JACKSON — House Speaker Philip Gunn, one of the most powerful figures in state government, announced Wednesday that he will not run for re-election next year, a move that could significantly realign political power in the Mississippi House of Representatives.
Gunn told House Republican members during a Wednesday caucus meeting and said to the Daily Journal that he will continue to serve as speaker through 2023 but will not run for his House seat again.
"My service as speaker coming to an end does not mean I will not be open to future opportunities to serve," Gunn said in a written statement. "I love our state and will always make her better."
Gunn, R-Clinton, has served in the 122-member chamber since 2004, and he held the speaker's gavel since the Republican Party took the majority in 2012.
Gunn's election as speaker made him the first Republican to hold that post since Reconstruction. Gunn, 59, now presides over a chamber in which Republicans hold a supermajority.
Throughout his tenure, Gunn helped usher in a new state flag, pushed through significant income tax cuts and repeatedly championed conservative priorities on cultural issues.
Evaluating his 12-year career as speaker, Gunn highlighted legislation that eventually led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year.
"That started in the House of Representatives - right here in the Republican caucus," Gunn told the Daily Journal. "I don’t know that we’ll ever do anything that’s more of a landmark, transformative piece of legislation than that."
In Mississippi, the downfall of Roe v. Wade eliminated most legalized abortion access and further inflamed conflicted among lawmakers over the expansion of Medicaid access to eligible women after they give birth, a policy Gunn has opposed.
The speaker has also been a key figure opposing a broader expansion of Medicaid to the working poor, a policy supported by Democrats and many moderate Republican lawmakers.
In 2015, Gunn became one of the most prominent Republican leaders in the state to call for a redesign of Mississippi's state flag, which incorporated a Confederate emblem at the time.
His Republican colleagues for years ignored his pleas to change the the flag, but after a nationwide reckoning over racial injustice in 2020, the speaker played a key role in efforts that ultimately led to the adoption of a new flag.
Beginning in 2021, the speaker began strongly pushing legislation to eliminate the state's income, but earlier this year he settled on a deal with the Senate that drastically cut the tax.
Gunn would not detail what plans he may have following the conclusion of his speakership, but he hinted that he will not completely retire from public life.
"I believe there will be an opportunity for me to serve our state soon, and when that time comes, I will be ready," Gunn said.
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, the leader of the Senate, said in a statement that Gunn's fingerprints exist on most of the state's legislative history over the past 12 years.
"From child trafficking to tax reform, he provided consistent conservative, faith-based leadership to his colleagues," Hosemann said.
Nearly all of the Republican lawmakers from north Mississippi praised Gunn's leadership over the past 11 years, describing him as an effective leader who charted a new path for Republicans in the state.
"Our state is better off for his service," Republican Rep. Trey Lamar of Senatobia said. "He deserves to go out on his own time, and I respect the man a lot."
House Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White - the second most powerful figure in the House - is likely to be the leading candidate to succeed Gunn.
White, a Republican from West, has asked Republican legislators to support him in a future bid to become the next speaker, according to lawmakers familiar with the situation.
White did not return a call seeking comment on Wednesday.
White has conducted several fundraisers around the state, and he has publicly said he would interested in the speakership if it became vacant.