By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, who has served on the Education Committee for his entire career in the Mississippi Senate, is the new chair of the panel.
Tollison, who is beginning his fifth term, is among seven Northeast Mississippi senators named as committee chairs Friday by new Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. The Republican Reeves’ appointments included some Democrats.
“I am excited,” Tollison said. “I have been on the committee for 16 years and was vice chair the last term. I am fully aware of the issues.”
Tollison switched parties after his re-election as a Democrat in the November general election. He said Friday he’d received no assurances about committee appointments when he became a Republican.
In a news conference after announcing his appointments, Reeves said he fulfilled his campaign promise of being bipartisan and inclusive.
“I am very proud of the leadership team we have assembled,” Reeves said in prepared remarks. “It’s bipartisan, inclusive and represents all areas of the state.”
Reeves named several Democratic chairs, including Hob Bryan, D-Amory, as head of the Judiciary B Committee. During the past four years under the tenure of Republican Phil Bryant as lieutenant governor, Bryan chaired the Public Health Committee, viewed as one of the three most powerful committees. But when Byrant named Bryan to chair Public Health in 2008, Democrats held a majority in the Senate.
Thanks to the November elections, Republicans now hold a 31-21 advantage – their largest since the 1800s. Reeves named Republicans to chair Public Health, Appropriations, Finance, Education and Judiciary A.
Reeves kept Gary Jackson, R-French Camp, as chair of Business and Financial Institutions; Nickey Browning, D-Pontotoc, as chair of County Affairs; and J.P. Wilemon, D-Belmont as Municipalities chair. Bennie Turner, D-West Point, was tapped to head the Ethics Committee.
“I haven’t digested it all yet, but it looks encouraging, possibly better than I expected overall,” said Turner, who chaired Constitution the past term. “… I hope it translates into policy.”
Reeves said he believes the best legislation is developed when every member “has the opportunity for input” and said he believes his assignments accomplish that goal.
Reeves selected Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, to head the Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee he created to look for ways to save state funds.
Collins, who is beginning her first full term after winning a special election in January 2011 to fill an unexpired term, said she did not ask to chair a committee, but told Reeves “to put me where he felt I would be best suited. I told him wherever that was I would be willing to work.” She said she is especially enthused about being on Education and Public Health.
Russell Jolly, D-Houston, beginning his first full term, said he was pleased with his committee assignments, which included Transportation, Education, Corrections and County Affairs.
“I think (Reeves) did exactly what he said he would do – Democrats, Republicans. I think it was very fair,” Jolly said.