By Bill Crawford
Mississippi has a weak governor system of governance. People have forgotten this under Haley Barbour’s tenure because of his strong ties to the state Senate. The Mississippi Constitution vests most power with the Legislature.
Will Phil Bryant or Johnny DuPree wield power akin to Barbour’s? Or, will tradition reassert itself and the inherent powers of the speaker of the House and lieutenant governor re-emerge?
Mix in Billy McCoy’s swan song as speaker and you get a recipe for consternation and confusion among lobbyists and political power players. As the public focuses on final campaigning for the Nov. 8 general election, fervent behind-the-scenes campaigns are already being waged among current and potential state representatives who will choose the next speaker.
Remember, the speaker’s race was decided four years ago by one flip-flop vote.
A key question here is which party will control the House. Will Democrats retain their majority or will Republicans take over? Who wins will determine whether there will be a grand reshuffling of committee chairmanships or not.
Multiple candidates from both parties want to be speaker. There appear to be no clear frontrunners. News reports list Democrat seekers as Bobby Moak, Cecil Brown, Tyrone Ellis and Preston Sullivan. Republican seekers include Jeff Smith, Philip Gunn, Sidney Bondurant, Mark Formby, Herb Frierson, and Mark Baker.
Now, stir in the uncertainty about reapportionment. Yep, the Legislature still has to draw new voting districts to take into account population changes from the 2010 Census. When they do, if they do, will the re-map plan end up in federal court, will the federal court re-draw districts again, and will there have to be interim legislative elections next year?
Depending on reapportionment and possible new election outcomes, there could be a do-over in the Speaker’s race. Wouldn’t that make for interesting politics?
Waiting for the smoke to clear is all-but-certain Lt. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves. He has only Reform Party candidate Tracella Lou O’Hara Hill as November opposition.
Reeves faces turnover in at least two top Senate leadership positions. President Pro Tem Billy Hewes gave up his post to run for Lieutenant Governor. Appropriations Committee Chairman Doug Davis lost in his primary. Reeves has been traveling the state meeting with senators as he determines who will be on his leadership team. Will he move out or mix up committee chairmen or keep most in place?
What all this means is that politics won’t wind down after Election Day. It’s more likely to ramp up.
So, while the new governor will expect to lead the state and set the agenda, the new speaker and lieutenant governor will be staking out positions, testing their powers, and driving their own agendas. In this setting, personalities may override politics in the realignment of power.
Bill Crawford (email@example.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.