Watson, Kirby most influential lawmakers

Gathering a group to play poker? You might want to skip the invitation to Mississippi Rep. Percy Watson. And not just because he’s a clean-living kind of guy.

Watson, a Democrat from Hattiesburg, is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. With a sharp mind for strategy and a calm demeanor that betrays few clues about his next move, he’s one of the toughest negotiators at the state Capitol.

Watson is, by far, one of the most influential lawmakers of the 2009 session.

Joining him atop the list of power players is his Senate counterpart, Finance Committee Chairman Dean Kirby, a Republican from Pearl.

Kirby and Watson are leading the talks about a proposed increase in the cigarette excise tax, one of the most highly scrutinized pieces of legislation this year. Two relatively new lawmakers also are among the half-dozen negotiators on the cigarette tax — Democratic Sen. Eric Powell of Corinth, who’s in his second year at the Capital; and Democratic Rep. Angela Cockerham of Magnolia, who’s in her fifth year.

AP, via Sun-Herald 4/14/9