Gov. Kirk Fordice called a news conference last week because he was mad.
He was mad at the Senate Universities and Colleges Subcommittee for not confirming his four nominees to the state College Board.
He was mad at Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who presides over the Senate, for not forcing senators to confirm the nominees.
He was mad at the media for criticizing him for nominating four white men to the 12-person College Board.
He also was mad at the media for not reporting the qualifications of the four.
In short, the governor was mad.
He probably has a right to be upset. No doubt, the governor has found four excellent choices to serve on the College Board, which may be the most powerful lay board in the state.
If it turns out that he cannot renominate the four men, Fordice probably will be even madder. There is at least one school of thought that Fordice cannot renominate the four since the Senate did not approve them during the legislative session that ended in April. But apparently there are as many legal opinions on this issue as there are attorneys in the state. While not everyone agrees, the prevailing wisdom now is that Fordice can renominate some or all of them, but they cannot serve until they are confirmed by the Senate.
At any rate, it would be a setback for the state if any of the four could not serve Mississippi on some appointed board. Losing the enormous talents of these four would make me mad.
But it also upsets me a little when Gov. Fordice calls a news conference to criticize members of the media for not reporting on the qualifications of the four. The qualifications of the four men – Hassell Franklin of Houston, Tom McNeese of Columbia, John McCarty of Jackson and Ralph Simmons of Laurel – have never been an issue. Everyone agrees they are qualified.
For the record, the Daily Journal did a story on Franklin, the nominee from Northeast Mississippi. In that article, we detailed his considerable qualifications. Stephen Singer did that story for the Daily Journal. I have tried to talk to Mr. Franklin on more than one occasion since then about the process and his qualifications, but have not had any success.
But in almost every story I have written, I have reported that even Senate subcommittee members who refused to approve the four spoke highly of their individual qualifications. The subcommittee’s problem is that all four are white males. The subcommittee members say more diversity is needed.
The issue of diversity is a tricky one to tackle. Ideally, we all would like for the best person to get every job. But who is to say these four men are the only ones who are “the most qualified”? Despite their credentials, there are others in the state with equally impressive qualifications. I know, the governor, whom we elected, says they are the most qualified so they should be confirmed. But Senate members, who also were elected, and who also play a legal role in the process, say otherwise.
Indeed, diversity is a slippery slope.
I honestly see points on both sides.
It might be interesting to see how other politicians handle the issue of diversity.
Take for instance, Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s handling of the diversity issue.
During last fall’s election where he upset incumbent Eddie Briggs, Musgrove promised to name a diverse group of Senate committee chairmen. Naming committee chairmen is among the most important duties of the lieutenant governor. Committee chairmen literally have the power to kill legislation they don’t like.
So for Musgrove, the naming of committee chairmen was at least as important as Fordice’s nominations to the College Board.
Whereas the governor named four white males, Musgrove selected people from all facets of the Senate.
Let’s just look at who Musgrove named as chairmen of the big five committees: Appropriations, Finance, Education, Judiciary and Public Health and Welfare.
Musgrove named white Republican males to Appropriations and Public Health and Welfare. For Education and Finance, he named white Democratic males. The Judiciary chairman is a black Democratic male.
Looking at additional appointments, Musgrove named a black female, who is a Democrat, as chairman of Elections.
It would have been easy for Musgrove to name Democrats to the all-important posts of Appropriations and Public Health and Welfare. There were Democrats interested in the jobs.
But he said he wanted diversity.
Who is right – Gov. Fordice or Lt. Gov. Musgrove?
Cases can be made for both. I guess it depends a lot on your perspective.
Bobby Harrison is chief of the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau.