By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – It might be back to the future in terms of the power of the office of lieutenant governor after this year’s elections.
Treasurer Tate Reeves sent the strong signal during a recent debate that he does not plan to take a back seat to anyone should he win the office of lieutenant governor later this year.
Historically, as presiding officer of the Senate, the lieutenant governor has enjoyed immense power. That power came in part because the Legislature is, generally speaking, the constitutionally more powerful branch of state government, and the lieutenant governor, as a kind of hybrid office with duties in both the executive and legislative branches, was uniquely qualified to take advantage of that power.
Barbour’s power over the Senate was evident during his first term when Amy Tuck served as Lieutenant governor and then in his second term where Phil Bryant, the leading candidate for governor, has presided over the Senate.
At a recent forum at the Mississippi Press Association annual convention in Biloxi, lieutenant governor candidates Reeves and Senate President Pro Tem Billy Hewes were asked if the next governor would be as influential with the Legislature as Barbour has been.
“I have absolutely no doubt that during the next four years you will see a pushback by the legislative branch,” Reeves said. He went on the say that the lieutenant governor will have “a larger role, larger Quite frankly, that is why I am running for lieutenant governor. I believe public policy is important.”
While they are not running as a ticket, per se, it is no secret that Hewes and Bryant have been close allies. Hewes was Bryant’s choice to serve as pro tem of the Senate – to preside in the lieutenant governor’s absence. With Bryant’s backing, Hewes was elected unanimously to the post in 2008 by his Senate colleagues.
And as pro tem and lieutenant governor, Hewes and Bryant have had a close working relationship during the current term.
Despite that close relationship, even Hewes, during the MPA debate, hinted that the Legislature might try to re-establish the historical dominance it has enjoyed over the executive branch in Mississippi.
“I don’t have any doubt that the Legislature will have a significant role to play,” Hewes said. “I hope we have a governor, lieutenant governor and speaker willing to work together…
“I think the Legislature’s role will be increased, will be enhanced.”
Still, it is reasonable to assume that close working relationships would continue if Bryant wins the governor’s office and Hewes succeeds him as lieutenant governor. To go a step further, it also is reasonable to assume that a Phil Bryant tenure as governor would have less potential pitfalls if Hewes is serving as lieutenant governor.
Thus, in a nutshell, Bryant, though he would not admit it publicly, most likely would prefer to see a Hewes victory. And should the Hewes-Reeves race continue on its current course, which is getting more contentious by the day, it is safe to assume that it could impact the relationship of Bryant and Reeves should they win their respective races for governor and lieutenant governor.
That is not to say that Bryant and Reeves could not work together. They would. As conservative Republicans, they are not that far apart on most issues.
But of the likely four major candidates for governor and only two major candidates for lieutenant governor, a Bryant/Reeves victory, which is generally believed to be the more likely scenario, has perhaps the most potential for political drama – if not for real conflict – during the next four-year term.
Bobby Harrison is capitol bureau reporter for the Daily Journal. Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.