During the recently completed 2012 session, Reeves had almost total control of the Mississippi Senate where he presided and he used that power to advance his agenda.
The 2012 session marked the first time since 1976 that the state had new a new governor, speaker of the House and lieutenant governor.
Of the three new power brokers, Reeves is the youngest – at age 38. He also could be described as the most unassuming – lacking the physical presence of Speaker Philip Gunn, or the down-home charm of Gov. Phil Bryant.
But with the retirement of Speaker Billy McCoy and Gov. Haley Barbour, there was a vacuum, and in 2012, it was Reeves, a boyish looking former state treasurer, who filled the vacuum. That does not mean that Reeves got everything he wanted.
No politician ever does. Barbour, whom many view as the most powerful governor in the state’s history, did not get everything he wanted.
But a great deal of Barbour’s power came from his ability to control votes in the Mississippi Senate.
In that regard, while still early in his term, Reeves is not taking a back seat to Barbour. As governor, Barbour was able to have undue influence on the Senate. Reeves has returned the state Senate to its more traditional status where the lieutenant governor, as the presiding officer, calls the shots.
And during the 2012 session, Reeves was not afraid of calling those shots. At times, Reeves’ exertion of his influence was none-too-subtle.
For instance, Reeves did not name conferees to negotiate with the House on a bond bill to finance long-term construction projects until the day of the deadline to reach a compromise on the issue.
Reeves, who campaigned on reducing the state’s debt, was particularly interested in the issuance of bonds, so in reality, House members were negotiating with him more than they were members of the state Senate.
Reeves waited unusually long periods of time to name conferees to try to work out compromises with the House on a number of issues. In several instances, it could be argued that put the House conferees, who were prepared for a more traditional negotiations period, at a disadvantage.
The most obvious use of his power came on Senate redistricting.
The Senate waited until the final days of the session – after all the major legislation had been taken care of – to roll out a Senate redistricting plan. In other words, until the final days of the session, the district of any senator could be altered for the better or for the worse in terms of being able to win re-election.
It will be interesting to see if Reeves is able to maintain such a firm grasp of the Senate in upcoming sessions when the specter of redistricting is not hanging over members’ heads.
When asked why the leadership did not unveil the Senate redistricting plan until so late in the process, Reeves quipped, “We were busy passing really good legislation before that.”
From the moment that Reeves, a political novice, was elected treasurer before the age of 30, he made it clear he was not afraid of a fight. As treasurer, he butted heads with McCoy, the veteran of many political fights and one of the most influential legislators in modern times, and did not back down.
As lieutenant governor, Reeves has made it clear he is interested in the nuts and bolts of public policy and is able to use his office to exert his influence over public policy.
“People who run for public office who don’t care about public policy, I am not sure why they run,” he said.
Reeves has the potential to place his stamp on state government in the coming sessions. But he also runs the risk of a major revolt in the Senate.
After all, as Shakespeare said, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
Bobby Harrison is Capitol Bureau reporter in Jackson for the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or email@example.com.