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franklin county times

Musgrove's legacy about to unfold

By Staff
Oct. 17, 2001
Holding the office of governor of Mississippi is not unlike being the mayor of Disneyland lots of pomp, precious little circumstance. Like Disneyland, the magic of Mississippi government lies not in what one sees, but in what's happening behind the scenes.
In Mississippi government, the Legislature is to power what the late Walt Disney was to the world he created and controlled the all-powerful, unseen hand.
Beyond the much-overrated "bully pulpit" of the office, what are the real powers of a Mississippi governor? Mississippi's governor has sole authority over the submission of an executive budget one that is faithfully submitted to and then roundly ignored by the Legislature.
The governor has the power of the gubernatorial veto which constitutionally speaking makes the governor alone as powerful as two-thirds minus one of the 174-member legislative branch since it takes a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to override a gubernatorial veto. That's the theory.
Legislature 46, guv 0
The reality? In March, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove vetoed 42 appropriation bills and four general bills. All 46 Musgrove vetoes were overridden not by the 66.6 percent required by the state constitution but by an average 90 percent margin.
But where a Mississippi governor does have some serious, lasting power a power bolstered in the 1980s by the concept of gubernatorial succession is in the realm of gubernatorial appointments. Mississippi's governor makes some 500 appointments mostly to the 135 state boards and commissions of which he appoints the controlling majority of some 74 of them but the appointments that are normally most closely watched are those to the State College Board and judicial vacancies.
While the myopic view of the administration of former Gov. Kirk Fordice may in the minds of some center on his threat to whip a TV reporter's backside in the waning days of his tenure, the truth is that Fordice's real legacy is the fact that in his role as the state's first governor to succeed himself, he appointed eight of the state's 12 members of the College Board.
IHL Fordice's true legacy
Those appointees continue to shape higher education policy in Mississippi long after Fordice's return to private citizenship. In perhaps no other arena save the creation of the so-called "rainy day" stabilization fund did the defiant conservative contractor leave a more indelible mark on state government.
Gov. Musgrove now stands on the threshold of what could prove the real legacy of his tenure as governor. With the U.S. Senate's confirmation of State Supreme Court Justice Mike Mills as the new U.S. district judge in Oxford and the announced resignation of Justice Fred L. Banks, Jr. to enter a lucrative private law practice in Jackson, two major appointments to the state's highest court await Musgrove's pleasure.
Banks is a liberal black Democrat. Mills is a conservative white Republican. Banks has been a judicial friend to trial lawyers. Mills has been a judicial target of trial lawyers. There exists a decided difference in their judicial records on death penalty appeal cases.
During his successful 1999 gubernatorial campaign, Musgrove was the darling of the trial lawyers raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from that group. Business groups were angered when early in his administration, Musgrove handed control of the State Workers Compensation Commission to attorneys including his former Batesville law partner leaving employers out.
Will Musgrove load the state's highest court with trial lawyer lackeys who facilitate this state's growing national reputation for "jackpot justice?" He sure could. For many, in the state's business and industrial community, that's the fear.
Sid Salter is Perspective Editor/Columnist at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson and a syndicated Mississippi political columnist. Call him at (601) 961-7084, write P.O. Box 40, Jackson, MS 39206, or e-mail ssalter@jackson.gannett.com.

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