/Rep Jeff Smith part of Mississippi House history, but soon his time at state Capitol is up

Rep Jeff Smith part of Mississippi House history, but soon his time at state Capitol is up

They were not only power brokers at the state House but also experienced legislators who had run multiple time for re-election, often with token opposition or no opposition. It is especially surprising that Smith was defeated. Smith was not only one of the most influential members of the Legislature, as the chair of one the four money committees. He is also a historical figure in Mississippi politics. He was one of the two candidates in the most likely to be the last speaker’s election, at least for a while, that was held on the House floor, in full view of all. Smith was defeated by Speaker Billy McCoy (D-Rienzi) by a narrow margin of 63 to 61 in a heated and dramatic floor vote. McCoy, Smith and other House members were Democrats. Their races for speaker were almost always open to the public. The Republicans now have a firm hold on the House and are more federal in choosing the presiding officers. They met behind closed doors to choose among four Republican candidates as speaker shortly after the November 2011 election, when Republicans gained control of the House for first time since 1800. It was agreed that the secret vote winner would receive their support during the 2012 session. Philip Gunn of Clinton was the winner. In the minority, Democrats did not offer Gunn a candidate. The Democrats didn’t have enough votes because all of the Republicans were committed to Gunn. To make the race for the speaker’s seat close in 2008, all 13 Democrats and all the Republicans voted to elect Smith. It would be absurd to believe that Republicans, who will be a majority in the foreseeable future for the foreseeable, would vote for a Democrat to be speaker at this point. Smith was, in a sense a bridge candidate for Republicans. Smith was still a Democrat, but he voted more conservatively in 2008 than most Republicans. Republicans believed Smith was the candidate they could support based upon his voting record and who could win over some Democrats – just enough for them to win – away McCoy who was a pain on the side of Republican Gov. Haley Barbour. They were almost right. Smith was seen as McCoy’s most powerful lieutenant when he was chair of the Ways and Means Committee. Many believed that McCoy would appoint Smith to the chair of Ways and Means when he was first elected speaker in 2004. McCoy instead appointed Percy Watson (D-Hattiesburg) to the highly coveted position, making him the first African American chair of one of the Legislature’s four money committees. McCoy also created Smith as an opponent. Smith was able to retaliate four years later. Two tie votes were cast on that dramatic day to select the temporary speaker, who would then preside over the election. The two African Americans who were running for the position of temporary speaker were Robert Johnson and Ed Blackmon (from Canton), representing McCoy. This election was seen to be a preview of the outcome of the vote for speaker. McCoy supporter David Norquist (D-Cleveland), got up from his desk and spoke with Smith after the second tie vote. The third vote began as they were walking out of the House chamber. Rep. Linda Coleman (D-Mound Bayou), who had previously voted in favor Johnson, switched her vote to Blackmon, or McCoy. They stopped dead in our tracks. McCoy won with Coleman’s switch. Is Norquist preparing to make a deal to get Smith to leave McCoy behind? We might never find out. Smith’s handlebar mustache, impeccable dress after Easter and the spats that he wore over his shoes will remain etched in the Capitol halls forever. He will also be remembered for his narrow defeat in the 2008 race to become the Mississippi House Speaker. It is possible that Gunn will be reelected as speaker of the House by Republicans before the new legislative term begins in January. On the first day of the new term, January 1, Gunn will most likely be elected without opposition. He will then be elected without opposition on the first day of January’s new term.