When my brother was 17, a water moccasin bit him as he was trying to grab it out of a lake with his bare hands. I won't comment on the intelligence level that takes, but I will say we were Delta kids, and hand-grabbing snakes was only second to our love of whiskey and mud-riding.
Fortunately—or unfortunately, through whichever paradigm you view such things—he'd suffered a horrible injury to that same hand three years earlier when a car rolled over it during a wreck. He left the scene of the accident being able to see through his hand. A surgeon saved it, and the only visible mark left was a large patch of tough scar tissue on the top of his knuckles. So, three years later, when that moccasin went to strike, its teeth got stuck in the scar tissue, and my brother wasn't harmed beyond a few scratches.
This story was the first thing I thought of when I pulled the list of bills filed for the 2017 Mississippi legislative session, and the first one on the list was HB 1, a bill put forth that states "all venomous snakes are inherently dangerous to humans." If this was the Clinton administration, we'd all be debating the meaning of the word "inherently" right now. (God, don't y'all wish it was the Clinton administration? Remember the '90s? Unbelievable time to be alive. I mean, if you weren't on welfare during the reform. Or Bill Clinton. Or anyone Bill Clinton had sex with. Or Hillary Clinton. Never mind.)
Anyway, my second thought had a few curse words in it and suggestions for future places the Legislature could look to find their heads. I'm not saying the regulation of venomous snakes as pets is bad—we all have our burdens to bear. But, it just hit me that in the middle of us showing the worse poverty and health-care stats in the country, this is what we are looking to change first about our state. Confiscating venomous animals. Can we get all the hissing ones added to this bill?
"Speaker, I have an amendment. Add hissing possums to HB1." (I expect Rep. Steve Holland to do this just to please me. It's his last term. I'm asking for a favor.)
We can debate all day whether or not venomous snakes are inherently dangerous to humans. I'm sure a few of our tax dollars might be spent talking about that very thing. But we've got to get serious about education and employment in this state if we want anyone around for the snakes to actually bite. We have serious brain drain, and I know it's only getting worse because even I am starting to gaze longingly off into the distance across the state line. And I can't really move anywhere because I'm that kind of Mississippi Special that they put you in hospitals for in other states.
As it sits, the Legislature is set to look at a lot of things, but some of the big ones concern changing our school-funding formula (MAEP); deciding whether or not to expand Medicaid for those that fall in the coverage gap; and tinkering with the usual rules around hunting. With some of the worst health outcomes in the country, I know which ones I'd rather them start looking at first.
Mississippi's stats in health care, education and children living in poverty are not "inherent" to the nature of its citizens. It is not due to moral failings. These things are inherent to its government—a government that continues to crawl toward tax cuts for corporations that do nothing for the economic benefit of its citizens while cutting aid that puts food in the mouth of the 34 percent of our children who live below the poverty line.
This is a travesty no matter how you look at it—from up here or from down there on your belly. We have to do better.
Our leaders are put into their positions to lead us. Where are they leading us now? And do we want to follow them? I know I don't. Not until I see some real headway on real issues we have in this state, not just mucking about with more "religious freedom" mess and ways to penalize people for being poor.
One thing I do know, snakes are snakes no matter what they wear. They do also bite. But they aren't inherently dangerous ... not if you're tough. And I think walking into Phil's fifth year and staring down a Trump presidency has hardened a few folks. A few folks I know are looking to make sure we pay extra-special attention to what's going on at the Capitol. I am a Delta kid, so I ain't opposed to hand-grabbing a snake. No matter what it's wearing.
Lori Gregory is a social worker from Greenville, Miss. She lives in Fondren with two ruined rescues and a 7-year-old daughter that terrorizes her.