Newly minted Lt. Governor Tate Reeves announced his choices for Senate committee assignments Friday morning, ending the rumors and speculation that have been swirling since election night.
Reeves has held his selections extremely close to the vest with no leaks before the announcement. In fact, even his closest lieutenants were kept on a “need to know” basis, and no one had the full picture of where everything would fall until after the announcement was made.
The thing that leaps off the page in looking at both committee chairs and overall committee assignments is “balance”. Balance on party. Balance on geography. Balance on race. Balance on experience. Balance on gender. Tate Reeves and Parks McNabb in Reeves’ office have done a tremendous job in covering all of the political bases while keeping strength where it needs to be.
Some of the most notable Senate committee chairs appointed include:
Reapportionment and Energy: Sen. Merle Flowers (R-Southaven) – Flowers is undoubtedly the most powerful Senator on the floor – (he will also co-chair Finance). Redistricting is THE issue in this session and the fact that it is in Flowers hands means that (1) there is a high level of trust and (2) Reeves means business about making that work. It’s also safely Republican (6-3). Having Chris McDaniel (another one of the young gun trusted conservatives) as Flowers’ co-chair on Legislative Reapportionment is a good thing. Also, the fact that Terry Burton (who will now chair Universities & Colleges) got tossed from the committee is only fitting. It is right that Reeves didn’t assign him there after the mischief Burton and his friends at the Hospital Association caused for then Lt. Gov. Bryant, but my sense is that liberal columnists will make the case for Burton (one of their favorites) to have stayed on.
Finance: Sen. Joey Fillingane (R-Hattiesburg) – Fillingane was one of the top four leaders and went in early for Reeves. He’s a solid conservative and will play a big role, as he should. Having Merle Flowers as his co-chair signals to me that this is a place where Reeves is going to get a lot of policy work done.
Appropriations: Sen. Buck Clarke (R-Hollandale) – Having Buck Clarke, one of the most respected Senators, survive a tough re-election will really pay off. As a CPA and a co-chair of the Finance Committee in Bryant’s Senate, he has a real handle on the Appropriations process and is widely respected. His political lot in life should also improve substantially with redistricting with a more southward facing district into Madison County.
Public Health: Sen. Dean Kirby (R-Pearl) – Kirby moves from Finance to Public Health. It’s an interesting move for a Senator who went in big for Billy Hewes against Reeves. However, Kirby has a lot of respect in the body and Public Health is a big task.
Education: Sen. Gray Tollison (R-Oxford) – Tollison’s party switch certainly raised a lot of eyebrows. Undoubtedly, this was what both sides had in mind. Tollison has a big focus on Education and knew he couldn’t move the needle in the minority party. In Reeves’ policy speech to the joint session Thursday, you heard a lot of references to the importance of education. With charter schools and funding questions both at play, for Reeves to place Tollison, an unproven conservative convert in this role means there’s already a lot of trust. Tollison will have to be there for conservatives on the big stuff (like redisctricting and some hard party line votes) and show that he’s truly made the switch.
Another interesting note is that Reeves appointed two freshmen to chair committees focused on the state’s resources, a big assignment that impacts Mississippi’s economic development. Republican freshmen Senators Melanie Sojourner and Brice Wiggins will chair Forestry and Ports & Marine Resources, respectively.
In all, Reeves handed 17 of the 39 chairs to Democrats some of which include:
* Jud B: Sen. Hob Bryan (D)
* Transportation: Sen. Willie Simmons (D)
* Corrections: Sen. Sampson Jackson (D)
* Economic Development: Sen. John Hohrn (D)
* Housing: Sen. Hillman Frazier (D)
* Public Property: Sen. David Blount (D)
* Veterans Affairs: Sen. Haskins Montgomery (D)
In true Yall Politics fashion, let me tell you what’s about to happen. Democrats, particularly those in the media, will nitpick the selections. They have been saying for months that Reeves was the bad guy . . . that there would be no balance . . . that minorities and Democrats would be shut out . . . that Republicans would be out to close schools and starve children. The truth is that none of that was ever the case. And though Reeves certainly had the ability to wield chairmanships with a partisan iron fist like Billy McCoy, it’s obvious that he’s going to be a different sort of leader. However, I strongly doubt that the public education crowd, the editorial pages or the Bill Minors of the world will be able to swallow their pride and enormous egos and stop banging their drum even momentarily to recognize Reeves’ choices for what they are . . . well-designed and fair.
We will be breaking down more along the way, but that’s what jumps off the page early on. We will look now to see what Phillip Gunn and Greg Snowden do in the House. Stay tuned to YallPolitics for more analysis and news as the 2012 legislative session develops.