In his inauguration speech, new Gov. Tate Reeves promised, “This will be an administration for all Mississippi,” as reported by the Clarion-Ledger. “Governing is about coming together,” he said and proclaimed a new motto for his first term, “For. All. Mississippi.”
Faced with his first crisis as governor – prison rioting, deaths, and deplorable conditions – Reeves appeared to be on track with his promise. He appointed a bipartisan committee to lead a national search for the next prison commissioner with the Mayor of Vicksburg, former state Rep. George Flaggs, as chairman. He also included a former attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens. Both are Democrats and African-Americans.
Other members include retired Leake County Sheriff Greg Waggoner, Harrison County District Attorney Joel Smith, former Parole Board member Kathy Henry, Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing, and Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge Sean Tindell. All are Republicans and white.
Meanwhile, new Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann also exhibited some bipartisanship in his appointment of Senate committee chairs, naming Democrats to chair 13 of the Senate’s 42 committees. Notably, longtime Democratic Sen. Hob Bryan will head the Public Health Committee and Democratic Sen. Juan Barnett, former longtime African-American mayor of Heidelberg, will chair the Corrections Committee. Republicans will head all other major committees including the money, education, and transportation committees. Hosemann has also touted a bipartisan approach to teacher pay and Medicaid reform.
Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn was less bipartisan, appointing two Democrats turned Independent and one Democrat to chair three of the House’s 46 committees. Gunn, who sees himself primarily as the lead Republican in the House, appointed Democratic Rep. Cedric Burnett of Tunica as chair of the Youth and Family Affairs Committee. He also appointed Independent Rep. Angela Cockerham of Magnolia (a Democrat until 2019) as chair of the Judiciary A Committee and Independent Rep. Kevin Horan of Grenada (a Democrat until this month) as chair of the Corrections Committee. Cockerham and Burnett are African-American. All other committees are headed by Republicans.
It will be interesting to see if this kumbaya approach lasts in the face of difficult spending decisions.
The prison crisis will require significant money infusion as well as new leadership. Hosemann’s plan to fund teacher pay raises early will require lots of money. Reeves’ plan to spend more on workforce training and take better care of foster kids will take money.
That comes as pressure mounts for more funding from pent up demand from community colleges, universities, mental health, health, economic development, emergency management … the list goes on and on.
Oh, and don’t overlook the never-ending request for more money to catch up on critical repairs to highways and bridges.
(Here’s an interesting side note. An analysis showed today’s vehicles to be far more efficient gas burners than vehicles in 1986. Factoring in both modern fuel efficiency and annual inflation, the analysis suggests the gas tax burden on consumers today is about one-third of that back in 1987 when today’s 18.4 cent a gallon fuel tax was enacted. But no Republican leaders appear willing to up it any to fix roads and bridges.)
How will this varied outreach to non-Republicans by leaders of state government totally controlled by Republicans play out? Sit back and watch.
“Live in harmony with one another” – Romans 12:16.