Billy Joe Russell

Published on November 3rd, 2022 | by Gaetano Catelli


“Good Ole Boys and Gals BBQ 2022 in Oxford, Mississippi” photographs by Gaetano Catelli

They’re making a list and checkin’ it twice — l: John Morgan; r: Johnny Morgan – photograph: Gaetano Catelli Studios

“From 1983-1991, [Johnny] Morgan served as a Mississippi State Senator, and after that he was a county supervisor in Lafayette County, where he ultimately served as its President. He has also served on the North MS Industrial Development Association, which is a subsidiary of TVA. He has also been involved with the Mississippi Board of Economic Development.”

Johnny recollects it was back in 1984 that he and three other good ole boys, bothered that Mississippi’s elected state officials were overlooking Oxford for larger venues in the north of the state, decided to invite candidates for office to a BBQ in what was then Johnny’s Tractor Shed, and is now Johnny Morgan’s Shop. (Oxford’s population in the mid-80’s was less than half its current size.)

At some point, the event became known as the Good Ole Boys ’n Gals BBQ. It’s a non-partisan affair — any candidate for office can meet and greet individual voters, and then speak for two minutes, until Johnny rings a cowbell. 

The master of ceremonies in recent years is Johnny’s cousin, the current Lafayette County Alderman-at-large John Morgan. (As readers can see, he’s the handsome looking one in the family.) Last June, he told “I decided to run for office 12 years ago because of my love for Oxford. Having grown up here, but also seeing the incredible growth that we were experiencing, I wanted to make sure that we kept our small-town charm without hindering the growth that it takes to make a city vibrant and able to sustain that growth.” 

In his introductory announcement, John thanked the hundreds of attendees for coming — whether they were motivated by an interest in participatory democracy or the BBQ chicken. Because I have a long-standing interest in both, I also photographed the event in 2019. I believe I spoke truthfully at this year’s shindig when I quipped to Governor Tate Reeves that he hadn’t aged a day since then. Without missing a beat, he shot back “That’s because I’ve had such an easy time.”

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves – photograph: Gaetano Catelli Studios

When it was his turn to address voters, the Governor grabbed Johnny’s stopwatch and threw it into the crowd (symbolically, of course, not literally). He then made some serious points: Mississippi’s K-12 student performance moved up from 47th to 32nd in the nation. He intends to get the state’s ranking even higher. With this goal in mind, he’s signed legislation giving Mississippi schoolteachers their biggest pay raise ever. In other areas, he’s substantially shrunk the number of state employees and created rainy-day financial reserves of $1.4 billion, also the largest in the state’s history.

Governor Tate Reeves – photograph: Gaetano Catelli Studios
Johnny Morgan being hazed by Senator Roger Wicker – photograph: Gaetano Catelli Studios

U.S. Senator Roger Wicker reminisced about being in the LSU stands for the 1968 football contest with Ole Miss. He credited their head cheerleader for inspiring the Rebels to surge to victory in the closing minutes. Who was that cheerleader? Johnny Morgan! (True story.)

U.S. Senator Roger Wicker – photograph: Gaetano Catelli Studios

In 1994, Wicker won a hotly contested U.S. House seat here in District 1. In 2007, he was appointed by then-Governor Haley Barbour to fill the seat Trent Lott had vacated in the U.S. Senate. He has successfully defended his Senate seat in elections in 2008, 2012, and 2018. He sits on numerous Senate committees and subcommittees, and he’s inclined to support bipartisan compromise on the vital issues of the day. 

Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann – photograph: Gaetano Catelli Studios

Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann recalled his excitement at spending a day as governor (in accordance with the Mississippi constitution) the first time Reeves left the state — to attend a conference with other Republican governors. As compensation for the 12 hours Reeves was out of state, Hosemann soon received a check for $84 as his pro rata portion of the governor’s salary. As an experienced tax attorney, he knew that $84/12hrs = $7. Whereas, the Mississippi minimum wage is $7.25. Eventually, the matter was amicably resolved in Hosemann’s favor. 

It happens that in Mississippi the Lt. Governor is more than just a “replacement part” for the Governor. Under the state constitution, the Lt. Governor is the only executive branch member who can present bills to the legislature.

Secretary of State, Michael Watson – photograph: Gaetano Catelli Studios

Mississippi Secretary of State, Michael Watson, started out by telling the joke about the charity event attended by a Baptist pastor and a Catholic minister. It was pointed out to them that one of the two punch bowls contained alcohol; the other did not. When asked which he’d prefer, the priest noted that Jesus had turned water to wine, so he’d have the punch that had alcohol in it. By contrast, the Baptist pastor proclaimed that he’d rather commit adultery than for alcohol to touch his lips. Hearing that, the priest exclaimed, “I didn’t know adultery was one of the choices!”   

Watson has traveled near and far selling Mississippi as a place for established enterprises, as well as entrepreneurs, to make investments that will create more jobs, goods, and services by and for Mississippians.

Transportation Commissioner for Northern Mississippi John Caldwell – photograph: Gaetano Catelli Studios

Transportation Commissioner for Northern Mississippi, John Caldwell, noted that since 2019 what had been a gravel parking lot at Johnny Morgan’s Shop has gotten nicely paved with asphalt. He said he would be contacting the tax authorities about reassessing the value of the property.

He also said that with increased money for infrastructure from Washington, roads and bridges in North Mississippi would soon be getting much more attention than was possible with the difficulties of recent years.

U.S. Representative Trent Kelly – photograph: Gaetano Catelli Studios

U.S. Representative Trent Kelly occupies the House seat once held by Roger Wicker. Kelly served in both Iraq Wars in the Mississippi National Guard’s 155th Battalion (aka “Dixie Thunder”), and now has the rank of Major General.

He spoke passionately about his commitment to keeping America safe, and promises that if the GOP wins back the House in 2023, the committees he sits on will get to the bottom of things that need lookin’ into.

Circuit Judge Kelly Luther – photograph: Gaetano Catelli Studios

Kelly Luther wants to be reelected as Circuit Judge. He urged voters to ask the friend whose judgment they trust the most: Is Kelly Luther the most qualified, fair-minded, judicious choice as Circuit Judge? If they disagree, ask another friend. If they too disagree, make new friends until you find one who does agree. 

Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill – photograph: Gaetano Catelli Studios

Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill gave a heartfelt closing benediction, and then we sat down for delicious barbecued chicken, with plenty of delicious fixin’s.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 8, 2022.

Find out who’s on your ballot by clicking here:

All photos: © Gaetano Catelli Studios
Transportation: Louis Bourgeois, PWI

photograph: Gaetano Catelli Studios

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About the Author

"Elvis drew me to Mississippi, and Faulkner drew me to Oxford." Gaetano Catelli Gaetano Catelli is a photographer and writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi.

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