OUR OPINION: Legislature could benefit from less partisan tone

By NEMS Daily Journal

After three weeks of mostly ceremonial exercises, the Mississippi Legislature is finally organized and ready to get to work.
Lawmakers gathered at the Capitol on Jan. 3 but since then have spent most of their time getting to know new colleagues, formally electing people to top posts already determined, and watching people get sworn in and make speeches. It’s a slow start, necessitated in part by constitutional requirements, to a long 125-day session that always kicks off each four-year term.
Work can’t be done until all the ceremony is over and things are organized. On Friday, that organization was close to complete.
New House Speaker Philip Gunn of Clinton announced his committee assignments, a key responsibility of the chamber’s principal leader. Since committees are where most of the work of legislating is done, nothing could be accomplished until they were in place.
Gunn dispelled any notions that he would use the new Republican majority in the House to completely shut out Democrats from committee chairmanships. Democratic Speaker Billy McCoy had done that to Republicans after a near-successful revolt against his leadership in the House in 2008 in which not a single Republican voted for him.
Gunn named Democrats to 10 of 41 committee chairmanships, including some that are consequential. As with Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves in the Senate, he reserved the top committees for Republicans, which was to be expected, but the crossing of partisan lines in some of the appointments makes an important statement for the working of both legislative bodies over the four-year term ahead.
It’s conceivable that with solid and probably enduring Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, along with a Republican governor, the overt partisanship of the last four years could subside a bit. If so, that would be beneficial to efforts in areas like education and health care where the divide in recent years has so often been drawn along partisan lines – almost reflexively in some instances.
Mississippians need to know that their legislators are more concerned about policy that moves the state forward than about how it plays in the partisan wars. That doesn’t mean that genuine philosophical differences shouldn’t emerge and be aired, or that there won’t be some Democratic push back to issues Republicans want to see addressed now that they’re in the majority. But Mississippi’s chief challenges require solutions that span partisan divides.
Gunn and Reeves, the new leaders of the House and Senate, show early signs of understanding that. Mississippians should hope that legislators take the cue.