May 27, 2016 12:12:13 PM
He is a first-term state representative whose only previous credentials were a couple of terms as a city aldermen. His ties to his own party go back less than a year.
In Jackson, he joined a Democratic Party so weakened by the results of the November general election that not a single vote from his party was needed to pass legislation, nor did a single bill from his party even make it to a vote.
He campaigned on one issue: "It all starts with education," but was not appointed to the House Education Committee, where his passion and insight might have made a real difference.
He came to Jackson with no power, no influence and no reason that anyone should pay any attention to what he had to say.
But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity.
Jay Hughes, the freshman representative from Oxford, talked.
And people listened.
And he has done something few legislators have been able to do effectively: He has used social media -- specifically Facebook -- to connect with voters.
Thursday, the people who were listening were members and guests of the Columbus Exchange Club where Hughes made an unapologetic argument for public education while delivering a stern rebuke of the Republican-dominated Legislature for what he described as its back-room dealing, special-interest-dominated "assaults on the democratic process."
Were it simply a matter of a minority party venting his frustrations, it is unlikely that Hughes' message would resonate so powerfully, even among audiences whose political views are divided.
Hughes, himself, seems ambivalent about party labels.
"My party is public education," Hughes told the Exchange Club. "Sometimes, I'm more of a blue (Democrat) and sometimes I'm more of a red (Republican). I guess that makes me a purple. If all (legislators) would do that, our state would be better off."
Those words might be dismissed as an attempt to pander to both sides of the room. But the power of Hughes' arguments, his unrestrained passion for public education -- not simply a call for more funding, but a willingness to take a hard look at inefficiencies and waste that also undermine that institution -- transcend party loyalties.
Officials of his type are, sadly, a rare breed in our state.
Much as we noted when Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, spoke before the Columbus Rotary Club in March, what we see in Hughes is an example of genuine leadership, and, something rare in this day and time, statesmanship.
In Jackson, Hughes has quickly become a leper in the eyes of the powerful. He'll be marginalized and attacked. In three years, the powerfully entrenched majority will throw every available resource at making sure he is a one-term representative.
We hope and expect they are going to have a hard time doing it.
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