As Democrats are attempting to reconcile their current and likely future status as the faithful opposition, a couple of interesting dynamics are emerging.
First, there’s a real struggle for who’s in charge. You have the party, ostensibly led by Rickey Cole, putting out one set of messages. House Democrats, led by Bobby Moak, seem to be seeking to have their own voice with little to no coordination whatsoever with the “Party”, but rather an outside group led by a defeated state representative.
Rickey Cole, Executive Director of the Mississippi Democratic Party, issued a statement after Republican Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn handed out the House committee assignments on Friday calling Gunn’s appointments “lipstick on a pig.”
We here at YallPolitics called the House committee appointments what they are: historic, inclusive and bipartisan.
Cole is upset that Gunn did not appoint former Democratic Speaker McCoy’s closest, most loyal allies to their prior committees with many not receiving a chair or vice chair (although a few still did). McCoy’s boys – Johnny Stringer, Bobby Moak, Steve Holland, Cecil Brown, Percy Watson, Tommy Reynolds, Tyrone Ellis – all participated in and proudly carried out the extreme partisanship the former Speaker established in the House, practices that were soundly defeated and expunged by Mississippi voters in November 2011.
Yet, Cole, ever the opportunist, said:
“That these experienced public servants were not appointed to the chairmanships of their former committees does not come as a surprise, but to keep them completely off of the committees where their knowledge would have been of tremendous value sends a clear message that all that talk we heard from Speaker Gunn about ‘bipartisanship’ two weeks ago really meant “bipartisanship in name only.”
Cole added, “There’s a big difference between seeking out the best people available to help solve Mississippi’s problems and throwing up a smoke screen for the sole purpose of providing political cover. We shall see how well Speaker Gunn’s appointees, many of them inexperienced, will handle the responsibilities he has handed them.”
Cole and the Democrats are working under the assumption that what they have done for the State of Mississippi for the past 140 years has worked and that despite the recent election, voters are happy with their leadership.
If Gunn had appointed these Democratic representatives to their former committees there would have been no possibility of true change in the House; that move would have given these McCoy allies the ability, not to positively impact legislation, but to be a stumbling block on the road Mississippi voters endorsed.
And if Cole wants to point a finger at any of these new House committee chairman and call them “inexperienced” he should blame McCoy and his boys for not cultivating the skills of the Republicans.
For Democrats, it is indeed hard to reconcile that their ideology simply is not relevant at the present moment.
The big issue going forward for Democrats is how will the party of Obama fare in Mississippi? Playing small ball and issuing poorly worded press releases about inside baseball politics isn’t going to get them back to the Promised Land. Ultimately, they’ll have to reconcile themselves with the conundrum of swearing allegiance to the national Democrats (which are completely out of touch with Mississippi politics) and finding a core set of real issues that resonate with Mississippi voters that substantially differ from the GOP. Not an easy task.
The myth of a “Mississippi Democrat” – that they are somehow different than other liberals a la Travis Childers and Gene Taylor – has been eliminated and that trend is moving down to the local level.
Steve Holland and Tyrone Ellis are two struggling to find their new place. It’s certainly not surprising given that they were among the top McCoy lieutenants that ruled with an iron fist the past four years. Holland is quoted in the Daily Journal as saying, “I don’t have a problem with my assignments in that they are good committees, but the one walking encyclopedia on health care has been barred from input except on the floor.” Ellis said in the same article, “The former majority leader in the House… You have to punish him.”
But Cole, Holland and Ellis aren’t the only Democrats attempting to slap Gunn around a little.
In a recent tweet, Democratic Rep. David Baria asks, “My boss has hired the guy who worked for my opponent and is paying him with my constituents’ $$. How I am supposed to reconcile that?”
Yes, Gunn did recommend and the House Management Committee did hire Nathan Wells as his Chief of Staff. Wells did help Baria’s opponent during the 2011 election cycle. But it sounds like Baria is having a hard time reconciling his own sour grapes despite admitting that Gunn gave him committee assignments he requested. Another of Baria’s tweets reads, “My committees: Agriculture, Gaming, Judiciary B, Marine Resources, and Ports and Harbors. All but Ag were among my requests.”
At least one House Democrat found a place in his heart to show an inkling of appreciation to Gunn. Rep. John Hines, who was named chairman of the House Youth and Family Affairs Committee, was quoted in the Clarion Ledger as saying, “I am humbled to be given such a large responsibility at a time when issues of youth and family are at an all-time high in importance.” Not an official, “Thank you, Mr. Speaker” but it’s as close as a House Democrat is going to get at this point.
Here’s to hoping that Mississippi Democrats learn to reconcile their new roles and seek to be a positive player for their constituents and the state as this session moves forward, not just liberal talking heads spewing the same, tired liberal rhetoric their national counterparts readily practice.
And maybe one day we’ll find out just who is actually leading the fractured Democratic Party.