By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The size of the Republican caucus in the Mississippi House continues to grow, even without the bother of a pesky old election.
In recent weeks, three House Democrats have switched over to the Republican Party – Margaret Ellis Rogers of New Albany, Russ Nowell of Louisville and Bobby Shows of Ellisville.
Their conversions bring to six the number of members who were elected in 2007 as Democrats who say they will run for re-election later this year as Republicans.
Party switching is nothing new. Politicians have been doing it for numerous years for various reasons. Most often, perhaps always, the switch in Mississippi is from Democrat to Republican.
But in other parts of the country, the switch has been known to go the opposite way. See Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania for an example.
So before Mississippi Democrats get too mad about the recent changes, they should remember that they most likely were happy when Specter switched, giving them a larger majority in the U.S. Senate.
The recent group of switchers makes the party breakdown in the Mississippi House as close as it has been since the 1800s.
Now there are 68 Democrats to 53 Republicans with once vacancy that will be filled by a Republican.
Republicans are excited about the gains they have made in the House, and they have a reason to be. But, in truth, the switches that have occurred thus far do little – if anything – to change the dynamics of the House.
Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, was elected House speaker in 2008 by the razor-thin margin of 62-60. No Republican House member voted for McCoy. And the six Democrats who have switched to the Republican Party since the speaker’s election all voted against McCoy.
All of the six indicated their switch would not change how they voted on individual issues in the House though, truth be known, all six almost always voted with the Republicans with the exception of Rogers.
Of the six who switched, Rogers was the most independent, voting with the Democrats some and voting with the Republicans on other occasions. Rogers, particularly on public education funding, normally was a consistent vote with the Democrats. She has been a true swing vote. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues.
During the last contentious speaker’s race, both sides complained of members making a commitment and then reneging on it and voting for the other side. No doubt, that occurred.
There also were instances where House members accepted campaign contributions from each side. Nowell has the distinction of not only accepting contributions from each side, but of sending a statement to the press proclaiming his commitment to vote for McCoy. He later voted against McCoy, so his party switch is definitely not that much of a surprise.
If one of those 62 who voted for McCoy changes parties, that will be a much bigger deal than those six who have changed parties thus far.
But in reality, that also would not dramatically change things in the House, because at this point in the process it would take a super majority to replace McCoy.
But if one of those 62 changes, it would be still be a big symbolic statement and could be a predictor of the 2011 elections.
No doubt, the speaker’s race for the new term, beginning in 2012, will be contentious and hard fought. It is not certain who will run in 2012.
McCoy has yet to announce his plans, though one could ascertain from his actions that he plans to run again.
In 2008, McCoy was challenged by Jeff Smith, who is a Democrat but a solid vote for Republicans. If Republicans gain the majority in the House, will they still throw their support to Smith in 2012? Of will they want to support a candidate from their own party?
That issue, more than anything, is why the party switching might be significant. If Republicans gain a majority, a Republican will be the next speaker.
But all of that depends on what happens later this year in the elections.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (601) 353-3119.