Daily Journal - Outspoken Holland serious about helping - After nearly 25 years in the Legislature, Holland has high name recognition not only in the north Mississippi district he hopes to serve in Congress, but also throughout the entire state. He is a large man with a large heart and, some would say, an even larger mouth. He is rowdy and candid, funny and shocking, passionate and impulsive. He's a politician, a family man, a business owner and a raconteur. It is said that you either love Holland or you hate him.
On a sunny morning last week in Houston and Aberdeen, Holland covered several city blocks to greet residents and ask for their support in Tuesday's runoff election. He didn't huff or puff, never sat for a break, and never once complained about the effort. In fact, Holland seemed to relish it.
The people Holland met seemed to enjoy the campaigning as much as the candidate. They hugged him, laughed with him, slapped him on the back and called him a "true Democrat."
It wasn't always so. Holland flirted heavily with the Republican party during and after his college days at Mississippi State University. He worked on the staff of the state GOP and spent more than one year as political director on Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran's staff.
But Holland switched sides in 1983 to win the 16th District seat in the state House of Representatives. He also spent three years as an aide to the late Democratic U.S. Rep. Jamie Whitten. The Democratic party was a perfect fit, he said, even though he continues his friendships with old Republican pals like Gov. Haley Barbour.
"We have a macabre-kind of relationship today," Holland said. Barbour spokesman Pete Smith said he would "politely decline" to comment on the friendship.
While in the House, Holland worked his way up through the ranks, befriending Democrats and Republicans alike to carve a niche for himself and, finally, become one of the Legislature's senior members. Today, Holland chairs the House's Public Health and Human Services Committee and sits on eight others, including the powerful Appropriations Committee.
The 52-year-old jokes that younger colleagues call him "Papa Bear," because he often takes them under his wing when they enter Jackson politics. One of them, Holland said, was Greg Davis. Davis, a Republican vying for the same congressional seat in this election, came to the House in 1991 as an Independent. Holland said he was one of the Legislature's rising stars. When contacted later about Holland's comments, Davis chuckled, adding, "He said that?"
While serving in the Legislature, Holland grew a successful business as an undertaker and funeral home operator. Today, he owns Holland-Harris Funeral Directors in Tupelo and Okolona and is vice president of Seven Oaks Funeral Home in Water Valley. The profession introduced him - and endeared him - to a number of the region's people.
Holland offered this experience in response: "When my oldest daughter was 16, I caught her in the pool one night with a boy. I was so mad. I grabbed the young man and slammed him against the brick wall and straightened him out. He's a doctor now, and he still calls me every year and thanks me for making a man out of him."
Replace the hormonal teenager in that story with a broken health care system, stingy Republicans or a litany of other political peeves, and you have a good idea of how Holland the statesman operates.
Case in point: While outside the courthouse that day, a woman came running down the steps calling Holland's name. It was Donna Schomburg with C.O.P.E.S., a dropout prevention program sponsored by the Exchange Club of Houston. She complained that a lack of public transportation and Medicaid registration in Houlka prevented her clients from seeking health care for themselves and their children. Outraged, Holland immediately phoned various agencies to get Schomburg help.
"He got a representative of Medicaid to call me who is going to try to rectify the situation and get a representative out to the clinic there," Schomburg told the Daily Journal several days later. "And Mr. Holland is investigating the transportation situation right now. He was very helpful. He could have said, well, call your congressman."
And, incidentally, that's what Holland wants to become. His main motivation: helping more people like Schomburg. "I would like nothing more than to have an office and a staff to help people and to give people a ray of hope," Holland said. "I've been advocating every second of my life for the least, the last, and the most vulnerable - poor folks, just like me."