartfelt pleas for programs to help his constituents.

In announcing his retirement in 2005, Green said he’d been frustrated in his efforts to land economic-development projects for his mostly rural southwest Mississippi district.

“I’m tired of having to grab and just fight to death for small things. Sometimes, you just get to the point where you have to unhitch your wagon,” Green, a Democrat, told The Associated Press.

He spent 26 years in the House. He was a member of the Appropriations Committee and chairman of the Fees and Salaries Committee and chairman of the County Affairs Committee.

Green argued for pay raises for the rank-and-file employees and county officials and legislators. When lawmakers were trotting out raises in 2003 for a long list of officials, from the governor to constables, legislators were left out.

In rare criticism of a pay-raise bill, Green said: “Everybody in this bill that has a raise needs one. The only person that needs one that’s not in there is us.”

Green’s speeches were sometimes related to the debate at hand. Sometimes they weren’t.

In a debate over erasing a state law that required county supervisors to approve their own pay raises even when they’ve been granted by lawmakers, Green said the law was unfair.

“This is kind of like dancing with a gorilla. You don’t quit when you want to. You have to get permission to quit,” Green said. “That’s all we’re asking here, is to get permission to quit messing with the boards of supervisors.”

In 1999, the House debated overriding Gov. Kirk Fordice’s veto of a bill to increase nursing home beds. Green represented one of two counties guaranteed nursing homes in the proposal.

“Ask yourself the question, ‘what would Jesus do?’ Vote to override,” said Green. The House voted to override but the Senate did not.

As the House ended work one day, Green announced a meeting of the County Affairs Committee. Green’s committee apparently didn’t have much to do — or didn’t intend to do much.

He told lawmakers: “I promise you as Elizabeth Taylor told her seventh husband: ‘I won’t keep you long.'”

In 1999, the Legislature created a school where artistically talented teenagers could learn the literary and musical arts. Green said lawmakers should look at the fine arts school as “every child’s right — rich, poor, black or white.”

He said the school can help students develop talents “like Raphael painted pictures, like Michelangelo carved marble and like Beethoven wrote music.”

Green’s best story — and by far the most beloved — he applied to most every struggle — opened with: “I had a dog one time.”

“He was blind in one eye. He had been hit by a Mack truck and his tail had been cut off. He had had one of his legs amputated. But he always answered to the name ‘Lucky.'”