The day before election days harried politicians scurry to and fro making last minute connections and headlines to squeeze out those last few votes.
The first “day before” this year for Mississippi elections landed on August 5th. That is also the birthday of a Mississippi politician who seldom had to scurry for last minute votes. The late Congressman G.V. ‘Sonny’ Montgomery would have turned 99 this year. That’s also about the margin of his tightest race, his 1955 election to the Mississippi State Senate over then Lauderdale County School Principal Donald Williamson.
In remembering Sonny, the stark contrast between him and today’s state and national politicians stands out. Aggressive partisanship embraced today casts those from the other party as enemies. Sonny was above partisanship, seeing others as potential allies. Indeed, Sonny worked tirelessly to unite, not divide.
Former Senate Majority Leader and Republican Senator Trent Lott said at Sonny’s 2006 memorial service, “A long-time Democrat, Sonny was truly above party. And no one, on either side of the aisle, ever questioned his sincerity, his integrity, or his independence. A loyal son of Mississippi, one of ours, from his birth to his passing, he really belonged to the nation. For although he saw things from the wisdom and experience of Mississippi’s people, what he always looked out for was the national good.”
Hmmm. “Above party … national good,” attributes all but erased from today’s politics.
Sonny believed there were some things too important to leave to partisan politics. One was the absolute necessity for the transition from the draft to an all-volunteer military to succeed.
Army historian, Col. Michael Meese, Ph.D., explained, “Transitioning to the All-Volunteer Force was the most important change the Army made since WWII; the Montgomery GI Bill was the policy vehicle that allowed this to happen.” This comes from a book appropriately entitled “Across the Aisle.” It chronicles Sonny’s persevering seven-year bipartisan leadership to get this historic legislation enacted.
The unabashed partisanship of today suggests there are no decisions needed in Mississippi or Washington that are too important to leave to partisan politics.
If so, leaders like Sonny must no longer be needed.
In a letter to Sonny, former Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia wrote, “You are one of the most reassuring things I have found in congress. Your honesty, your statesmanship, your commitment to your country & your love of God will be sorely missed.”
“We loved his humor, we loved his patriotism and we loved his faith,” said the late and former First Lady Barbara Bush at Sonny’s memorial service.
Those of us who knew and worked with Sonny saw and appreciated these attributes. He was a true peacemaker (Matthew 5:9).
We miss you Sonny and do need more like you.
(For you history buffs, Sonny’s next closest vote occurred after his 10 years of service in the state senate during his first race for Congress. In the 1966 Democratic primary, Sonny won in the first with about a 99 vote margin over three other candidates. He won the general election with 65% of the vote, the next general two years later with 70%, four of the next 11 with over 90% with the other seven uncontested. He won in 1992 with 81% and in 1994 with 68%. Sonny retired after 30 years in the Congress in 1997.)