Over 820 people attended this event, with the Clarion hotel ballroom packed and overflow crowds spilling into the hall. By the time the event was ending, the street leading to the hotel was chaos, with cars parked almost a half mile away.
In contrast, Ms Kelly Jacobs, a leading organizer of the annual event, explained that last years Appreciation dinner featuring Ret. General Wesley Clarke drew barely 200 people.
This year, four former Mississippi governors were among the attendees; former Govs. Ronnie Musgrove, Ray Mabus, Bill Allain and William Winter. Former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Gandy was also an honored guest, along with several state lawmakers and local party chairpersons.
I was not aware of ANY Congressmen there. I do know my own representaive, Congressmen Gene Taylor, Second Congressional District, was NOT in attendence. I plan on asking him "why?"
Governor Dean met leading state party members in a private event before the dinner. A public reception immediately before dinner was packed with many people wearing Howard Dean buttons, stickers, and even hats (full disclosure - this writer was wearing a Dean for America hat and two Dean buttons).
Outside the Clarion Hotel a small group of people covered with Dean buttons and signs led a noisy rally. During the dinner there was a constant line of people at the head table asking to get Dean's autograph.
As the dinner started, after a warm and glowing tribute Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. gave Gov Dean a key to the capital city and told him: "You're already upsetting Republicans here in Mississippi. Keep up the good work."
The local media was there in full force, with representatives from all the state's major newspaper outlets and several local radio and television stations. A journalism class from Ole' Miss (University of Mississippi in Oxford) attended as a class project and the students fanned out across the reception hall getting interviews. (full disclosure: this author was interviewed by a lovely young female student journalist. She selected me for the honor because my hat and buttons made me "stand out in the crowd." )
A local Jackson Democrat, David Snell, explained that Dean's visit was the biggest local news story of the day. Snell explained the Republican Party was already complaining about all the media coverage.
Never ones to miss a chance at crashing other people's parties, the state Republican Party did what they could to be obnoxious.
Starting a week early, U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said that Dean has taken a "far left" position on the war in Iraq and other issues.
"It doesn't help the Democrats in Mississippi to have the image he projected in the past year," said Lott, who at the time was getting help from his own national party by having moderate Republican (pro-choice) former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani speak at a campaign fund-raiser in Jackson.
Hours before the yesterdays dinner, the state Republican Party issued a news release that spoofed his extended whoop after Dean conceded last year's Iowa caucuses.
"AIEEEHHHH!!! The incredible shrinking party. The Great Dean Exodus from the MS Democratic Party begins," said the GOP announcement, including that the Tippah County sheriff was switching from Democrat to Republican. (Author's question: Did any democrat miss the sheriff leaving?).
During Gov Dean's speech, a group of hecklers stood at the back of the ballroom and twice interrupted him with loud chants and insults.
HIGHLIGHTS OF DEAN'S SPEECH
When Gov Dean came to the podium for his speech, he was met with a standing ovation of thunderous applause. There were several rounds of standing applause during his speech, starting with Dean's opening statement: "The South will rise again, and when it does, it will have a D after its name." He criticized the national debt and said: "You cannot trust Republicans with your taxpayer dollars."
He prayed for American troops, saying even those who had criticized the war in Iraq should support soldiers and their families. He went on to explain how he saw the issue of values as emocatic issues:
Support for our troops meant supporting them after they came home by not cutting VA benefits. Supporting the troops meant supporting them "all the time, not just at election time."
Moral authority in the world. This nation has always before lead by example, and needed to regain that standing. Leading by example and moral authority meant a stronger more secure nation.
A balanced budget means a sronger nation, because we were not letting China or Saudi Arabia hold our debt. 43% of our debt is now held by foreigners.
Keeping jobs in America means a stronger nation. We should have higher unemployment benefits so people have more time to find work, and we should have a higher minimum wage so people could afford to live comfortably.
A national health care plan is not "Socialized medicine," it is "American medicine." Dean noted than General Motors has now signed on to supporting a national health care plan because GM is now paying more for health care than they are paying for steel.
A strong defense means a strong education system. Stronger public education is the road to beter opportunity for our children. Dean noted that the essential piece of the connection between captialism and democracy was the belief that everybody in the system are "somebody," and could get ahead if they worked hard.
Dean closed his speech by roaring "We will win elections by standing up for our convictions!"
CONCLUSION AND OBSERVATIONS
This was my first time seeing Governor Dean in person. He really is not so tall, but does remind me of a "pit-bull" fighter. When he speaks, he speaks with deep-seated passion, not firey or wild, but deep from the heart. As he worked his way through his speech, his face really did get red, all the way down to his neck. Just listening to him, I could not help but be inspired by his passion and his commitment to Democratic principles. He energized the room in a way I have ever experienced before.
The man is truely inspiring. I personally think the Republicans are very frightened of him, and what he may do in bringing together the Democratic party.
Update [2005-3-3 8:15:41 by redtravelmaster]:
Update and Corrections: 3 March 2005
Kelly Jacobs has provided me some additional info and corrections:
This was not an annual event, but a special event.
Our annual event is the JJH dinner (Jefferson Jackson Hamer) which this year will occur (maybe) in August.
Kelly Comments: "The room was set for 820 seats, and as you yourself know, they were bringing in more and more chairs to add to tables to squish in people, AND people were standing along the back wall, in the doorways and the hallway.
One entire table (Chairman Dowdy's table of his family) all got up and GAVE UP their seats for people who waited until the last minute to get tickets.
Many people came and left because it was so packed so I estimate 1000 Democrats attended. We also had to order 30 boxes of pizza (not sure of the exact number it was an impressive pile) to feed the overflow.
Some people even called last week when we thought only 500 people were coming and worried about their lack of tickets, and were told to just come on, we HAD room. But Monday there was a rush for tickets and we had sold out by noon. Some reasons might be: Howard Dean gave press interviews on Friday, some of which were in print over the weekend, and he went on Air America radio saying we has coming. The Internet provided some sharp reminders and democrats responded.
This was a difficult place and time for many democrats to attend: a Tuesday and the private (and packed) reception began at 4PM. With a long and narrow state, the prospect of a 3 hour drive and a JOB made many people unable to attend.
I predict that if Bill Clinton comes we will have to be at a larger venue and have an overflow room and because this event was packed more people will BUY their tickets early!
Kelly points out that Gov Dean promised to come to Mississippi even before
he became the new DNC chair.
Kelly also commented that at last years JJH dinner she was honored with the Fannie Lou Hamer award for civil rights work with children and resistance against Bush. This year there will be a new winner so please find someone to nominate!
Additionally, the JJH dinner was the ONLY fundraiser last year, so at least we know that this year we will have 2 fundraisers (aside from mail pleadings).
Kelly is also working to get former President Clinton to be speaker at the next JJH dinner.
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