Hed: College Board nominee troubles not new for Fordice

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON - Kirk Fordice's difficulty in getting his current batch of College Board nominees confirmed by the state Senate is nothing new. Similar circumstances occurred in 1992 with Fordice's first nominees to the College Board.

Like now, Fordice had four vacancies to fill. In '92, the governor nominated a white female, black female and two white males. This year, Fordice has nominated four white males whom a Senate subcommittee failed to confirm during the legislative session that ended in April. The subcommittee members said more diversity was needed in the nominees.

The five-person subcommittee's refusal to confirm resulted in the nominations dying at the end of the session.

While the confirmations of the 1996 nominees - Hassell Franklin of Houston, John McCarty of Jackson, Ralph Simmons of Laurel and Tom McNeese of Columbia - were held up and eventually killed by the subcommittee, just one person stalled the process in '92.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, then chaired the Universities and Colleges Committee. His committee voted for, and later the full Senate approved the nomination of, Ricki Garrett, a white woman from Clinton. But Bryan never called a vote on the other three.

As the session ended, he said more information on those three was needed before the committee could make a responsible choice. Those three nominees included Thelma Brown Rush of Vicksburg, a black woman. She eventually asked that her name be withdrawn after senators questioned her about tax problems and her lack of a college degree.

The other two nominees were Dr. Howard Clark of Morton, who at one time was suspended from receiving Medicaid and Medicare payments, and Michael Smith of Starkville, a businessman who appeared to have a conflict of interest with Mississippi State.

Eight out of eight

Less than a month after the session ended, Fordice replaced those three nominees with Jake Mills of Tupelo, Carl Nicholson of Hattiesburg and Bill Crawford of Meridian. The three were confirmed by the Legislature in 1993, giving Fordice four white appointments.

"At the time, some black senators were concerned about four out of four being white," Bryan said. "But I thought that was OK. I am not so sure eight out of eight is OK."

Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, chairman of the Universities and Colleges Committee, said eight out of eight does present more of a problem than four out of four white nominees.

A governor has four appointments each term to the 12-person board that oversees the state's eight universities. The tenure on the board is 12 years. Because of that lengthy tenure, Frazier said it would be difficult for one governor to more racially balance the board if Fordice is allowed to seat eight white appointees during two terms in office.

Pressure on next governor

Four years ago, the terms of three white men and one black man expired. This time, Fordice wants to replace two white men, one white woman and one black man with four white males. If those four white males are confirmed, the College Board will consist of eight white men, two black men and two white women.

"It (eight white male appointments by Fordice) would put a lot of pressure on the next governor if he wanted more diversity on the board," Frazier said.

But it's Frazier who is now under pressure. Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has said that he will send the four nominations back to Frazier's Universities and Colleges Committee. Frazier will have several options: He again can send the nominees to the subcommittee, present them to the full committee or do nothing.

Frazier has refused to divulge his plans, saying he would not speculate until the case gets out of the courts.

If Frazier does not allow a vote of the full Senate, that will upset Fordice. One of the governor's primary complaints is that the nominees were been killed by a subcommittee, preventing a vote by the full Senate.

Not unusual

But most senators say that's the system. The full Senate was not allowed to vote on three of his nominees to the College Board four years ago. It also has occurred with numerous other nominees and bills.

"It is not unusual for the subcommittee to kill legislation," Frazier said. "Eighty-five percent of the legislation introduced dies in the subcommittee."

About 3,000 bills are introduced each year in the Legislature. Only about 500 become law. The majority of the bills die in subcommittees.

Frazier said a Fordice nominee to the state Licensure Board was killed in subcommittee last term, and other nominees have suffered the same fate.

Sen. John White, D-Baldwyn, said there was a bill he introduced 14 straight years.

"It died in a subcommittee," he said. "We finally got it passed, but it was tough. Despite that, it's a good system."

The committee system, legislators say, prevents chaos on the floor. It prevents legislators from changing a bill without having proper time to study it.

With the system, though, it gives committee chairmen immense power. But sometimes that power can be beneficial.

Take 1992, for instance. As Universities and Colleges chairman, Bryan blocked three of Fordice's nominations by himself. Bryan said he is certain the three people Fordice nominated to replace those blocked nominations turned out to be better board members.

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