By Bobby Harrison / NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Billy McCoy must know. The Rienzi Democrat has to be aware that everything – every move he makes, every sound he utters, literally every action he takes – is being dissected by both supporters and opponents for clues as to whether he will run for re-election in 2011 to his legislative seat and seek a third term as speaker of the Mississippi House.
Sitting behind his desk in his state Capitol office, the 68-year-old Prentiss County farmer provides few hints.
“My plan, just like it has been the last nine times, is at the proper time to make an announcement of what I will do,” he said recently. “I do not want an announcement to figure into the session. We have so many important issues. We should not have every vote cast reflecting on who might be the next speaker.”
McCoy was re-elected speaker in January 2008 – the start of the current term – by a meager 62-60 margin after a hard and contentious battle against Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Columbus.
And if he runs for another term as speaker, it again will be a difficult and bitter contest.
Many, including allies and foes, are lining up to run for the post in January 2012. Some will run only if McCoy doesn’t; others will seek the job regardless.
And for legislators, it is likely that any votes and decisions during the 2011 session, which begins Jan. 4, will be made in light of that pending speaker’s race.
“I think it will have an overarching effect on every decision made, which will only complicate the process,” said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville.
Not that the 2011 session process won’t be challenging anyway. Legislators will face hard budget decisions because of economic woes and the loss of federal stimulus funds and because of legislative redistricting.
Plus, they will face hot-button issues, such as proposals to crack down on illegal immigrants.
McCoy does not seem too concerned about what impact the speaker’s race will have on the session. Leadership fights, he said, are part of the normal process in legislative bodies.
“There is always a speaker’s race, whether announced or not,” he said. “There is always a leadership fight in most all major bodies – as it should be.”
But he said it is too early to worry too much about it. Rep. Noal Akins, R-Oxford, agrees.
“There are several people already out there running or organizing,” Akins said. “That is so unnecessary. First of all, I am predicting the largest turnover in the House in a long time. With reapportionment some will get beat.
“It is so premature for them to be jockeying for position.”
The 49 Republicans in the House already have met to discuss the race. In 2007, they all voted for Smith, who, though a Democrat, is a consistent vote for Republicans.
During the recent meeting, the Republicans opted not to endorse any candidate, but to agree to again vote in a bloc for either a fellow Republican or rural, conservative Democrat.
In his first run for speaker, McCoy had strong bipartisan support. But since then the Legislature has become much more partisan and it is unlikely he will garner any Republican support if he does run again.
Much will depend on the outcome of the November legislative elections.
Several Republicans are viewed as possible candidates for speaker, along with Smith.
Democratic Reps. Bobby Moak of Bogue Chitto and Warner McBride of Courtland have been cited by some as running for the post, though McBride is now running in a January special election for the Northern District Transportation Commission seat.
But the 68-year-old McCoy, who was first elected to the House in 1979, isn’t tipping his hand on his plans. “I am an old man,” he joked. “I didn’t know that until my grandson told me. He asked, ‘How old are you?’ I said 68 and he said, ‘That’s old.’”
But McCoy, who suffered minor strokes early in his first term as speaker after a life-threatening battle with diverticulitis, has not had any major setbacks since then. He remains active.
“Nobody has a clue from the people I have talked to about what the speaker will do,” said Rep. Brian Aldridge, R-Tupelo. “I have talked to Republicans, Democrats, liberals and conservatives. We are all wondering what Speaker McCoy will do. I am not totally sure he knows right now what he is going to do.”
But Holland and others are convinced he is running.
Said Akins, “If Billy is living, he is running. You know how important this is to Billy. This is his life.”
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119