Published 12:00 am Monday, January 25, 2016

Salter: Rep. Harper latest in long line of distinguished press ‘roastees’

Looking back, it’s rather remarkable that such a wide array of political and business leaders and other high achievers have agreed to willingly subject themselves to ridicule one night each year by the state’s press.
Yet for three decades now, the Mississippi Press Association Education Foundation has raised a laudable amount of money for journalism scholarships and internships on the backs of otherwise sensible public figures – many of whom share the same affection for reporters, columnists and editorial writers that well-bred dogs exhibit for fireplugs.
I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in most of those events. In most years, the honorees have been top notch. The “celebrity” roast format has produced some really funny moments and the array of “roasters” – those who volunteer to skewer the guest of honor – has included some of Mississippi’s best known political and business figures for an evening of fellowship and fun that benefits Mississippi students.
In 2016, none of those folks were available as the honoree, so MPA reluctantly invited Gregg Harper – a tall, quiet guy from Pearl who just got through paying for his daughter’s exceedingly lovely wedding and who now has that glassy-eyed, stoop-shouldered, empty-pocketed look of a guy who just paid for an opulent wedding reception and a couple of 55 gallon drums of punch.
U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, the state’s Third District congressman, will be the honoree for the Jan. 28 event at the Hilton Jackson. Proceeds from the roast are used to underwrite the scholarship and internship programs of the MPAEF.
Roasters for the event will include: Gov. Phil Bryant, attorney and author Andy Taggart, political consultant and author Jere Nash, and Mississippi House Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden.
Harper is serving his fourth term in Congress, having been elected first in 2008. A graduate of Mississippi College, Harper earned his law degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1981. He practiced law for 27 years before running for Congress.
Harper is a former prosecuting attorney for the cities of Brandon and Richland. He also served on the Mississippi Oil and Gas Board. He and his wife Sidney reside in Pearl and have two children, son Livingston and the recently-married Maggie Harper Bailey.
Past honorees during the three-decade history of the MPA roast include U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, U.S. Rep. G. V. “Sonny” Montgomery, Mississippi Govs. Haley Barbour, Phil Bryant and William Winter, Lt. Govs. Tate Reeves and Amy Tuck, business leaders Blake Wilson, Aubrey Patterson and Anthony Topazi, former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson, journalists W.C. Shoemaker, Bill Minor, Will Norton and Rick Cleveland, public servants Jim Buck Ross and Mike Moore, MSU President Mark Keenum, former Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat, the late Choctaw Chief Phillip Martin and the late entertainer Jerry Clower.
The MPA and MPAEF boards of directors voted in 2009 to rename the foundation award in memory of the longtime Mississippi journalism educator and publisher of The Calhoun County Journal, Gale Denley, my dear friend and a former MPA president who died in 2008. The Ole Miss Student Media Center is named in his honor.
The MPA Education Foundation was established in 1983 to provide internships and scholarships for aspiring journalists and grants for instructional programs at in-state universities and colleges. MPA, founded in 1866, is the trade group for 120 member-newspapers in the Magnolia State.
The 26th annual Roast will be held in conjunction with MPA’s annual Mid-Winter Conference. A reception will be held at 6 p.m.; dinner begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $80 each, or a table of eight is $600. For ticket information, visit www.mspress.org or call 601-981-3060.
(Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com)

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