Billy McCoy (a Prentiss county Democrat) was elected speaker by a 62-60 vote on a tension-filled first day of the 2008 session. Robert Johnson, D.Natchez Rep., wasn’t among the voting members for McCoy. Johnson voted with 12 other Democrats for Jeff Smith of Columbus. Smith was an independent at that time and had the support from the entire Republican caucus. This Johnson was recently selected by the House Democrats to lead their caucus over the next four years. It is likely that McCoy, who passed away in November at the 77th year of age, would have been happy with the House Democrats’ decision to choose Johnson as their leader. McCoy was a quick temper but had learned to live with the pitfalls that comes with holding grudges in politics by 2008. Johnson recently stated that McCoy and McCoy were on the same page on most issues. Johnson stated that he met McCoy shortly after the dramatic election to be speaker and explained his reasons for supporting Smith. Johnson assured McCoy that he would support Smith and work with him over the next four years, in any way McCoy saw fit. McCoy named Johnson vice chair of the Medicaid Committee and made him a key negotiator as the Democratic-controlled House battled with Republican Gov. Haley Barbour is an expert on many health care issues. McCoy viewed Johnson as an experienced attorney and litigator and he was more capable than many House members in taking on Barbour, his skilled staff, and other House members. Johnson was a part of McCoy’s inner circle, despite not supporting his second term as speaker. Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs said that Johnson became a key ally. He was the chairman of the House’s Banking Committee under McCoy. McCoy was smart. He would often have members of his leadership team at meetings with media. Johnson said that his cabinet consisted of six to seven members. Johnson recalled, “His cabinet was six or seven members.” 8. He would always have me at all meetings. Johnson said that McCoy taught him to be determined and consistent, even if he was not present. Johnson, the House Democratic leader, said that he would work with the Republican majority whenever possible. However, Democrats will continue to fight for issues they consider crucial to the state’s progress, including improving health care through Medicaid expansion and increasing funding for infrastructure. Johnson, 61 years old, spoke in September 2019 about his childhood protests against discrimination, which he and his family carried with him. Johnson said that he had a “sense of duty” as a teenager and even though he went to law school and undergraduate in Mississippi, he still wanted to go back to Mississippi. He said, “I love Natchez, I love Mississippi and I want to see us grow up and become better.” Johnson’s 2008 support for Smith was huge. Members were under immense pressure from both camps. McCoy was being supported by all members of the House Black Caucus, according to House Black Caucus members. However, McCoy’s support was not universally supported at the news conferences. This led to it becoming clear that Johnson and Linda Coleman, both African American, might not be voting for McCoy. Coleman eventually switched her vote in order to break the tie and put McCoy ahead. Johnson stated that Smith’s support was based on Smith’s concern about transportation and health care, especially in the Delta, and that Smith had expressed a willingness to include more African American House Members on key committees to address these issues. Johnson claimed that McCoy agreed with him on these issues but refused to make committee assignments in order to win his vote. McCoy named a record number African Americans as committee chairs. Percy Watson was the chair of Ways and Means and Ed Blackmon was chair of Judiciary A. Johnson received a vice chairship. But, more important, his influence over House Democrats grew during that time and has continued to increase since. People can only speculate about how the history and future of the state would have changed if Johnson had won the 2008 speaker’s battle.