Key battle looms for House leadership job

Published 5:00 am Monday, September 22, 2003

While statewide attention is on the governor and lieutenantgovernor’s races, another race of equal or greater importance isrunning just under the radar screen of Mississippi voters. Thatrace is for the leadership on the House side of the MississippiLegislature — the speaker of the house post.

As important and powerful this position is in Mississippipolitics, voters do not have a say so as to who sits in the seat.That decision, which is left up to the members of the House ofRepresentatives, is made on the first day of the session.

The seat became vacant after veteran Speaker Tim Ford,D-Baldwyn, chose to retire from the legislature. His departure hasopened a swarm of candidates jockeying for position since theofficial announcement earlier in the year.

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The speaker’s position is important in that with it comes thepower to make or break legislation. The speaker controls not onlythe podium, but also the appointment of committee chairmen and theassignment of bills to the committees. Some say it is thethird-most-powerful slot in Mississippi, while others say it is themost powerful.

While a handful of names have been bounced around as potentialcandidates, House Ways and Means Chairman Billy McCoy appears to bethe front-runner. McCoy told the Associated Press recently he hadthe commitments of a “strong majority” of 69 House members who areunopposed in the Nov. 4 General Election, and he thinks he canmaintain a majority among the 53 seats yet to be decided. McCoy,D-Rienzi, is a six-term lawmaker who controls the purse strings ofthe House and has been a strong proponent of the Mississippi Schoolof the Arts.

Others considering the speaker’s seat are: House Public Healthand Welfare Chairman Rep. Bobby Moody, D-Louisville; HouseAgriculture Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville; HouseEducation Chairman Joe Warren, D- Mount Olive; Rep. John Moore,R-Brandon, and Rep. Warner McBride, D-Courtland.

Over the next few days, a new name may be tossed into the ringthat will interest local voters.

Rep Jim Barnett, R-Brookhaven, said Friday he is a possiblecandidate for the speaker’s seat. Barnett said he has received”considerable pressure” from several groups, including othermembers of the House, asking him to seek the office.

“I am considering it,” he said. “The speakership would not be acareer move for me. I would only be speaker for four years.”

The Brookhaven Republican said he believes he could gain thesupport of Democratic House members despite his party switchearlier this year.

Barnett toyed with the idea of retiring and not running forre-election earlier this year. Citing funding concerns with theMississippi School of the Arts, he qualified as a Republican a fewdays before the March 1 deadline.

Jim Barnett, of course, is the father of the Mississippi Schoolof the Arts. It was through his efforts and persistence that thenecessary votes were found to pass the legislation that establishedthe school in 1999.

Should he decide to throw his hat into the speaker of the housering, he already has one hurdle to overcome — an opponent in theNov. 4 general election.

Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, Miss.39602, or send e-mail to