By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Nothing seems to have changed in the speaker’s office – Billy McCoy’s office – in the Mississippi Capitol.
On this day, like many, McCoy, D-Rienzi, who is finishing his second term as speaker, can be found sitting at his desk talking about the changes he has seen in Mississippi and about the state’s future.
But in reality, everything has changed. McCoy announced on May 25 he would not run for a ninth term in the Mississippi House.
Almost a month later, on this particular day, McCoy looks like a man who does not regret his decision.
“I feel real good,” said McCoy, 68. “I was not making a political decision. It was a personal one.”
He added, “I just want to be happy. God lets me laugh. I enjoy life, and I enjoy hearing and telling a good joke. I enjoy laughing with friends.”
McCoy uncharacteristically did not meet with the media on the day he announced he would not seek re-election later this year. But he recently agreed to an interview in his state Capitol office with the Daily Journal.
While there had been speculation for months that McCoy would not seek another term, he said he did not make a decision until about a week before he announced it.
He said during the three-month regular session he was focused on dealing with a difficult state budget situation, a legislative redistricting fight and other issues. After the session ended, the fight over legislative redistricting was thrown into the courts.
He said he wanted to focus on the resolution of those issues before making a decision about his political future.
“Then I did what I have always done,” McCoy said. “I sat down with family and friends. I talked to them before I made up my mind.”
During the interview with the Daily Journal, the Prentiss County Democrat discussed numerous topics, ranging from his plans after retirement, to House politics, to progress that has been made in the state.
More than anything, McCoy held firm to his beliefs in the importance of strong education and transportation systems.
“I was not a state representative when I was elected,” McCoy said. “I hope I have become one. In the beginning I was mostly concerned with helping my part of the country. And that remains important to me.”
But McCoy said he soon came to understand the whole state is dependent on the sum of its parts.
“If you don’t have good systems of education, transportation, public health and public safety, you cannot compete for good jobs,” he said. “I don’t care what type of incentive package you have for a company. You need those things first.”
McCoy would not speculate on the speaker’s race that already has started to replace him. But he insisted the political operation he was instrumental in establishing that helped elect Democrats to the House in 2007 and kept him in the position of the House’s presiding officer is continuing, even though he is stepping down.
“The Democrats in the House have a tremendous political organization,” he said. “… I feel confident they will be victorious.
“… I will help as much as I can. But it is another day and the members will be quite capable of carrying on. They will elect a quite capable speaker and the House will move forward.”
While the race is on to replace him next January, McCoy is busy carrying out his duties as both speaker and House member from District 3 in Prentiss and Alcorn counties. He said he is getting more requests from constituents for help than he has ever had.
“Maybe they know they don’t have much time,” he said of his final months in office.
The requests can range from helping a constituent deal with the complex maze of worker disability issues to inquiring about getting a state inmate transferred to a facility closer to home.
When he retires, he said he will spend more time with his grandchildren and with his two hobbies – traveling the state and gardening.
McCoy boasts of visiting every county and more than likely he can relay a story of each county’s history. For years, he has been known for taking back roads and seldom-traveled paths home from Jackson.
“I am hoping to purchase a good, used pickup and move around a little more,” he said. “Mississippi is such a beautiful and diverse state.”
After a series of mini strokes in 2004 left McCoy with limited use of his left arm, he turned over most of the family’s farming operations to his son. But McCoy said he still loves to garden and will be doing more of that.
“The only thing I ever knew I was doing right was carrying my mama fresh vegetables every morning,” he said. “Even with one hand, I still do a pretty good job.”
In the meantime, McCoy said he will cherish his remaining months as speaker and as a representative for Prentiss and Alcorn counties.
“I feel a special blessing every time I walk into this building or into the House chamber,” he said, “How many people get to do this?”