Chism has been in the legislature since 2000. He is a former member of the Lowndes County School Board. He serves on the Bank and Financial Services and Judiciary A committees. He is a native of Columbus.
“These might be perilous times for you,” Chism joked. “The legislature is still in session. Any time we’re in session your life, liberty and property are in jeopardy. There are a few of us down there that try to stop bad legislation. There are about 3,500 bills that were filed, and, thank goodness, all but about 500 of them are already dead. Most of them are dead because the deadline to take them up has passed.”
“You’ve already heard some things about redistricting and the budget, so I want to mention some things that maybe you haven’t heard,” Chism said. “First is immigration. Our industries just paid a $2.5 million fine last week for hiring 600 people that were illegal. This week the person who was the personnel director is about to sentenced. We passed a bill a few years ago that was E-Verify. We’ve said if you use the E-Verify system that you’ve met the requirements that we want you to do. In other words, if I was the personnel director and I put in a social security number under E-Verify and it comes up under a different name, that ought to be a good indication that you are not who you say you are. [Immigration] is a contentious issue in the state legislature.
“We had a bill sent over to us by the Senate because they wanted to address this issue,” Chism said. “Normally they would go to Judiciary A or Judiciary B. Both of those…Judiciary A is a tort reform…well, it’s a lawyer committee. It’s got 25 people on it, it’s got 19 Philistines. There are only six of us Davids on that. We’re like John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness when they run over us on that committee. Judiciary B is another lawyer committee. One-third of the members of the legislature are lawyers.
What this whole show is for is to save white Democrats,” Chism said. “That’s what this bill was for. Back home folks want something done about it. They run this bill out, and it was really going to punish the employers but it was going to give them a pass if they used E-Verify. All the whites except one voted for it, all the blacks voted no. All it did was give white Democrats, when they go back home, to say they voted for it. That’s some of the games that get played down there.”
Chism wondered about conflict of interest with lawyers voting in the legislature.
“Is it a conflict of interest for a lawyer to vote on judges’ pay raises?” he asked. “That’s been a big issue for the past two weeks. The Supreme Court and some of the judges have come up with a way of giving themselves a pay raise. They’re the lowest in the whole United States. But so are teachers. So are other occupations. Business in general in Mississippi is probably the lowest of any in the United States. But these lawyers and judges haven’t had a pay raise since 2003. All the pandering, you’ve never heard. Last week we had judges lining the balcony in the gallery area. Everyone would stand up and say, ‘Oh, my great judge from Pearl River County is up there. My district attorney is up there.’ They’re all wanting a 38% pay raise.
“I was counting the votes for our side,” he said. “The Republican Conference voted to oppose this pay raise because it was going to be paid for with fees every time you use the court system. Normally all the Republicans would be opposed to it, but not these Republican lawyers. In all honesty, I’d have to pander to them to because I’d have to appear before them.”
The raise was successfully voted down, Chism said.
“I just don’t think we should approve a raise with the economic environment that we’re in,” Chism said. “Especially not 38%. They already make over $100,000.”
Chism said he expects to hear something on redistricting this week.
“Last time I was one of the targeted people in redistricting,” he said. “I had a district originally that was in eastern Lowndes County. When they redistricted, they thought it was fair that the only two Republicans in an eight-county area had to run against each other. I ran against the representative from Oktibbeha County. You’d think a district would go along Highway 82 to get from New Hope to Starkville. Not they way they figured it. I cross over the Tombigbee River around Noxubee, come up through the airport out here, then come into Clay County and out to Old Waverly and all the way to Pheba. Then I talk a little strip of land – nobody lives in it – that carries me to Oktibbeha County. I come into Starkville from the west. Without a map, you can’t drive my district. A lot of others are the same way. We Republicans feel like we’re going to pay the price again.”