JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant is on the verge of being able to do something no Mississippi governor in the modern era has done – make all 12 appointments to the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning.
Before the 2018 session’s scheduled conclusion on April 1, Bryant is slated to announce four nominees to the board that oversees Mississippi’s eight public universities to replace four members whose terms expire in May.
When those four Bryant appointees assume their posts, he will have all 12 appointees to the constitutionally created board that is considered one of the most influential in the state.
Bryant is in the unique position to have all 12 appointees because of changes made by voters to the state Constitution in 2004.
“We knew it was likely to happen,” said Senate President Pro Tem Terry Burton, R-Newton, of one governor getting all 12 appointments. “We did not know who the governor was going to be, but we understood it was going to happen.”
Burton was referring to the decision by legislators to place on the ballot the proposal to change the Constitution so that College Board members’ terms were reduced from 12 years to nine years.
At the time, Burton, who was then head of the Universities and Colleges Committee in the Senate, said the change was made in part because there was a belief by some that the 12 year terms were too long.
In addition, some type of change was needed because the members were being appointed based on 1940s congressional districts and did not reflect population shifts that had occurred in the state. Because of using those outdated lines, Burton said there was a concern that some universities did not receive adequate representation on the board.
Under the change, the College Board members are divided equally among the three Supreme Court districts.
Bryant, through spokesman Clay Chandler, did not provide much detail on when he will release his four appointees, who must be confirmed by the Senate.
“The governor will announce his appointments once they’ve been made,” Chandler said.
Josh Harkins, R-Flowood, the current chairman of the Senate Universities and Colleges Committee, said he anticipates the governor making the nominations within the next two weeks.
“They are very important appointments,” Harkins said. “I think he is trying to make sure he makes great picks for the Senate to advise and consent on.”
The four new members will replace Douglas Rouse of Hattiesburg, C.D. Smith Jr. of Meridian, Alan Perry of Jackson and Christine Pickering of Biloxi, all appointed by former Gov. Haley Barbour.
When the current College Board was set up in the 1940s and made part of the state Constitution, the intent was to limit gubernatorial influence. The board was set up after Gov. Theodore Bilbo in the 1930s fired university faculty with whom he disagreed.
Since the state did not permit gubernatorial succession at the time, the 12 members of the board were appointed by three different governors at any one time.
In the mid-1980s, Mississippi voters approved a constitutional change allowing governors to serve two consecutive terms. This change gave Republican Kirk Fordice – the first governor to serve consecutive terms – eight appointments to the College Board in the 1990s.
Barbour also at one point had eight appointees on the College Board. Bryant is on the verge of having all 12.