Could GOP lose its House supermajority?

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Gabriel Austin, Mississippi Today

Voting boards at the front of the chamber are illuminated as House members vote on legislation.

With two Republican House members running for municipal posts next month and another Republican seat vacant, some wonder if GOP success in local races might cost the party the House supermajority it gained just last year.

The loss of one GOP seat for any reason would would mean a loss of that supermajority.

The three-fifths supermajority, which House Republicans enjoy for the first time since Reconstruction, means that Republicans can pass revenue or tax bills without needing Democratic votes. In the House, a three-fifths vote (74 of the 122 seats) is necessary to pass those bills.

Officials can hold two elected offices at once in some cases, said Leah Smith, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office. State lawmakers can serve as city aldermen or county supervisors because those posts are considered legislative branch seats. Lawmakers could not serve as mayors, as that is considered an executive branch post.

First-term Rep. Shane Barnett, R-Waynesboro, is an alderman at large in his hometown and is running for re-election in Waynesboro this summer.

Presuming the two Republican House candidates for municipal seats win their races, Mississippi Today took a closer look at the potentially vacant House seats:

House District 102

Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg

Incumbent Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, is running for Hub City mayor. Barker is regarded as the top challenger to incumbent Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, who has served as mayor since 2001.

Barker, who was first elected to the House in 2007 at the age of 25, chairs the Performance Based Budgeting committee. He’s gained the trust of the Republican leadership as he sat on conference committees in 2017 for key education and appropriations bills.

Of the potentially vacant House seats, House District 102 appears most vulnerable for Republicans. In 2010, that district’s black voting age population – which historically goes to Democrats in Mississippi – was 30.4 percent. Barker, who is running as an Independent in the mayoral race, has been viewed a moderate Republican, swinging likely Democratic voters to his camp.

The past four elections have gone decidedly Republican, though the district is considered “in play” to several Democratic operatives in Mississippi.

• 2015: Barker garnered 3,500 votes, or 73 percent, edging out Democratic opponent Taylor Brinkley, who received about 1,300 votes, or 27 percent.

• 2011: Barker earned 3,957 votes, or 66 percent, while Democrat David Cook earned 2,049 votes, or 34 percent.

• 2007: Barker earned 2,955 votes, or 63 percent, while Democrat Jolly Matthews earned 1,766 votes, or 37 percent.

• 2003: Longtime Republican Rep. Lee Jarrell Davis, R-Hattiesburg, earned 4,007 votes, or 72 percent, while Democrat Rick James earned 1,549 votes, or 28 percent.

House District 54

Gil Ford Photography

Rep. Alex Monsour, R-Vicksburg

Incumbent Rep. Alex Monsour, R-Vicksburg, is running for Vicksburg alderman. Monsour faces Vicksburg South Ward alderman incumbent Willis Thompson, a Democrat.

Monsour, who was first elected to the House in 2007, chairs the House Ports, Harbors and Airports committee.

House District 54 is a Republican stronghold, and the chances of Democrats winning the seat are “slim,” one Democratic operative said. In the past four elections, Republicans have run unopposed all but once. The black voting age population in the district is 23.8 percent.

• 2015: Monsour, running unopposed, earned 5,777 votes.

• 2011: Monsour, running unopposed, earned 7,189 votes.

• 2007: Monsour earned 4,961 votes, or 67 percent. Democratic challenger Jenny Thomas earned 1,675 votes, or 22 percent, and Independent challenger Tom Setser won 809 votes, or 11 percent.

• 2003: Republican Rep. Chester Masterson, R-Vicksburg, ran unopposed and earned 7,276 votes.

House District 108

Gil Ford Photography

Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune

Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant this year to the Worker’s Compensation Commission, which leaves his House seat vacant.

Formby, who has served since 1993, was chairman of the Revenue and Expenditure General Bills committee.

In coming days, Bryant will assign a date for a special election to fill the seat. The district, which covers most of Pearl River County, is another Republican stronghold.

Formby ran unopposed all but once in the past four terms. The district has just a 15.7 percent black voting age population, and multiple Democratic operatives are chalking that district up as a loss.

• 2015: Formby earned 3,198 votes, or 77 percent, while Democratic challenger Leavern Guy earned 953 votes, or 23 percent.

• 2011: Formby easily defeated Republican challenger Eddie Magee in the primary, and had no Democratic opponent in the general election.

• 2007: Formby ran unopposed in the general election.

• 2003: Formby ran unopposed in the general election.

In addition to the three potentially vacant Republican House seats, a pending lawsuit could potentially affect the GOP supermajority.

AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Rep. Mark Tullos, R-Raleigh

After veteran Rep. Bo Eaton, D-Taylorsville, and Republican challenger Mark Tullos tied with 4,589 votes each in the 2015 general election, House leaders, who historically have jurisdiction over general election issues, decided the tiebreaker by literally having the candidates draw straws.

Eaton drew the longest straw and was declared the winner. Tullos later challenged the election results, claiming election officials conspired to count affidavit ballots they had previously rejected. He argued that those votes should not have been counted, and House Republicans sided with him, granting him the seat.

Five Smith County voters who had their ballots rejected by House leadership then filed a federal lawsuit for equal protection violations. That case is active before U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves.

Even if one of the seats goes Democratic, the GOP could hold onto its supermajority in the House by convincing a Democrat to switch parties and join the Republican majority.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story implied candidates cannot simultaneously hold two full-time elected offices. However, individuals can hold elected offices in the same branch of government.