CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: BOBBY

HED:Legislative process seldom looks pretty

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal

JACKSON -- We tend to like things pretty. Pretty cars, pretty pictures, pretty food, pretty clothes and yes pretty people.

Perhaps, that is one reason most people do not like the legislative processs. Often, there is nothing pretty about what the Mississippi Legislature -- or for that matter -- any legislature does.

The legislative process involves debate, disagreements, unyielding positions and eventually compromise. It often involves people using every trick in the book to block legislation they do not like.

Human conflict involving 174 people (as is the case in the Mississippi Legislature) is seldom a pretty sight and is often downright unseemly.

But occasionally the Legisalture does work quickly and without much conflict. Such was the case last week, which marked the opening of the 1997 session.

Work was done with limited controversy. The Legislature was almost pretty -- well as pretty as it can be. And what was the reason for that prettiness?

Before the session began, the leadership, led by Speaker Tim Ford, D-Tupelo, and Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, D-Batesville, endorsed numerous proposals, including a three-year teacher pay raise package and tax relief for married couples.

With only limited opposition thus far, those issues are flying through the legislative process.

In doing so, Musgrove, a first-term lieutenant governor, is setting himself up to challenge Attorney General Mike Moore's status as front runner in the 1999 gubernatorial election. Thus far, Musgrove has displayed a firm grip on the Mississippi Senate.

Before the session began, he said to look for the Senate to act quickly on the tax relief bill, some social issues, and the uniform youth court.

During the first week of the session, which is traditionally a slow time, the Senate passed the tax cut, and a bill prohibiting same sex marriages. The Senate could take up the uniform youth court as early as this week.

The fact that only three senators voted against the tax cut bill, which will provide no more than $185 per year for some married couples but will take about $50 million out of the state general fund, says something about Musgrove's influence over the Senate.

People who might normaly oppose the bill due to the drain it will have on the limited general fund revenue did not because of Musgrove. These same people are expecting Musgrove to be leading the way in the effort to preserve strides made in public education and in the fight to make even more improvements. They know Musgrove has been a leader in that effort and indications are that he will continue to be.

By acting quickly on such popular issues as tax relief and the same-sex marriage bill, Musgrove is establishing himself as a statewide official with substantial clout. He also can use that clout as a strong advocate for public education.

And look for Musgrove this session to enhance his image as a politician who is capable of bringing various groups to the table to reach a compromise.

But do not look for things to remain so pretty throughout the process. Musgrove knows they won't And Ford, who as speaker of the House presides over a more independent and factious group, certainly knows the prettiness will wear off.

"There has been more effort to a commitment to work things out," Ford said. "But you have got to remember the Legisalture is not supposed to work like a well oiled machine.

"People were elected to come here and debate and express their opinion. It is very important to try to reach consensus, but nothing is cut and dried."

And in reality, the debate, conflict and differences of opinions are what make the legislative process such a petty one.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal's Capitol Bureau Chief.

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