Legislature's issues in waning days reveal political ambitions

JACKSON – When the Legislature reconvenes in the coming days in an attempt to put the important finishing touches on the 2009 session, it will be helpful to know the story behind the story – or as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.”
The rest of the story is that many of the key players on the Senate side will be making key decisions on the budget, on increasing the cigarette tax and on other issues – knowing full well that in 2011 or before they most likely will be seeking another, higher office.
Now don’t get the wrong impression. There is nothing wrong with wanting to move up. Ambition, even in a politician, is a good thing.
A strong argument can be made that if a politician wants to run for another office, that particular politician might be more inclined to try harder, to perhaps do his or her best work.
By the same token, it is useful to know all the details. A politician running for higher office might make a decision designed to garner the support of a particular group.
Knowing who might be running for what often can provide us a better understanding of why a politician does what he or she does.
In the Senate, it should not be any surprise that the presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, is contemplating a run for governor in 2011. As a matter of fact, the odds are very strong that the Rankin County Republican will be running for governor.
As the Legislature works in the coming weeks on how much, if any, to increase the cigarette tax and how to prevent car tag costs from going up by as much as double, the pressure on Bryant will be greater than on any politician involved in the legislative process.
Bryant, and his key Senate leaders, chose to link holding down the cost of car tags to increasing the cigarette tax. If an agreement is not reached to raise the cigarette tax to provide funds to keep car tag costs from increasing, the blame from a public perception standpoint will rest with Bryant and the Senate leadership.
The blame will be placed on Bryant and Senate leaders because they made the decision to link the two issues and they have been responsible in past years for keeping the cigarette tax from being increased.
But Bryant is not the only one facing pressure. Senate President Pro Tem Billy Hewes, R-Gulfport, is viewed as a probable candidate for lieutenant governor.
Hewes will face the same issues as Bryant. And heck, don’t rule out Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, from running for lieutenant governor.
And Kirby has been the very public face of the Senate leadership position on the cigarette tax as that chamber’s lead negotiator.
In the past, Kirby has run for Congress.
Nunnelee for Congress?
Speaking of Congress, there is a good chance that state Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, will challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Travis Childers of Booneville for the 1st District seat.
If the wheels come off budget negotiations when the state Legislature re-convenes in May or June, that could affect Nunnelee, who is Appropriations Committee chair, if he does run against Childers in 2010.
Running for another office is not a bad thing. The point is that ambitions will impact decisions the legislators make.
They can say it doesn’t and really believe they are being truthful. But it is only human nature that decisions will be made against the backdrop of how those choices will impact that effort to reach higher office.
Now over in the House, it does not appear that any member has higher ambitions – except that all 122 House members would like to be speaker and about half of them believe they have a legitimate chance.
Contact Capitol Bureau Chief Bobby Harrison at bharrison@djournal.com or at (601) 353-3119.

Bobby Harrison