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And They’re Off!
Mississippi Legislature, Congressional qualifying start with a bang

by Frank Corder
Politics in Mississippi isn't for the faint of heart or the fair weather fans. Politics in Mississippi takes tenacity, perseverance, and, at times, more than a little stubbornness. For us political enthusiasts out there, the start of this new Mississippi Legislative session brings both intrigue and uncertainty.

Things began to take shape Tuesday when both chambers were sworn in and both elected their top leaders.

Sen. Terry Brown was elected Senate President Pro Tempore by acclamation (meaning there was no opposition voiced). Brown brings tremendous legislative experience to this role having served in the House, run for Lt. Governor and having served in the Senate. Brown will be new Lt. Governor Tate Reeves' right hand man as he works to build a cohesive coalition in the Senate, something his predecessor Billy Hewes was able to do in the GOP ranks quite effectively under new Governor Phil Bryant.

Over in the House, Rep. Phillip Gunn is now Speaker of the House by acclamation. How far Mississippi has come politically in the four years since the 2 tie votes for Speaker in 2008. The House Democrats, now led by Rep. Bobby Moak, did not attempt to nominate a candidate nor did any vote in opposition. Such a move is surely more political in nature than well wishers would have you believe. This pomp and circumstance only serves to set the stage for future legislative battles and media exploits.

Also in the House, Rep. Greg Snowden was elected by acclamation as the Speaker Pro Tempore. Snowden has been described as the smartest legislator at the Capitol by many of his colleagues and his track record proves it. He brings a wealth of knowledge and even temperament to this position as he and Gunn now decide just how to proceed with what is certain to be a very conservative House agenda.

Now comes the appointment of Chairs and Committees. Some learned of one or two appointments Tuesday but most will have to wait until the slate is released by Gunn and Reeves. The real question is both chambers is how many Chairs/Vice Chairs will Democrats hold and what will those committees be. We'll all have to wait and see.

On a minor note: the House Democrats have selected their Caucus leadership, but Republicans have not. It will be interesting to see if Rep. Mark Baker retains the role as Caucus leader or if another GOP Representative will be the Majority Leader.

Tuesday also began federal qualifying for the four Congressional seats and the Senate seat currently held by Roger Wicker.

Wicker is well funded and has strengthened his base over the last year or so solidifying his place as the eventual winner come November. However, a few also-ran names are popping up to challenge him which will only force Wicker to spend some of his campaign funds along the way.

Albert Gore (not the former Vice President) has qualified as a Democrat to run versus Wicker. Gore is the chairman of the Oktibbeha County Democratic Party. The inconvenient truth for Gore is that Democrats in Mississippi are not well organized or well funded so his ability to reach voters will be purely up to him and whatever organization he can piece together.

Wicker may also see an in-party or independent challenger as the Tea Party has targeted him in recent months. Rumor on the Coast is that one candidate is collecting signatures to enter as "a conservative independent."

In the 1st Congressional District, incumbent Republican Congressman Alan Nunnelee will seek reelection. Henry Ross may jump in as he suggested back last summer but has yet to do so, but he didn't put up a credible fight last time around and there's no indication he can in 2012. For now, Tea Party blogger Robert Estes has qualified as a Republican versus Nunnelee. No Democrats have qualified or have been rumored to seek the seat that we've heard at this point.

Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson will seek another term in the 2nd District but he'll face in-party challenger Heather McTeer Hudson, the former Mayor of Greenville. Republican Bill Marcy is also in once again as well. Thompson still remains a prohibitive favorite

Republican Congressman Gregg Harper has yet to draw a challenger but some in the Tea Party are actively looking to put a candidate up for this 3rd District seat. Harper will be impossible to beat for any challenger.

The 4th District will be the race to watch given the dynamics of what's at play. Incumbent Republican Congressman Steven Palazzo has already drawn at least two opponents - in-party Tea Party challenger Ron Vincent and Democrat Michael Herrington - and others are rumored to be considering a run. Both Vincent and Herrington are from the Hattiesburg/Pine Belt area making the campaign scenarios quite intriguing. The biggest question is if former Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor enters the race.

The Legislature and Congressional qualifying is off and running. As I said, there is always something afoot in the Mississippi political spectrum. As we enter our 9th calendar year of covering all things political in Mississippi, we hope you'll stay tuned to Y'all Politics for more news, analysis and tidbits as things take shape.

Posted January 4, 2012 - 3:48 pm

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