5 speaker candidates seek votes of Miss. GOP House members, Tollison jumps to GOP in Senate

JACKSON, Miss. — Five Republicans are seeking the speakership of the Mississippi House, anticipating a takeover of the chamber from the Democrats, who refuse to concede that they’ll lose control of the 122-member chamber.

Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, who has served as majority leader, said Thursday that by his party’s count, 118 races have been decided, with each party taking 59. That would leave four in question, but Republicans are leading all four contested seats.

State GOP Chairman Arnie Hederman said he expected to capture each of the four.

Announced GOP candidates for speaker are Jeff Smith of Columbus, Mark Formby of Picayune, Herb Frierson of Poplarville, Philip Gunn of Clinton and John Moore of Brandon. Republican House members plan to gather early next week and select their party’s candidate by secret ballot. The House will select a new speaker when the Legislature convenes Jan. 3. Democrat Billy McCoy, who has held the job the past two terms, did not seek re-election to his House seat.

Hederman said he also held out the possibility that some Democratic House members would defect, swelling the margin.

In the Senate, longtime Sen. Gray Tollison of Oxford on Thursday announced his switch from Democrat to Republican. The GOP already had a majority in the Senate before the election, but victories and Tollison’s defection will push it to 31-21.