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Bryant sets roster of Senate power players

As a candidate for lieutenant governor last year, Phil Bryantdidn’t make any promises about who would stay or go when – ifelected – he decided leadership positions on various Senatecommittees. Once formally in office, Bryant on Friday revealed hisselections and probably raised a few eyebrows in the process.

Most notable was the removal of Sen. Jack Gordon as chairman ofthe Appropriations Committee, a post the Okolona Democrat had heldfor the past eight years. Instead, Gordon was named chairman of thePublic Private Committee.

Interestingly, Gordon was replaced by Sen. Alan Nunnelee aschairman of the committee on which the Tupelo Republican has neverserved. While new to the post and the panel, Nunnelee’s desire tooversee the committee in a more open and expeditious manner isrefreshing.

Reaction to Bryant’s appointments indicated they were generallywell-received.

”I think he was very fair to the Democrats,” Gordon told theAssociated Press.

Although Republicans were given control of many major committees- like Appropriations, Finance, Education, Economic Development,and Elections – Bryant’s selections showed diversity among bothparties, racially and regionally across the state.

In this area, District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith was returned toher post to lead the Agriculture Committee. The third-term senatorhas a strong background in agricultural activities and iswell-suited for the office.

District 37 Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, will remain as chairmanof the Oil and Gas Committee and District 38 Sen. Kelvin Butler,D-Magnolia, will lead the Local and Private Committee. New District36 Sen. E. Vincent Davis, D-Fayette, was named vice-chairman of theForestry Committee.

Committee chairmanships are powerful positions, as the leaderscan decide – practically single-handedly – what legislation livesor dies.

A prime example happened last session when Finance CommitteeChairman Sen. Tommy Robertson – at Gov. Haley Barbour’s urging -sat on a popular proposal to raise the tax on cigarettes and lowerthe tax on groceries.

Robertson was defeated for re-election last year, but “tax swap”supporters may still not have reason for celebration. New FinanceCommittee Chairman Sen. Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, voted against themeasure the last two legislative sessions.

Of course, the Senate is only one side of the MississippiLegislature.

Rep. Billy McCoy, who was re-elected speaker by a tight 62-60margin, is expected to make his committee assignments for the Houseof Representatives this week. Taking into account the close speakervote and calls for change in his approach to leadership, it will beinteresting to see how McCoy responds when doling out committeepositions.

The power players in the Senate are set and soon we’ll knowthose for the House. Given the power of committee chairmanships andpolitics at play, the fates of some bills and issues facing thestate could be decided before lawmakers’ seats are even warm.