The race for House speaker heats up
By By Terry Cassreino / assistant managing editor
April 20, 2003
As some legislators spend the next six months trying to save their jobs and win another term, a more interesting scenario has developed behind-the-scenes among state House members.
The race to replace retiring House Speaker Tim Ford whose successor was once thought to be longtime state Rep. Billy McCoy of Rienzi suddenly has turned into at least a six-man race.
Besides McCoy, others running for speaker include state Reps. Erik Fleming of Jackson, Steve Holland of Plantersville, Bobby Moody of Louisville, Zachary Rushing of Tylertown and Joe Warren of Mount Olive.
Interestingly, all of them are Democrats.
Even though the state Republican Party is trying desperately to make in-roads in the state House, the GOP had just one player who considered a run for the job: Jim Simpson Jr. of Long Beach.
But Simpson, whose dad served as a Democrat in the state House, lacked support.
So that has turned the race for House speaker into an all-Democratic Party affair that officially began last summer when Ford announced he wouldn't seek another term in the Legislature.
The speaker without a doubt the most politically powerful position in state government is chosen from among House members in a roll call vote at the start of a four-year term.
The speaker appoints House members to chair and serve on 30 separate committees that consider and draft legislation. He also holds immense influence over chairmen and often dictates the fate of legislation.
McCoy, who chairs the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, was among the first to jump in the race. By late last year, he told reporters he felt he had enough committed votes to win the job.
But throughout the 2003 Legislature, McCoy was never able to kill talk about the speaker's race. Even though many lawmakers remain committed to McCoy, others still jumped into the race.
Most lawmakers dismiss Fleming and Rushing as having no chance at all because both are in their first term. Moody's, Holland's and Warren's candidacies, however, are another matter.
One theory is that Moody, Holland and Warren are simply positioning themselves so they can withdraw from the race at the last minute and then win key committee slots under McCoy.
Another theory is that Moody, Holland and Warren are using their candidacies as a way to boost their standing and support in their home district. Even if they lose, their constituents will appreciate their effort.
Still another theory is that McCoy, who faces opposition in the November general election, could see his support fade and a dark horse candidate could find his way in the leadership post.
Either way, the race could become hotter than some legislative elections. And with so much political power riding on the outcome, candidates running for House seats should be ready to say who they'll support.
GOP gains in Senate
The GOP likely will fare much better in the state Senate, where incumbent Amy Tuck is running for re-election as a Republican after winning election as a Democrat the first time around in 1999.
As lieutenant governor, Tuck serves as second-in-command of the state.
She also serves as president of the state Senate where, like the House speaker, she names Senate committee chairmen and members and can use her influence to dictate the fate of legislation.
Republicans likely will see the re-election of Sen. Travis Little, R-Corinth, who switched this year from the Democratic Party. Little serves as president pro tem of the Senate, the second-in-command behind Tuck.