The Tate Reeves led Mississippi Senate passed the long awaited charter school bill by a resounding majority Wednesday after more than three hours of debate. Most notably two African American Democrats, Senators Willie Simmons and Senator Sampson Jackson, voted for the members along with the entire Republican delegation. As I mentioned a couple of months ago, it was important for Reeves and Gunn to reach out and have some support in the black community. Political pressure from the teacher’s union has been intense and the fact that Simmons and Jackson crossed over is a big deal. The balance of Democrats in the Senate voted against.

The measure now moves to the state House where the GOP majority must coalesce around the plan and avoid the debacle that befell the House Education Committee last session.

The Senate bill is strong. It allows for charters anywhere in C, D or F districts. It also allows for charters in A & B districts if the district’s school board votes to allow. So, the power remains in the hands of the people.

Sources around the Capitol say that the measure may be handled on the House floor by freshman Rep. Charles Busby (R). Busby’s star is on the rise as he was the one who took out former Democratic Representative turned “trustee” Brandon Jones. If you will recall Busby replaced Rep. Linda Whittington (D) after Speaker Philip Gunn decided to shift committee assignments last fall.

It will be interesting to see just how effectively House Democratic Minority Leader Bobby Moak can whip his caucus into opposing the bill and what line of questioning they will use to build their case against the measure as it heads to the Governor’s desk for a signature. My sense is he will lose a couple of votes because people like Rep. Chuck Espy (D-Clarksdale) have been pretty outspoken in their support of charter schools, particularly for the rural poor. But the truth of the matter is, House Democrats’ histrionics will mostly be for spectacle at this point. Republicans have the votes to get this done.

The House bill will likely get tweaked on the House side. Most landmark bills do get tweaked and negotiated in conference. But assuming things go like they should, Republicans will get this bill passed and signed. Conference will also allow time for majority leadership to pick off some minority party votes for final passage.

Mississippi Democrats are in a pretty terrible position on this. They will not be able to hold all of their caucus together and they will otherwise largely vote against a bill that (a) is going to pass and (b) helps their constituents. The Democrats argument will basically be that parents in failing school districts aren’t smart enough to make choices for their children. That’s the message that Republican leadership should be publicly hanging around their necks.

Courtesy of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy

Senators Voting Yes:

Terry Brown
Terry Burton
Videt Carmichael
Lydia Chassaniol
Nancy Collins
Sally Doty
Joey Fillingane
Phillip Gandy
Tommy Gollott
Josh Harkins
Angela Hill
Briggs Hopson
Billy Hudson
Gary Jackson
Sampson Jackson
Dean Kirby
Perry Lee
Will Longwitz
Chris McDaniel
Philip Moran
David Parker
Rita Parks
John Polk
Willie Simmons
Tony Smith
Melanie Sojourner
Sean Tindell
Gray Tollison
Giles Ward
Michael Watson
Brice Wiggins

Senators Voting No:

David Blount
Nickey Browning
Hob Bryan
Albert Butler
Kelvin Butler
Deborah Dawkins
Hillman Frazier
Steve Hale
John Horhn
Robert Jackson
Russell Jolly
Kenny Wayne Jones
David Jordan
Haskins Montgomery
Derrick Simmons
Bill Stone
J.P. Wilemon

Chris Massey “paired” his No vote with Buck Clarke, who would have voted yes if he had been there. Neither of these votes count in the total, which means the vote would have been 32-18. There are two vacancies in the Senate due to death.