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franklin county times

State House members eye top job

By By Terry R. Cassreino / assistant managing editor
June 30, 2002
Nothing in Mississippi government wreaks more political havoc than speculation that longtime, and sometimes controversial, House Speaker Tim Ford is on the way out.
And that's exactly what's happened the past few weeks at the state Capitol some lawmakers already have started planning campaigns to run for speaker should Ford choose not to seek re-election.
The situation grew even more frantic last week when Ford the single most powerful elected official in Mississippi acknowledged he may indeed retire from the Legislature.
All have played key roles under Ford. And all are eying the same prize: the state's best political job, one unencumbered by term limits that crimp the power and influence of the governor and lieutenant governor.
So let's look at the job, why it's so appealing to House members and why a vacancy should be of interest to everyone in the state including residents here in East Mississippi.
The speaker is elected from among state House members. He can remain in office as long as he wins re-election to his House seat and also maintains enough support from fellow House members.
The heart of the speaker's powers rest in House procedural rules that let him appoint members to 30 standing committees. Those committees draft and shape legislation that eventually become state law.
More importantly, the speaker can control the fate of legislation by sending proposals he likes to friendly committees and banishing measures he opposes to hostile committees.
Throughout much of his tenure, Ford has run a tight ship. While not as dominating as his predecessor, C.B. "Buddie" Newman, Ford nevertheless has maintained a strong presence.
Ford won the job in January 1988, the consensus candidate of a group of "House Rebels" who had engineered a coup after tiring of Newman's autocratic, dictatorial style.
The House changed its rules to limit the speaker to two terms in the job. But Ford spent his first term in the office consolidating his support; the two-term limit was nixed in 1993, freeing Ford to remain in power.
Hence, the short-lived House rebellion that supporters said would make the body more democratic actually became nothing more than a transfer-of-power that cemented Ford as speaker.
Ford's political future had been a topic of quiet conversation among House members in the weeks leading to the June 21 Nissan special session. It dominated idle conversation the day of the session.
His non-denial last week has only fueled talk about what might happen next.
And while Moody's, Simpson's and Warren's names have been tossed around, McCoy remains the early favorite to replace Ford. After all, McCoy was the one most likely to replace Ford had he won the 1st District congressional seat when he ran for that office in 1994.
If Ford does retire and McCoy wins the job, the speaker's powers likely will remain intact and North Mississippi obviously will continue to control the state's most powerful elected post.
As one South Mississippi legislator put it recently: "Billy would be a good choice. One day, things will shift and other parts of the state will fit in the mix. But the time is not right yet."

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