JACKSON (AP) — The Mississippi Capitol is not the real world, and that can be easy to forget during a legislative session.
Unless there's an alternate universe neatly hidden from most people, the real world doesn't have the plethora of freebies that are readily available at the statehouse.
Almost every morning during a 90-day session, groups set up tables in the first floor rotunda near the main public entrance at the center of the building. Universities, mental health advocates, museums, tourism groups — there's a rotating cast of characters with ideas to pitch and services to promote.
What better way to grab lawmakers' attention than by luring them to your table with a free chicken biscuit, a chocolate-dipped strawberry or a big blueberry muffin? Or, even with a lunch buffet that makes the whole rotunda smell like gravy?
Often, the entertainment is free. The Mississippi Museum of Natural Science brought a big snake to the Capitol this year. Folks couldn't take the snake home, of course, but they got to pose with it for free (scary!) photos to amaze their friends and family.
There are trinkets aplenty. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County shows up every session with bright, flashing NASA lapel pins and astronaut toys made of squeezable foam. Railroad companies hand out calendars with lovely photos of locomotives traveling through the countryside.
Some of the freebies are more valuable. Last week, medical professionals offered a wide range of free health screenings at the Capitol, including those for blood pressure, cholesterol and vision.
The freebies are not limited to lawmakers. They are generally available to anyone who walks up, including Capitol staffers, lobbyists, journalists and random people visiting the building.
There are also plenty of freebies available at the invitation-only events for lawmakers, including steak dinners with lobbyists and a long list of receptions that offer beer, wine and cocktails for those who choose to partake. (Yes, there are plenty of teatotalers in the Legislature, in case their deacons are reading this.)
Mississippi is not alone in this culture of freebies for the powerful and privileged. This is common in lots of statehouses, and there's reason to believe that some elected officials in Washington might be wined and dine from time to time.
Most of the freebies and the hospitality are legal, and it's reasonable to think that a grown-up legislator can maintain his or her integrity while eating a complimentary sandwich. The challenge is to keep in touch with how people are living their lives back at home, because it's generally pretty different from life at the Capitol.
Despite the type of "only positive Mississippi spoken here" sloganeering that has been popular among some politicians for decades, this has long been one of the poorest states in the union. It remains so, even with economic advances.
The world of freebies must be completely foreign to workers with some of the lowest-paid and most thankless jobs in state government — for example, those who earn only a smidge above minimum wage as direct care workers in mental health facilities.
The free medical tests given at the Capitol last week are just the kind of thing some people outside the building might need.
Politicians like to talk about how folks sit down at the kitchen table and decide how spend their own hard-earned money. People living paycheck-to-paycheck probably can't stretch their grocery budget by loading up on all-you-can-eat shrimp at a reception. It's something to remember in the land of freebies.
Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .
Lest people think that President Trump (it feels so good to write these words) was making it up as he went along the campaign trail, his inaugural address should set their hearts at rest. The new president continued his campaign themes into his inaugural, signaling that they will dominate his policymaking and thinking for all of his presidency.
He declared the end of globalism, noting that the world's foremost nation was going to put its own needs first. And he notified the world's most controlling establishment that the goals of the average American would have supremacy.
No longer will the style and vogue of Paris and German salons or the consensus of self-interested bureaucrats be prevailing. Everything will be judged strictly by one criterion: What is best for the people that own this nation -- the American people.
An economy committed only to the aggregation of wealth will now have to focus instead on the distribution of prosperity, not to different ethnic groups, but to those whose labor has made the wealth possible in the first place.
It was a fighting inaugural, devoid of the grace, eloquence and trappings of previous speeches. It plainly articulated what Trump plans to do and elaborated the themes of his election campaign. Watching the speech, we come to realize that President Trump regards the government as a continuation of the campaign by other means. He did not run for office as a candidate who now sheds the populist suit and governs as a bureaucrat. He is going to govern as he ran -- raw, unvarnished, clear and decisive.
The message of this inaugural is clear: President Donald J. Trump means what he says.
Dick Morris, former advisor to the Clinton administration, is a commentator and writer. He is also a columnist for the New York Post and The Hill. His wife, Eileen McGann is an attorney and consultant.