FROM THE VAULT: William Winter elected governor in 1979

The veteran politician is credited with sweeping education-reform legislation during his term
Published: Aug. 22, 2023 at 5:25 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - William Winter was sworn-in as governor in 1980, after his third run for that office.

He had first run in 1967, while he was serving as state treasurer. He tried again in 1975 when he was lieutenant governor. But it wasn’t until the election of 1979 that he succeeded.

Governor-elect William Winter on election night in 1979
Governor-elect William Winter on election night in 1979(WLBT)

“That’s what I’m asking you for here tonight -- to stay with me for the next four years and we’ll solve some problems in this state that we haven’t solved before,” he told supporters at his victory celebration on the night of the election.

In December of 1982, Governor Winter called the legislature into a special session with a charge to make sweeping changes to education in Mississippi.

He wanted kindergarten added to public schools, compulsory school attendance, and a teacher pay raise.

Those are three elements of what became the Education Reform Act of 1982, passed by the legislature days before Christmas, and funded by a tax increase.

Special Session of Miss. Legislature in December 1982
Special Session of Miss. Legislature in December 1982(WLBT)

“It’s not a personal victory for me,” he said on the day the legislation was passed. “It’s a victory for these people who’ve come in here and worked for two weeks, and it’s a victory for the people they represent. And I couldn’t be more pleased with what’s happened. I couldn’t be more proud of a group of legislators that I am of this legislature that I have the privilege of working with.”

Winter got it done with a team of young assistants who became known as the “Boys of Spring.” The entire group was honored 30 years later.

Governor Winter died just before Christmas of 2020, almost exactly 38 years after the crowning achievement of his time as governor.

Winter stayed active for many years after leaving the Governor’s Mansion in 1984, playing key roles in changing the state flag and in making the Two Mississippi Museums a reality.

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