BOBBY HARRISON: Gunn, as a member, embraced contentious debate

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

Former Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, probably wishes his successor – Philip Gunn, R-Clinton – had the same aversion to contentious debate when Gunn was one of the minority leaders in the House.
Gunn, who is in his second year as speaker of the Mississippi House, says he is blocking a vote on Medicaid expansion because it would be a long, contentious debate that the minority Democrats, who support expansion, could not win in the end.
So why go through the agony and the trouble, he asks?
The interesting point is that when Gunn and the Republicans were in the minority McCoy spent most of his waking days dealing with contentious debates generated by the Republicans. Gunn it often appears spent most of his waking days looking for ways to generate contentious debate.
Gunn and the Republicans used every obscure, seldom used parliamentary maneuver in the rulebook to force votes they knew they could not win, but that would be contentious.
McCoy might have been cursing under his breath, but he would always reply, “The gentleman has the right” to used the rules of the House – no matter how obscure and no matter how unlikely it was the minority could prevail. And when the question about the Democrats’ fight to force a vote on Medicaid expansion was broached to Gunn in light of his tenure in the minority and the votes he forced, the speaker sounded a lot like McCoy.
“I am sure we brought forth things we felt passionately about, but it is not wrong for them to do that either,” Gunn said. “I don’t blame or begrudge them because they are passionate about this. But really, it cannot pass.”
The rules are there for a reason – and the ultimate consequence for an elected legislative body is the political consequences of how the rules are used.
Based on the outcome of the 2011 elections and the new Republican majority in both chambers – for the first time since the late 1800s – it seems that Gunn’s use of the rules during the past eight years did not bring the Republicans any negative consequences. If anything, it was positive for them.
The Democrats’ use of the rules is resulting in the Division of Medicaid not being funded or reauthorized during the soon-to-end 2013 session. It will be up to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant to call a special session before the new fiscal year begins on July 1 to address the Medicaid issue.
The fight over Medicaid already has been contentious in the House even though there has been no direct vote on expansion. The voice of House Appropriations Chair Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, quivered as he urged Democratic members of his committee – especially subcommittee chairs – to vote with him to fund Medicaid.
But the Democrats blocked funding of the program, saying they wanted a vote on expansion before funding and reauthorizing the current program.
Whether Democrats will be blamed politically for a special session and for putting the program in jeopardy – even if just symbolically – remains to be seen. Some people smarter than I am always have said the political body as a whole is blamed when there is a major disagreement and the two sides cannot reach common ground.
The truth is there probably will not be much blame unless the new fiscal year actually begins with no Medicaid program. But if that happens, politicians from throughout the state will be blamed.
BOBBY HARRISON is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com or call (601) 353-3119.