By Shelia Byrd / The Associated Press
The new chief money-minder in the Mississippi Senate is no stranger to on-the-job training.
That part of his background should well serve Senate Appropriations Chairman Doug Davis, R-Hernando, as he helps lead spending negotiations in one of the state’s toughest budget years in recent history.
At first glance, Davis might not seem an obvious choice for the coveted appropriations position, which was held by Tupelo’s Alan Nunnelee until his election to the U.S. House in November.
Davis is 33 and about to begin his seventh year at the Legislature. He’s an unassuming lawmaker devoid of swagger. Most around the Capitol would characterize him as a soft-spoken, nice guy.
His counterpart is House Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, a veteran lawmaker who seems well aware of the power he wields in deciding how much money state agencies receive to operate.
Davis, who was promoted by Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, brings some background in finance to the table. Though he has a degree in history from Mississippi College, he was hired at Batesville-based First Security Bank in 2001.
There, Davis said, he was taught about lending and other banking practices. Davis said his employer told him: “‘We just want somebody the people up here know.”‘
After Bryant was elected lieutenant governor in 2007, he tapped Davis to lead the Senate Universities and Colleges Committee. That’s when Davis got a real brush with political controversy.
Last session, he found himself in the middle of heated debate over Republican Gov. Haley Barbour’s proposal to merge the state’s seven universities into four. Barbour had proposed combining the three historically black universities into one and merging Mississippi University for Women with Mississippi State University.
Davis filed the bills for the proposals, drawing the ire of HBU supporters, as well as MUW alumni, many of whom marched on the Capitol.
That’s likely nothing compared to the noise that will be made as lawmakers write the fiscal year 2012 spending plan in the spring. Everything from teaching jobs to mental health facilities could be on the chopping block, depending on how the state’s money is divvied for the year that begins July 1.
Revenue collections haven’t kept pace with estimates for the past few years, and lawmakers have responded by eliminating some agency positions and cutting back funding from numerous programs. Agencies already operating on bare-bones budgets in the current year have been told not to expect much relief in 2012.
Davis’ demeanor will determine how he’s compared to his predecessors. Nunnelee was a delegator. Former chairman Jack Gordon was considered a “numbers man.”
Davis, who has sat alongside Nunnelee during budget discussions in the past, is under no illusions about his expertise in such fiscally perilous times.
“I really appreciated the way Congressman-elect Alan Nunnelee allowed the subcommittee chairs to work. I intend to continue that system. You have a lot of senior members in those areas,” Davis said. “I’m going to need a lot of help and input in getting appropriations passed.”