AG: FORDICE CAN’T RENOMINATE
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – If Gov. Kirk Fordice decides to renominate to the state College Board the same four men the Senate refused to approve earlier this year, he will be violating long-held legal opinions.
At least that’s the position taken by the office of the Mississippi attorney general, who has the responsibility under state law to issue opinions on such matters.
Fordice’s renomination of the four could set up another courtroom battle between the governor and Attorney General Mike Moore. Fordice currently is taking Moore to court to try to stop the attorney general’s lawsuit against tobacco companies.
But their legal battles go back further. In 1993, Moore opposed Fordice’s partial veto of some bond bills, saying the governor had exceeded his constitutional authority. The state Supreme Court agreed with Moore.
And now Moore’s office has issued a legal opinion – at the request of state Sen. Jack Gordon, D-Okolona -on whether Fordice can renominate four candidates for the College Board. Fordice supporters said the governor is researching that option.
But according to the attorney general’s office, the governor cannot do that.
Trey Bobinger of the attorney general’s office said: “This (ruling prohibiting the renominations) is not something new. We have prior opinions dating back to at least 1991. It is just a matter of reading the statute and the law. This is what the law says.”
The law, the attorney general’s office says, is clear that once the four nominees have been rejected by the Senate, then Fordice cannot reappoint them. The same opinion was issued in 1991 in a similar case, but it goes back further, Bobinger said.
But apparently Fordice is not as sure as the attorney general’s office is of the wording of the law.
“The governor has not yet made a firm decision on what he plans to do with the four appointments,” said Fordice spokeswoman Johnna Van. “He is considering different options.”
One of those options, Van said, might be to renominate Hassell Franklin of Franklin Corp. in Houston; Ralph Simmons of Laurel, who is retired from Sunbeam Oster; Thomas McNeese, a Columbia attorney; and John McCarty, president of McCarty Enterprises in Jackson.
During the past legislative session, a subcommittee of the Universities and Colleges Committee heard testimony from the four. The general consensus of the subcommittee, which tabled the nominees and never acted on them again, was that the four were “eminently qualified,” but lacked diversity. All four are white males. The majority of the subcommittee said more blacks and women should be members of the 12-person board.
If the four white men had been confirmed, the College Board, which sets policy for the state’s eight universities, would be made up of eight white men, two black men and two white women.
Recently, Fordice referred to “the unconscionable position of two of three people in the Legislature to not only not confirm (the nominees) but to do nothing with four of Mississippi’s finest citizens. It is an unconscionable act. It is inexcusable, and it should have never happened. Those are four of Mississippi’s finest and they were due at least a decision – not to be left spinning in the wind.”
Unless something happens soon, the College Board will be four people short. The terms of four members appointed by Gov. Bill Allain in the mid-1980s end on May 7.