Lawmakers ponder future following close speaker vote

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Now that the first week of proceedings in the Mississippi Houseof Representatives is over and Rep. Billy McCoy has been re-electedspeaker in a close vote, representatives from both sides of theisle are pondering what the race outcome will mean for districtsaround the state.

“I’ve been on the losing side before, and that’s usually notreally good for your district,” said District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak(D), who supported McCoy. “I doubt if it will be this time.”

McCoy, D-Rienzi, defeated Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Columbus, by a voteof 62-60. The vote has led to speculation that that chamber of thelegislature will be “a House divided” for the next four years.

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The problem now faced by every single Republican in the House isthat by voting as a block for Smith, chances for appointments tohigher committees, let alone chairmanships, might be slim.

“By voting for someone who didn’t win, it’s logical that you’renot going to be in as good a position,” Moak said. “That’s not tosay that you’re going to get any worse committee assignments, butpeople who voted for the winner are going to be at the head of theline.

“By the time the committees that remain get back to you, you maynot get everything you wanted,” Moak continued. “By not voting forthe winner, you place yourself, and your district, in a lessfavorable spot.”

McCoy is expected to announce committee assignments andchairmanships this week.

District 91 Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, said he felt relievedto have ended up on the winning side of the speaker’s race.

The rookie legislator said he believed it would help him gain”some quick notice” from McCoy as committees are formed andchairmanships handed out. For those who supported Smith, however,Evans foresees just the opposite.

“As an incoming freshman, there wasn’t much for me to losereally,” Evans said. “But speaking from a freshman perspective,depending on which side you supported, you’ve basically eitherestablished or disestablished yourself as a legislator for the nextfour years.

“For people who have been in the House for a while and supportedSmith, I think there will be some committee chairmanships lost andsome reassignments to ‘lesser’ committees,” he continued. “That’sjust the way the game is played – to the victor goes thespoils.”

Evans said Tuesday, the first day of the session, was afrightening time for some freshman representatives as the speakerrace was under way.

“You could have cut the tension in the House with a knife,” hesaid. “Some of the freshmen legislators really came under someintense pressure.

“There were phone calls, e-mails and personal appearances -people that the freshman really didn’t know would come up to themand let them know that they should vote a certain way or therewould be dire political consequences,” Evans said. “There were somesurly attitudes up there. It was basically political threats, butthat’s politics. That’s how it works.”

Evans is hopeful, however, that the division fostered during thespeaker’s race will eventually subside. He said the race wasbitterly fought, but he he believes there will be some olive branchofferings

“Not everyone who supported Smith will be completelyostracized,” Evans said. “Even while the race was going on, I neverheard a cross word, a raised voice, never saw any indications ofangerOnce the vote was over and the speaker elected, of coursethere were some long faces, but it was very civil.”

Civility in the House was a good thing for District 92 Rep.Becky Currie, a freshman in the House and a Smith supporter.

The Republican from Brookhaven said her first experience as anew legislator has been defeat. Howeverk, she does not see thingsfor herself, or her district, quite as bleakly as Moak and Evanspredict.

“Well, as a freshman, I wasn’t going to be the chairman of anycommittee anyway,” she said. “I think McCoy is aware that all 47Republicans voted the same way, that I voted on a party line. Aftermy first meeting with him, I don’t think he takes thatpersonally.”

Currie said her first meeting with McCoy went well. She feelsconfident that, even though she voted against him, McCoy will beclose to her on at least one issue that she champions: funding theMississippi School of the Arts (MSA).

“During our meeting, Mr. McCoy and I talked a lot aboutBrookhaven,” Currie said. “It turns out, his mother is fromBrookhaven – she went to Whitworth.”

Currie said she was glad to talk with McCoy about hisconnections to the former women’s college whose campus is now hometo MSA.

“He promised to work with me and make sure MSA gets the fundingthat it needs, and I told him I was looking forward to working withhim over the next four years,” Currie said.

Currie hopes her shared origins with McCoy will help her getappointed to two committees that cover her field of expertise.

“Because I’m a registered nurse, I asked McCoy for appointmentsto the health and human services and Medicaid committees,” Curriesaid. “I have no idea what I will get, but I hope I make it ontothose two, because they will be the committees I know the mostabout.”