BOBBY HARRISON: Expect variations in degrees of GOP conservativism

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The campaign is officially over.
It ended just after high noon Tuesday when Clinton Republican Philip Gunn was elected speaker of the Mississippi House by acclamation.
The election by his House colleagues means the Republicans now control the governor’s office and both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. It was expected, of course, since Republicans gained a majority in both chambers in the November general election.
Gov.-elect Phil Bryant, who will be inaugurated on Tuesday, Lt. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves, who will be sworn in today, and Gunn are all of like political philosophy and by most standards would be viewed as the three most powerful politicians in state government.
In general, Bryant and Gunn seem more of a like mind while Reeves, despite his strong partisan rhetoric in past years at such venues as the Neshoba County Fair, actually might be a little more moderate.
That assessment is, granted, based on slim evidence, but it has appeared through the years that Bryant and Gunn have been more focused on social conservative issues while Reeves has been more interested in fiscal conservatism.
The truth, though, is that they are all conservative Republicans, and it is not likely that Reeves would block social conservative issues in the Senate where he will preside.
But politics by its very nature creates conflict. There will be conflict.
When conflict does occur, it will be interesting to see who are allies. In general, it used to be the Legislature vs. the governor, though there were issues going back through history when the governor and one chamber of the Legislature were allied.
With the tenure of Republican Gov. Haley Barbour that dynamic was turned on its head. There were times when the House and Senate teamed up against the governor, and, in rare instances, times when the House and Barbour teamed up against the Senate.
But in most instances, the Republican-controlled Senate and governor teamed up on the House Democratic leadership.
How will that change with Barbour, who was unique in his ability to manipulate the legislative process, gone? Will Bryant wield the same influence that Barbour did for eight years?
Only time will answer those questions and others. But history might provide some clues.
For decades, Mississippi was a one-party Democratic state. But many people make the mistake of thinking Mississippi Democrats through the years were like national Democrats.
Through the decades – not talking the past two or three terms – most Mississippi Democrats were political conservatives, as conservative as the most ardent Tea Party member.
The Mississippi Legislature will be more conservative this term under Republican control. But in the coming months and years, there is a possibility a more moderate coalition, which includes Republicans and Democrats, will form around certain issues, such as education funding, more state involvement in early childhood education and, yes, better health care for Mississippians, who are by definition the unhealthiest people in the nation.
It was difficult for those coalitions to form when Democrats controlled the House because there was so much focus on the battle between the two parties. With Republicans clearly in command, there will be less focus on the partisan competition.
It is interesting to note that Bryant often talks about improving the health of Mississippi, and Reeves has voiced some interest in early childhood education – an area where Mississippi’s effort is sorely lacking compared with other Southern states.
How Bryant, Reeves and Gunn fit into any coalition will be central to the success or failure of such endeavors.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at or call (601) 353-3119.

Click video to hear audio