Lines form for speaker's seat

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The list of potential House members vying to replace Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, as speaker grows longer by the day.
McCoy, 68, announced Wednesday that he would not seek re-election to a new four-year term. Speculation began immediately about potential candidates to preside over the House.
In 2008, McCoy won his second term as speaker by a slim 62-60 margin over fellow Democrat Jeff Smith of Columbus. But Smith received the votes of all the chamber’s Republicans.
Before 2008, partisan politics had little impact – if any – on the election of a speaker. But most believe that Republicans, with their ability to enforce disciplined bloc voting, will elect one of their own as speaker if they can obtain a majority in the House in November’s elections. They currently hold 53 of the 122 seats.
“We are working hard to elect Republicans to the House,” said Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, when asked if he is running for speaker. Baker said nothing will be determined until after the November general election.
“Anybody who says it will be is wrong,” Baker said.
If Republicans do not garner a majority, a conservative Democrat could obtain Republican votes and enough Democrats to be elected speaker.
That is what Smith almost did in 2008 against McCoy. Smith is running for re-election this year as an independent and will attempt to build that coalition.
But with the 2012 Legislature facing the difficult task of drawing new districts to match population shifts determined by the 2010 census, Democrats might be more prone to stick together this time if they hold on to their majority.
Bobby Moak of Bogue Chitto has been the most discussed candidate on the Democratic side to replace McCoy. But others have been mentioned, including Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer of Montrose, Education Chairman Cecil Brown of Jackson, Public Health Chairman Steve Holland of Plantersville and Ways and Means Chairman Percy Watson of Hattiesburg.
“One who has served as long as I have would, of course, be honored to be speaker,” said Holland, who was elected to the House in 1983. “I think it is important that Mississippi has a blueprint for the future. I want to be part of drawing that blueprint. If I am given that opportunity as speaker or as a member of the House, I would be honored.”
Preston Sullivan, D-Okolona, has been discussed as a possible dark horse candidate. Of course, in 1988, Tim Ford, then of Baldwyn, was a dark horse candidate who ended up serving four terms as speaker.
Another possible candidate, George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, may opt to run for speaker pro tem, which also is vacant because of the retirement of J.P. Compretta of Bay St. Louis.
On the Republican side, numerous candidates have been mentioned, including Baker, Philip Gunn of Clinton, Sid Bondurant of Grenada and Herb Frierson of Poplarville.
And in the coming days other candidates will emerge.
A key upcoming day in the race for speaker is Wednesday, which is the qualifying deadline. Republicans and Democrats are scurrying to find viable candidates to run in open seats and against incumbents whom they view to be vulnerable.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.