Speaker of the House Billy McCoy

Most thought McCoy, a 65-year-old Democrat from Rienzi who survived cancer in the mid-1990’s, wouldn’t recover from diverticulitis, a digestive disease, and four bleeding strokes that threatened his life in 2004. He was hospitalized for weeks. But McCoy, alternately described by his colleagues as “steadfast” and “hard-headed,” said he had no such worries.

Four years after recovering, he successfully battled a Republican-led attempt to yank his leadership post. He won by two votes, one of them his own, after a bitter campaign that included talk-radio attacks against him. He then demoted lawmakers who opposed his re-election.

Now locked in a Medicaid funding fight with Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and Senate leaders, McCoy has so far refused to budge on his preference for a combination of hospital and tobacco tax increases to pay for the health care program that serves almost 600,000 Mississippians.

There also have been failures to which he and other lawmakers have been linked, such as a beef plant that cost Mississippians millions and led to the indictment of several people.

Lately, he’s having trouble advancing his preferred Medicaid funding method through the mostly Democrat chamber during an off-and-on special session.

There is no compromise so far with Barbour and Bryant, also a Republican, who favor a hospital tax plan that overwhelmingly passed the Senate.

McCoy said the Medicaid debate “is no different from scores of others I’ve experienced over an almost 30-year period.”

“Some of the best products we have ever passed have come after long and tiring deliberations, stalemates and so forth,” he said. “It’s not bad, just something we have to work through.”

Clarion Ledger