We made it… 2021.  This New Year promises to be just as full of political intrigue and storylines as the last.

Here are the Top 5 stories Y’all Politics will be watching as 2021 gets underway:

1. Palazzo’s Congressional Ethics Inquiry

The U.S. House Ethics Committee’s inquiry into 4th District Congressman Steven Palazzo’s campaign spending is expected to play out as early as January 2021, but could run into the Spring as the new Congress is seated.

Former Congressman Gregg Harper is advising Palazzo and recently spoke with Y’all Politics about what is at issue in the inquiry and how the process works.  You can watch that interview here.

The inquiry is raising some speculation that the South Mississippi seat could be in play before 2022 in the unlikely event that it does not get resolved favorably for Palazzo.  Southern District Public Service Commissioner Dane Maxwell and State Representative Joey Fillingane have both expressed interest in running for the Congressional seat.  Were the seat to be open, you would likely see more than a dozen candidates, like the 3rd District donnybrook that happened after Harper decided not to return.

2. Phase Out of State Income Tax

In mid-November 2020, Governor Tate Reeves announced his Fiscal Year 2022 Executive Budget Recommendations. Included in the proposal was the elimination of the state income tax.

Cutting the income tax would save a Mississippian making $40,000 nearly $2,000. As Lt. Governor, Reeves helped pass the “Taxpayer Pay Raise Act,” that began the phase-out of the 3% income tax.  FY 2022 is the first year for the 3% income tax to be completely eliminated and Reeves believes it is the right time to begin a complete phase-out of the income tax.

Not all lawmakers are supportive of the elimination of the income tax, namely Democrats and moderate Republicans.  Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann and Speaker Philip Gunn will be key to whether this proposal ever sees the light of day.  Gunn has generally been in favor of the idea conceptually.

The Legislature gavels in January 5th and the wrangling will begin.

3. Municipal Elections

Mississippi voters have another round of elections to consider this year – who will represent your city or town for the next four years.  These local offices are not given the attention they deserve, but are equally as important as state and national elections, perhaps more so in terms of everyday life.

Municipal officials determine local taxes, provide police and fire protection, supply utilities such as water and gas, make sure the trash is picked up and maintain roads, negotiate economic development packages and support local businesses, and much more.

Two state representatives have announced runs for mayor in their hometowns – Rep. Jeramey Anderson in Moss Point and Rep. Jeff Guice in Ocean Springs. There may be other legislators who seek local office.

Qualifying officially begins January 4th.  The Municipal Primary Elections will be held on April 6th and the Municipal General Elections will be June 8th.

4. New President and New Congress

A new Congress will be seated January 3rd with Democrats remaining in the majority in the U.S. House by a slim 10 seat margin.  The U.S. Senate is a bit more complicated at the start.  Republicans will hold a 50-48 majority with the 2 seats in Georgia set to be determined in the January 5th runoff elections there.

The first major action before the new Congress will be to validate the Electoral College vote on January 6th.  Vice President Mike Pence will serve as the presiding officer during that process.  After each state’s Electoral College results are read, members are allowed to offer objections to the results. At least one Congressman – Mo Brooks from Alabama – has said that he will object.  Brooks will need an Alabama Senator to join him in the objection and none have come forward as of yet.  Missouri Senator Josh Hawley stated Wednesday that he will raise an objection.  Some avid supporters of President Donald Trump would like nothing more than to have Vice President Pence refuse to act as he is duty bound but that is highly unlikely to occur.

Joe Biden will most certainly be certified as the 46th President of the United States with Kamala Harris named as his Vice President, making her the first female to serve in that capacity.

The dynamics of Washington D.C. is about to change, shifting to the left.  What that means for local and state governments as well as everyday Americans is to be determined.

5. Dynamics in the Mississippi Legislature

The 2020 Mississippi legislative session was unlike any other in modern times. What was suppose to be a 120 day continuous session that gaveled in January with Sine Die by May ultimately became a year long affair, with members suspending the session and pausing their work multiple times in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.  Most lawmakers have said that a repeat of the 2020 session is not the way to go in 2021 as they are part-time legislators who have full-time jobs and responsibilities back in their home districts.  How this plays out with the COVID-19 vaccine still weeks, perhaps even months away from being publicly distributed is still up in the air.

Also at issue in the 2021 session is how Senate and House leaders will be able to work together and with the Governor.  The 2020 session saw Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann and Speaker Philip Gunn often on opposite sides of Governor Tate Reeves.  All three have stated that their disagreements are merely a matter of policy as it relates to their respective branches of government, but Republican voters who put all three of the Republican officials in their seats did not bargain for this kind of infighting, which the mainstream media stokes at every turn.

Further, stalwart Republicans are openly criticizing the direction of the two chambers in terms of conservative policy making, questioning whether some Republican chairmen are playing too close with the Democrat side of the aisle and placing the blame for that on Hosemann and Gunn.  All of this could come to a head in floor speeches during the 2021 session.

Honorable Mention – Medical Marijuana state Supreme Court case

The Mississippi Supreme Court is set to take up the case challenging the validity of the referendum by which medical marijuana Initiative 65 was placed on the ballot in November 2020.  Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed the action just days before the General Election.  Lawmakers, state associations and even the Mississippi Department of Health have filed amicus briefs supporting Butler’s challenge.  Secretary of State Michael Watson, the defendant, has maintained that the same signature collection process was followed for Initiative 65 under then-Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann as was done with prior initiatives that made it on the ballot.  The Mississippi Supreme Court has set filing deadlines for the first week on January.  This will be a highly watched case as nearly 74% of voters approved the constitutional amendment just weeks ago, putting the Court in the middle of a populist issue that could impact not only medical marijuana in Mississippi but other such referendums that used the same standards.

Y’all Politics remains committed to bringing you the political and government news and analysis Mississippi needs every single day, and 2021 will be no exception.  We thank you for reading and appreciate the ongoing support.