BOBBY HARRISON: Northeast Mississippi’s legislative power diminishes

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – This weekend’s death of legislative powerhouse Jack Gordon symbolizes another occurrence that is not nearly as tragic as a man’s passing, but still of significance for Northeast Mississippi.
The power and influence of the region’s legislative delegation are on the decline.
True, Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, is still speaker of the House and Rep. Steve Holland, D-Planersville, continues to be a powerful legislator by virtue of his chairmanship of the Public Health Committee and because of his considerable, though at times erratic, legislative skills.
On the Senate side, Hob Bryan, D-Amory, chairs the Public Health Committee, but is far from being part of that chamber’s Republican leadership. But Bryan’s talents and abilities, which like Holland’s can be erratic, ensure that he will continue to be a leader in the Senate.
And there are other members with key positions of leadership. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, is the majority leader in the House and Harvey Moss, D-Corinth, also has a leadership post with the House majority, as does Brian Aldridge, R-Tupelo, with the chamber’s minority.
To be sure, Northeast Mississippi has many yeoman legislators who are dedicated to improving the area and the state as a whole. People can disagree with their policies, but not their level of commitment, dedication and sincerity.
But the level of influence Northeast Mississippi enjoyed for the better part of two decades has diminished.
True, McCoy is speaker. He replaced another Prentiss Countian – Tim Ford.
At one time Northeast Mississippi could boast of Ford as speaker and McCoy as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Northeast Mississippi representation in the other chamber was even more impressive at that time with Amy Tuck of Oktibbeha County as lieutenant governor; Travis Little of Corinth as pro tem; Bill Minor of Holly Springs, but whose district stretched eastward, as Finance chairman and Gordon as Appropriations chairman.
And it should be noted that Tupelo’s Alan Nunnelee, who is now in the U.S. House, replaced Gordon as Appropriations chair after new Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant opted to put a fellow Republican in the key post.
No Northeast Mississippian currently chairs any of the money committees – House and Senate Appropriations, Finance or Ways and Means.
It is not certain McCoy will run again this year and, if he does, maintaining his speaker’s post will be a daunting task. If he doesn’t run, Holland would be a possible successor, but his candidacy would be considered a long shot.
Several reasons exist for the diminishing influence of the Northeast Mississippi delegation. Part of it is due to partisan politics – more specifically, the increasing influence of the Republican Party in the legislative process. Other areas of the state that are more solidly Republican have provided a deeper bench of potential legislative leaders.
And white legislative Democrats have come to understand that to be effective, they must share power with their African-American colleagues. That has resulted in fewer posts for white Northeast Mississippi Democrats.
But the primary reason for the decline in Northeast Mississippi’s sphere of influence in the Legislature is cyclical – nothing more. As in sports, no one team dominates forever.
People like Gordon, Nunnelee, Ford, Little, Tuck and others are gone for one reason or the other.
There are several newer members who could eventually step into those shoes
But remember, during the last 20-plus years those have been some mighty big and powerful shoes.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com or call (601) 353-3119.