By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON - The election season officially kicks off today with Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant's planned announcement that he will run for governor this year.
But Bryant, who presides over the Senate, is not the only member of the Legislature who is expected to be pursing higher office in 2011. While politicians downplay it, most observers say a session during an election year is a little different from the rest.
After all, all legislators, unless they are retiring, are running for re-election. But the pressure on those seeking what is generally called higher office - or a statewide elected office - is perceived to be greater.
In 1999, then-Rep. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, ran unsuccessfully for the office of lieutenant governor.
Brown said there were votes he took in 1999 where he had his upcoming statewide campaign in the back of his mind. He said legislators running for statewide office in 2011 will to when the session begins Tuesday.
"Everybody down there is political," said Brown, now a state senator. "They wouldn't be down there if they were not. But if a person is running for another office ... they wouldn't disrupt things. They wouldn't do that. But it is different."
Senate President Pro Tem Billy Hewes, R-Gulfport, is expected to run for the office of lieutenant governor, which will be left vacant by Bryant. Sen. Ezell Lee, D-Picayune, has said he is considering a run for lieutenant governor while Sen. Lee Yancey, R-Brandon, has said he is running for treasurer and Rep. Dannie Reed, R-Ackerman, said he is running for agriculture and commerce commissioner.
Other legislators also might run for statewide office, including Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, D-Brookhaven, who is a possibility for ag commissioner.
Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, who is not expected to run for another office and has not announced yet whether he will seek re-election, said it gives him a certain amount of pride when legislators win statewide office - regardless of their party affiliation.
But he said it does change the dynamics of the legislative process when a member is pursuing another office.
"We have some experience with legislators running for another office or higher office," McCoy said. "It always impacts them...It is very obvious. That does not mean it is bad....
"It does not mean they are mean or evil. It is just part of the process."
During recent years when it was apparent Bryant, Hewes and former Senate Appropriations Chair Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, who was just elected to the U.S. House, were seeking another office, state House budget leaders said it affected negotiations with their Senate counterparts. They said it made those negotiations more difficult.
But Bryant said he can separate governing and politics.
"I don't think it (political aspirations) will impact the session," he said recently. "I am very careful to separate my political world from my responsibilities as lieutenant governor. I try to make sure not to overrun my headlights.
"I will focus on being lieutenant governor."
Eric Powell, D-Corinth, a first-term senator, said, "I don't think it will have a negative impact, but then I have not been down here during an election cycle."
And, of course, no one in recent times has any experience with how a Mississippi governor possibly running for president will impact the legislative process.
Gov. Haley Barbour has said he will announce after the legislative session ends whether he will run for president in 2012 after he leaves the governor's mansion.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or email@example.com.
2011 elections calendar
■ Jan. 2 – qualifying period begins
for primaries and general election
■ March 1 – qualifying deadline
for primary and general elections
■ March 3 – deadline for SOS to receive
list of candidates with addresses
and office sought
■ April 3 – legislative session ends
■ June 1 – qualifying deadline for
legislative offices if census has not
been received by Jan. 1
■ Aug. 2 – primary elections
■ Aug. 23 – primary runoffs
■ Nov. 8 – general election, special
■ Nov. 29 – runoff elections if needed