Speaker of the House Billy McCoy’s announcement on Wednesday that he would not seek re-election begins the conclusion of a remarkable and productive career in public service and politics.
McCoy succeeded another Prentiss County Democrat in the speakership, Tim Ford of Baldwyn and Tupelo, when he retired in 2004 after serving 16 years. Their tenures have made Prentiss County the epicenter of legislative influence and leadership for 24 consecutive years, a remarkable political continuum.
The larger and more important impact of McCoy’s service is statewide, particularly in his unwavering commitment to economic advancement through increased educational attainment, adequate education funding and a statewide four-lane highway system providing necessary infrastructure for progress.
McCoy, a sometimes fiery competitor in the public policy arena, has been slowed physically in recent years from the effects of strokes suffered during surgery for an unrelated ailment, but his intellectual capacity and his engagement in the legislative process are unaffected.
He is frequently the target of conservative talk radio and blogs which unreservedly and incorrectly characterize him as a typical liberal who stands in the way of fiscal responsibility. McCoy’s record is one of fiscal conservatism, but he has run afoul of an increasingly partisan legislative atmosphere.
He has never hesitated to disagree with any governor, including Haley Barbour, and that independence is fully appropriate in the constitutional role of the speaker and the House.
Contrary to many critics, McCoy has played a positive and often leading role during his 31-year tenure in passage of enabling legislation for jobs-producing economic development: the Nissan plant in Madison, the Toyota plant in Blue Springs and other major public-private sector partnerships – with bipartisan backing.
McCoy, in effective partnership with former Rep. John David Pennebaker of New Albany and many others, helped devise funding in guiding to enactment (including an override of Gov. Bill Allain’s veto), the 1987 Highway Program. The $1.6 billion program, expanded in 2002 into the Vision 21 Program, was Mississippi’s first viable statewide four-laning program. It was based on a vehicle capacity formula, which placed a high priority on improving dangerous and over-burdened two-lane highways in Northeast Mississippi.
McCoy understands and has sustained the necessity of legislative independence, a role defined in the U.S. Constitution and which has been actively exercised in most of Mississippi’s history.
McCoy often wore a shirt when presiding as speaker emblazoned with the insignia of the Mississippi House, an emblem of his belief in its unique role as the chamber closest to the people of both parties.
NEMS Daily Journal