By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – While Republicans have a majority in the state House for the first time since the 1800s, Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, said it’s not the first time he’s been in the minority.
Moak, selected by the 58 Democrats in the 122-member chamber as their leader, said he was in the minority in the early 1990s when he supported then-Rep. Ed Perry, D-Oxford, over Tim Ford, then a Democrat from Baldwyn, for speaker. At that time, there were few Republicans in the House.
“It is a little bit of a learning curve” being in the minority, Moak said Monday where he was the guest speaker at the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government/Capitol press corps luncheon. “It is not new for me.”
But as a member of a minority, Moak said legislators can still be effective.
Moak said some legislators might be basing their votes on the fact that the new Republican leadership has yet to redraw legislative districts. He said he learned in the early 1990s as a member of the group that lost the speaker’s fight “that really doesn’t work.”
Moak said thus far it appears Republicans have established an agenda where they are handling only one item at a time.
Monday was the deadline for members to file bills. Moak said normally by this point in the process both chambers already have passed numerous bills and many more are undergoing committee scrutiny.
But this session the House has taken up two general bills and one local and private, and the Senate two bills. At some point, Moak said, the new committee chairmen will have to speed up the process or a historically low number of bills will be passed during the 2012 session.
He said there are big issues pending that could take up significant time. Those issues include immigration, redistricting, charter schools, personhood and others.
He said the Democratic minority will be active in trying to amend legislation “to make it better.” But he admitted that, as he said the Republicans did when they were in a minority, the Democrats will offer amendments at times with the goal of forcing the majority party to take votes that might be perceived as embarrassing.
But he added, “We are going to try to work together, not be obstructionists.”
Moak also admitted that at first the Democrats saw former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour’s pardons of about 200 people in his final hours in office as an opportunity to score political points.
“But it turned into a Mississippi issue that was important to have a conversation about,” he said. Proposals are pending in the Legislature that could restrict the governor’s ability to grant pardons.