House veteran, two newcomers already pondering area’s concerns

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 7, 2008

With the 2008 session of the Mississippi House ofRepresentatives starting Tuesday, three area politicians – oneveteran and two newcomers – are preparing to tackle the legislativeissues facing the state this year.

Veteran District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, said thefirst order of business for the year will be solving the questionof the House’s speaker race, a political showdown pitting currentspeaker Billy McCoy against challenger Jeff Smith.

“Opening day will be pretty busy with this contentious speaker’srace going on,” Moak said.

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McCoy’s four years of experience at the speaker position haveearned him Moak’s support.

“He’s been there,” Moak said. “He’s got the experience to getthe job done. Heck, he’s the current speaker.”

Moak said he was eager to settle the speaker’s race and get downto business, giving his district “a voice.”

“It’s not all about the speaker, it’s about what you can do foryour district,” he said. “It’s not about one person attempting toput something together and hand it to you; that’s not how thingswork.”

District 91 Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, is also in favor ofMcCoy.

“I think he’s gonna win by a decent margin,” said Evans, one ofthe area’s rookie politicians. “I plan on voting for him. I do mybest to pick the best person in any particular race, and I thinkhe’s the best person for this race. He’s got four years ofexperience, and I think supporting him is in the best interest ofmy district.”

Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, the area’s other newrepresentative, is backing the opposition for the speaker’srace.

“I’m supporting Jeff Smith because we are of like mind and ourpolitics are similar,” she said. “Whoever wins the speaker race isgoing to set the tone for the session.”

After the speaker has been elected, both Moak and Currie agreethe next issue to be examined will be the length of the session,though they disagree on how the situation should be handled.

While the first legislative session after an electiontraditionally lasts 120 days in order to acquaint newcomers likeCurrie and Evans with the system, Lt. Gov. elect Phil Bryant, whopresides over the state Senate, has announced a plan to shorten theinitial session of 2008 to 90 days in order to save money.

“He wants to make it a three month session instead of a fourmonth session to save state funds,” Currie said. “I’m for that. I’mfor whatever will be best for our state.”

Moak thinks otherwise of the plan.

“The only savings that would result from this plan would be fromsending home early whoever is hired for part-time help for thesession,” he said. “It would only save on the pay for assistants,like proofreaders and that sort of thing. The actual savings arequite small.”

Moak also said a reduction in the session’s length would leavean inadequate amount of time for housekeeping issues andindoctrination for newly elected representatives.

“If we do it Bryant’s way, we’ll be sworn in on Tuesday and thedeadline for requesting the introduction of new bills will be movedup to 48 hours later,” he said. “For new members who have never setfoot in the Capitol before, that’s not much time to get settledin.”

No matter what happens in the speaker’s race or to the length ofthe session, the show will go on and other issues will beaddressed. All three representatives from the area are eager toexamine the state of education and education funding inMississippi.

“Education will be a huge issue this session,” Evans said. “Iwill be supporting the full funding of MAEP (Mississippi AdequateEducation Program).”

Evans pointed out that he would support not only giving theprogram the full amount of funding it calls for, but also forreinstating money not given or taken from the program in prioryears.

“Some friendly legislators took it out,” Evans said of the moneypreviously removed from MAEP. “That’s one reason why the peoplehave elected new legislators like me. Hopefully, we can fully fundeducation in a non-election year. MAEP has only been fully fundedtwice before, and both times it was during election years. Thatshows you that there’s been too much politics involved.”

As far as the Mississippi School of the Arts (MSA) is concerned,each representative views the situation differently.

“MSA is a luxury, and I’m glad we have it,” Evans said. “I’m notin favor of doing anything to jeopardize it. I want to at leastmaintain its current level of funding. Realistically, though, ifwe’re going to try to pump up MAEP, it could make funding a littletighter for extraordinary areas such as MSA. There’s always thatpossibility – I’m not saying that’s what I want, but it’s apossibility.”

Moak predicted the same for MSA.

“The current amount of funding coming into Mississippi will beslightly less than it was last year,” he said. “For MSA this year,I don’t see any additional funding, but steady funding.”

Currie, however, hopes to steer MSA in the oppositedirection.

“I’m going up there to make sure that MSA is fully supported,”she said. “MSA is important, not just to Brookhaven, but to all ofMississippi. Those kids come from all over the state. Last yearthey earned more than $3 million in college scholarships … that’shard to deny. When you look at the state dropout rates and comparethem with MSA, then you realize they’re doing something right.”

Education is only one of several issues that each politicianwill deal with during the session. Each representative singled outimmigration, grocery and tobacco taxes and health care as primesubjects of debate during 2008.

For veterans like Moak, it will be another year at the office.For new political players Evans and Currie, the new year and theirfirst session promise fast times.

“It’s gonna be a fun year,” Currie said. “I’m excited and I’mlooking forward to being there. I can’t wait to get to work forDistrict 92.”

Evans expressed similar sentiments.

“I’m looking forward to the year with a good bit ofanticipation,” Evans said. “I’m just one person, and I can’t makeany difference by myself. But I’m looking forward to gettingtogether with some like-minded people and fixing some of theproblems in our state.”