HED: Mills says politicians, not courts, should solve College Board problem

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Mike Mills said Thursday he believes the debate over Gov. Kirk Fordice's recent appointments to the state College Board should be decided in the political arena and not the courts.

"I have never been one to advise the governor and I would not try and tell him what to do," said Mills, who was appointed to the state's highest court by Fordice in November. "But this is as political an issue as I have ever seen in Mississippi government. It's not something the courts need to be involved with."

The state Supreme Court was asked to rule twice last week on whether Fordice could renominate his four choices to the College Board. Each time, the court ruled the governor could renominate his appointees.

Even so, the Senate Universities and Colleges Committee rejected the appointees by a 7-6 vote in a special session called by the governor July 11.

The controversy has centered on Fordice's choices who are all white men. Committee members seeking racial and gender diversity on the College Board argue that Fordice has never appointed a minority member. In 1992, Fordice appointed four whites who were confirmed but since he took office two blacks have left the 12-member board.

Since his appointees were defeated in the special session last week, the governor has not indicated what his next step will be. Attorney General Mike Moore met in a closed session with the College Board Wednesday to discuss a personnel matter but neither Moore nor the board members would elaborate.

Mills was in Tupelo Thursday speaking to the local Civitan Club when asked about the high court's involvement in the case. The court's youngest member at the age of 39, Mills was appointed by Fordice to replace Chief Justice Armis Hawkins of Houston who retired before his term expired.

Mills, a former state representative from Fulton, is now seeking a full, eight-year term on the court. He faces 1st Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Thomas Gardner of Tupelo. The election is Nov. 5.

Mills told club members Thursday that he supports efforts to reduce juvenile crime and improve victim's rights but said one issue he has embraced since taking office has been deterring child abuse.

"I've been struck by the fact that there are so many child abuse cases in this state," he said. "I'm terribly concerned about that problem."

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