By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Rep. Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, promised to be fair and urged fellow representatives – regardless of party – to work together to move Mississippi forward after he was elected speaker of the state House on Tuesday by acclamation.
Gunn, 48, who is entering his third term in the House, becomes the first Republican speaker since the 1800s in a carefully choreographed and historic opening day of the 2012 session.
“I feel a great weight of responsibility,” acknowledged Gunn, who was accompanied to the speaker’s podium by his wife, Lisa, and four children – ranging in age from 8 to 22.
Gunn added: “The enemy is not within the walls of this chamber. The enemy is joblessness and crime. The enemy is teen pregnancy … The enemy is out-of-control spending and excessive taxation … Let us work together to make Mississippi better than ever before.”
Gunn was nominated by, among others, his deskmate of the past eight years, Rep. Preston Sullivan, D-Okolona.
“We have had some heated discussions, but through it all we have remained friends,” Sullivan said.
He also was nominated by his two main rivals in the Republican Party for the post, Reps. Herb Frierson of Poplarville and Jeff Smith of Columbus. Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, Gunn’s choice for House president pro-tem, was selected to that position without opposition.
When Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, made the motion to elect Gunn by acclamation, Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, briefly objected, but in the end, Democrats, who hold 58 seats in the 122-seat chamber, saw the handwriting on the wall and did not try to hold up the process.
Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, who was selected chair of the Democratic caucus and was viewed as the favorite for speaker if the Democrats had held the majority, said there was debate among Democrats on whether to run a candidate against Gunn. In the end, Moak said a majority – though not all of the Democrats – felt it would not be productive to put up a sacrificial lamb.
“I congratulated him on his win,” Moak said. “I think it has been a smooth day on both sides of the aisle.”
Moak said the real test of the opening day bipartisanship will come in two to three weeks “when we start considering real bills and issues.”
Gunn, an attorney, succeeds former Rep. Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, who opted not to seek re-election. McCoy was speaker for two terms, and like Gunn was elected by acclamation in 2004, but was narrowly re-elected in 2008 by a 62-60 margin.
The opening day in the Senate was not as historic, but it did go as smoothly. As expected, Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, was elected Senate president pro-tem without opposition. Brown was the choice of Lt. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves, who will be sworn in on Thursday.
Until then, Phil Bryant, the governor-elect, who is finishing his term as lieutenant governor, will continue to preside over the chamber.
In the coming days, the new Republican-controlled Legislature will continue to organize. At 11 a.m. today, outgoing Republican Gov. Haley Barbour will address a joint session. In the coming days, Reeves and Gunn will make committee assignments.
On Tuesday, representatives selected members to serve on the Rules and Management committees. Northeast Mississippi members on those committees are Reps. Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, and Mac Huddleston, R-Pontotoc, on Rules, and Reps. Margaret Ellis Rogers, R-New Albany, and Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, on Management.
No Northeast Mississippi senator was selected to the Senate Rules Committee, which manages the chamber’s internal operations and handles the rules that govern the chamber.