By Bobby Harrison | NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
UPDATE: Philip Gunn has been elected Miss. House speaker. He is the 1st Republican to hold the position since Reconstruction.
JACKSON – In the back of the collective minds of the 174 members of the Mississippi Legislature as they tackle the issues facing the state during the 2012 session is whether they will have to run for office again later this year.
When 122 House members and 52 senators are sworn in today at the start of the 2012 session, they will not know whether they are taking the oath of office for a full four-year term or just for a one-year term.
During the 2011 session, legislators were unable to agree on a plan to redraw House and Senate districts to adhere to population shifts found by the 2010 Census. A three-judge federal panel ordered regularly scheduled elections in 2011 under existing malapportioned districts.
The panel left open whether it would order new elections in 2012 under new districts. A lot will depend on whether there is a legal challenge to legislators serving a full four-year term under the old districts.
In 2011, a Democratic-majority House and a Republican-controlled Senate could not agree on a redistricting plan. With the Republicans holding a majority in both chambers for the first time since post-Civil War Reconstruction, agreeing on a plan should be easier this session. And most believe redistricting will be one of the first issues tackled by the new Legislature.
“I am confident we will be able to draw districts … with few split precincts and without breaking county lines as much as possible,” said Rep. Jim Beckett, R-Bruce.
Beckett added, “I hope we don’t have to run again. But whether someone files a lawsuit and federal judges tell us we have to run again, nobody in the Legislature has any control over that.”
Legislators had to run in consecutive years in 1991-92 because of their inability to agree on redistricting.
Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said he hopes the Republican-controlled House will meet with Democratic House members and get input on the new districts as Rep Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley, did as Apportionment and Elections chairman in 2011.
“He met with Republicans and talked to them about their districts and got input from them,” Brown said. “I certainly hope they do that for us.”
It is not known yet who will oversee the redistricting efforts. That will not be known until Republican Tate Reeves, who will be sworn in as the new lieutenant governor on Thursday, and Rep. Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, who is expected to be elected speaker today, announce committee assignments. That could come later this week or next week.
It also is not known whether the House Democratic minority will run a speaker candidate. Brown said that was still being debated Monday by the 58-member Democratic caucus.
But House Republicans have announced their preference for speaker pro tem is Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, and Reeves has announced his preference for president pro tempore in the Senate is Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus. Traditionally, the Senate selects the preference of the lieutenant governor as pro tem.
The other major issue to be resolved in the opening days will be the adoption of the rules. There has been speculation that the Republicans might want to strip the rule that makes appointment to the two money committees – Ways and Means and Appropriations – based on seniority because that provision might give the Democrats an advantage.
Beckett said the rule might be tweaked, but he doubted the seniority provision would be completely eliminated.