Education reform talk is prevalent in Mississippi politics these days with a large part of the discussion centered on what will happen in the state House after last session’s let down regarding the charter school bill.
House Speaker Philip Gunn showed his hand Monday by replacing Democrat Linda Whittington with Republican Charles Busby on the House Education Committee.
Whittington voted against the chart school measure last session, along with a handful of Republicans, killing the bill 16-15.
Gunn and the inner circle of House Republican leadership are determined not to repeat the debacle in the 2013 session.
Whittington will move to the House Tourism Committee where she will serve as the Vice Chairman.
Some of this shift is due to Rep. Tommy Woods’ retirement. Such mid-term shifts are common when members resign.
But it is obvious that more is at play here than simple readjustments – and Democrats don’t like it.
Democrats are calling the move “unprecedented” and “heavy handed politics.”
The Clarion Ledger interviewed former state representative Brandon Jones of the upstart Mississippi Democratic Trust and quoted him as saying, “This is unprecedented… This hasn’t happened, at least in recent history, for someone to be replaced because of their vote on a particular bill. This is an example of not being able to win the debate, so you change the rules.”
Jones drawing the quote for House Democrats is strangely appropriate since it was Busby who unseated the one term Democrat in 2011. You have to love Mississippi politics.
The Speaker told the Clarion Ledger, “We are pushing for not just charter schools, but significant education reforms, and it needs to be a bipartisan effort with everybody who wants to see education improve in Mississippi… I don’t want it to be a partisan effort.”
Yall Politics contacted Busby for a comment and the freshman state representative from Pascagoula told YP, “I can’t speak for why the Speaker put me on the committee but I will not vote party. I will simply support what I feel is in the best interest of Mississippi’s children.”
Busby knows Mississippi is struggling in the education realm and wants to be a part of the solution.
“Some districts are doing well but as a whole our state must improve and throwing money at it, even if we had it, is not the complete answer,” Busby said. “Continuing to do the same things and expecting different results makes no sense.”
Our suspicion is that Gunn replaced Whittington with Busby because of Busby’s rapport with the other members on the Education Committee as well as his willingness to take the heat going forward, some of which will surely come with this move.
Make no mistake – this is a statement of strength from Gunn. It shows that the Speaker is serious about education reform in Mississippi. He will not accept business as usual going forward.