Political partisan speaker’s race ahead

JACKSON — The 2012 election of a new speaker to lead the state House of Representatives is taking on a new look — more partisan, with fewer uncommitted members for one candidate to try to snatch from another.

The speakership is one of the most powerful positions in state government. Though the speaker’s actions can affect the whole state, the job is not filled by the electorate at the ballot box. In January, the 122 House members will select their leader.

Speaker Billy McCoy chose not to run for re-election to the House this year, ending eight terms at the Capitol. McCoy is a populist Democrat from Rienzi and won a second term as speaker by only one vote in 2008. Many rural conservative white lawmakers cast ballots for his challenger, Rep. Jeff Smith of Columbus, who was then a conservative Democrat and had GOP support.

Smith, now a Republican, is one of several in the GOP already seeking support in the 2012 speaker’s race.