For the 2000-04 legislative term, the late Jack Gordon, D-Okolona, chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee while the Ways and Means Committee was chaired by Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi. The Senate Finance Committee, which is equivalent to the House Ways and Means Committee, was chaired by the late Bill Minor, D-Holly Springs.
Of course, at the very top, the House speaker for that term was Tim Ford, D-Baldwyn, and Amy Tuck, from Maben, served as lieutenant governor. Heck, the governor, Ronnie Musgrove, was from just a stone's throw from Northeast Mississippi in Batesville.
When Gordon's lengthy tenure as Appropriations chair ended, he was succeeded by Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, who is now in the U.S. House.
McCoy ascended from the Ways and Means Committee to speaker where he finished his second and final term as the presiding officer of the House. With McCoy's two terms and Ford's four terms, that means that for an amazing 24 years, the speaker of the state House has hailed from a district that included a portion of Prentiss County.
McCoy has always lived in Prentiss County throughout his legislative tenure. Ford, a Baldwyn native, lived in the Lee County portion of his district for a substantial portion of his tenure
There have been other Northeast Mississippi legislators in influential positions during the past two decades. Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, served a stint as Finance Committee chair and Bryan and Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, served as chairs of their respective chambers' Public Health committees during the past term.
Former state Rep. Bill Miles, D-Fulton, served an influential term as chair of the Transportation Committee. Of course, going back to the 1980s, Rep. John David Pennebaker, D-New Albany, and Minor served as chairs of the two Transportation Committees and steered to passage the 1987 Four-Lane Highway Act, with considerable help from a young McCoy, who was vice chair of the House Transportation Committee. The act is responsible for almost every four-lane highway in Northeast Mississippi and many throughout the state.
There have been other influential chairs from Northeast Mississippi. Space does not permit all to be listed.
No doubt, the area has benefitted from that leadership. But the state has switched from geographic politics to partisan party politics. Republicans are in control and, in general terms, Republican legislators from Northeast Mississippi do not have the seniority of those from other areas of the state.
The leadership for the new term, as a result of the Nov. 8 election, will have a distinct central Mississippi flavor. Gov.-elect Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves and Rep. Philip Gunn, who is the pick of the Republican majority to serve as House speaker, all hail from central Mississippi.
While Reeves in the Senate and presumably Gunn in the House most likely will not make their committee assignments until early in the 2012 session, it is possible that Republican Jeff Smith of nearby Columbus could be tapped to serve as House Ways and Means chair. It seems unlikely that any other Northeast Mississippi legislator would get a money committee chair.
It also seems possible that Sen. Gray Tollison of Oxford, who unexpectedly switched to the Republican Party after the Nov. 8 election, could get a major committee chair - perhaps Education. And Reeves is expected to name some Democrats to committee chairs. Since there are barely enough Republicans to chair all the current Senate committees, he would just about have to name Democratic chairs out of necessity.
Reeves would be smart to place Bryan, perhaps the leading Democratic spokesman in the Senate, in a key position. Past Republican lieutenant governors, including Bryant, have found it advantageous to use the considerable talents and skills of Bryan, who while a Democrat, has proven that he would not take committee actions that bucked the chamber's leadership.
In short, Northeast Mississippi legislators will have the opportunities for leadership in the House and Senate, but not to the extent of bygone days.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal's Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at email@example.com or call (601) 353-3119.