TUPELO • Secretary of State Michael Watson said he will continue to advocate for one of his core policy proposals from the campaign trail, despite resistance from a legislative leader.
Watson, a Republican, has proposed that the office he leads should take over the state’s driver’s license services from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety because of a lack of quality customer service and efficiency. According to Mississippi Today, House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Republican from Clinton, opposes the idea.
“While the Speaker is committed to seeing improvements at the state’s driver’s license bureaus, he does not support moving oversight of the services to the Secretary of State’s office,” Emily Simmons, Gunn’s spokeswoman, told Mississippi Today.
Watson told the Daily Journal on Thursday during a tour of the Lee County Circuit Clerk’s Office that it was “unfortunate” that his efforts were being stalled in the House, but he’s hopeful to continue his efforts in the Senate.
“Fortunately, there are two chambers in the Legislature,” Watson said. “So we’re going to be working in the Senate and advancing that proposal with them. I think it’s something we talked about during the campaign. I think Mississippians deserve better service. As you know, I’m a strong conservative, so I want limited government. But when government does exist and it has to exist, then it should serve Mississippians well.”
Watson, a former state lawmaker, said his former colleague state Sen. David Parker, a Republican from Olive Branch, is working to advance the bill in the Senate.
“(Sen. Parker) already requested the bill, and we’re working through those final issues with the bill itself to be introduced in the Senate,” Watson said.
Even though the policy has not yet been introduced in the Senate, it must pass a simple majority vote in both legislative chambers for it to pass the first hurdle to become law. Gunn’s opposition to the idea will make it extremely difficult to gain any major traction in the House.
Watson also said he plans to overhaul the secretary of state’s website and introduce reforms to the website’s database of campaign finance reports by possibly allowing the public to use a searchable database of finance reports from statewide elected officials over the past 10 years.
The secretary of state’s office helps supervise the state’s election process, so Watson’s visit to Lee County included discussions with local election officers about voting-related issues.
While Lee County has recently acquired new ballot scanning devices, some areas in the state have dealt with aging election infrastructure. Watson said the state has acquired more than $6 million through federal grant money to upgrade the state’s election system, which he plans to disburse by working with local officials.
“As a conservative, I’m always going to be on the side of local control,” he said.