LEGISLATIVE SESSION OPENS
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – The 1996 legislative session opened Tuesday with family – including a moderate number of wailing infants – on hand to see the members of the state Senate and House sworn in for new four-year terms.
After the swearing-in, the occasional outburst from children offered about the only surprise as the two bodies went through the scripted task of electing a president pro tempore of both the Senate and the House and a speaker of the House.
In the Senate, Tommy Gollott of Biloxi was elected speaker pro tem without opposition. Gollott’s election was assured last week when Lt. Gov.-elect Ronnie Musgrove endorsed him for the job. The speaker pro tempore presides over the Senate in the lieutenant governor’s absence.
Musgrove and the other statewide elected officials, with the exception of the governor, will be sworn in Thursday. Gov. Kirk Fordice will be sworn in on Jan. 9 for his second term.
The Senate also elected one of its own – Amy Tuck – as secretary of the Senate. Tuck, who served one term in the Senate, ran an unsuccessful campaign last year for secretary of state.
Tuck’s uncontested election as secretary of the Senate also was not a surprise since she received the endorsement of Musgrove. The secretary of the Senate oversees the chamber’s staff and rules on procedural issues.
On the House side, Tim Ford of Tupelo was elected without opposition to his third term as speaker. Robert Clark of Ebenezer was elected to his second term as speaker pro tempore. The speaker presides over the House and the pro tem presides in his absence.
“It worked just like we had it planned,” one House member said of the election of Ford and Clark.
Briggs steps aside
The House also confirmed the election of Musgrove as lieutenant governor by voice vote.
The confirmation was necessary because Musgrove and incumbent Lt. Gov. Eddie Briggs tied in Mississippi’s version of the electoral college. Under the Mississippi Constitution, all statewide elected officers must receive a majority of the popular vote and a majority of the House districts to be elected.
While Musgrove received 52.7 percent of the popular vote in the November general election, he and Briggs each carried 61 House districts. Under the state Constitution, if no person receives a majority of the House districts and the popular vote, the House of Representatives is supposed to elect the candidate from the top two voter-getters.
But Briggs sent a letter to Speaker Ford asking the House to give Musgrove unanimous support.
In the letter Briggs said, “A majority of our voters have chosen Sen. Ronnie Musgrove as their lieutenant governor-elect. It is my desire that the wishes of our people be fulfilled.”
Before adjourning, the House and Senate also elected members of the Rules and Management committees. The committees are elected by members from each congressional district.
Most of Northeast Mississippi is in the 1st Congressional District.
Members of the House Rules Committee from the 1st District are Tommy Woods of Byhalia and Steve Holland of Plantersville.
Members of the Management Committee from the 1st District are Charlie Williams of Senatobia and Billy McCoy of Rienzi.
In the Senate, Travis Little of Corinth was elected to the Management Committee and Jack Gordon of Okolona was elected to the Rules Committee.
The Rules Committee writes the rules that the chambers operate under. The Management Committee oversees staff.
This is the first year for the Senate to have a Management Committee. Musgrove recommended the formation of a Management Committee during the campaign. Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory presented the proposal for the formation of a Management Committee to the Senate Tuesday.
The 52 members of the Senate and 122 members of the House will continue to deal with other ceremonial-type issues for the rest of the week. One important task that is expected to be performed this week is the assignment of committees by Ford and Musgrove. Both indicated they would make committee assignments Friday.
Making committee assignments are key powers for the speaker and lieutenant governor. Committee chairmen have great influence over whether a bill is passed or is killed.
Musgrove has not revealed any of his assignments, but they are expected to be different from the chairmen appointed by Briggs.
Ford said Tuesday he would make a few changes.