Missy McGee brings moderate Republican values to House

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Rep.-elect Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg

Newly elected Rep. Missy McGee will list a Republican “R” behind her name, but her votes under the dome in Jackson might not always align with the policy of staunch conservative Republican leadership.

A self-proclaimed moderate Republican with close ties to road builders and the University of Southern Mississippi, McGee’s conservatism resembles that of her predecessor, now Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker. McGee was elected by a 2-to-1 margin by voters in House District 102 on Tuesday and will be sworn in Oct. 13.

“This is not about party to me,” McGee told Mississippi Today on Wednesday. “District 102 is an eclectic, moderate district. I’m so proud to be able to represent this district that has so much character and folks from all walks of life.”

“My hope is that I will always have the opportunity and wisdom to do what I believe is in the best interest of the district first,” she continued. “That will be my first and foremost concern.”

McGee’s win Tuesday solidified the GOP supermajority in the House, meaning no Democratic votes are necessary to pass budget and tax bills that require a three-fifths vote. But on the campaign trail, McGee outlined several platforms that run counter to policy pushed by House Speaker Philip Gunn and other legislative leaders.

McGee wants to fully fund the state’s public K-12 funding formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program – something that has been done just twice since its inception in 1997.

She also said that she would not be an automatic “yea” vote on a new funding formula, which Gunn and legislative leaders have been crafting for a year. Instead, she said, she would first assess whether the formula was beneficial for schools and taxpayers in her district.

Gunn campaigned against a ballot initiative in 2015, when Mississippi voters were asked on statewide ballot whether to force the Legislature to fully fund MAEP.

“It’s not all funding,” McGee said in an August debate held for District 102 candidates. “We need strong leadership at the administrative level, in the principal’s office, and in the classroom. But we’ve got to make sure we offer our kids the very best that we can.”

She wants to delay implementation of the $415 million tax cut, which eliminates the corporate franchise tax, the 3 percent individual income tax bracket and certain self-employment taxes. McGee also wants to amend the cut to include growth triggers that ensure further tax phase-outs won’t go into effect until revenue growth is first realized.

Gunn helped carefully guide that 2016 tax cut through the House and continues to defend its merit.

“(The tax cut) has given us a more competitive business environment, which is a good thing,” McGee said at the August debate. “But it has come at the expense of us being able to fund critical parts of our budget such as education, mental health, and infrastructure.”

She wants to take down the current state flag, which is the last in the nation containing the Confederate battle emblem, and she sternly opposes House Bill 1523, the state’s religious objections law allowing business owners to refuse certain services to same-sex couples.

Kayleigh Skinner, Mississippi Today

House Speaker Philip Gunn shows off the collection of baseball bats he keeps in his office before a briefing with reporters.

Gunn is one of few Republicans to publicly call for removing the state flag, but he was the principal author and behind-the-scenes pusher of HB 1523.

“I see no point in 1523,” McGee said on Wednesday. “It was a solution looking for a problem. I think that’s the best way to sum it up. It’s unnecessary. Marriage equality is law at the federal level. I just completely saw that as an unnecessary bill that did nothing but put our state in a bad light.”

After McGee’s election on Tuesday, Gunn tweeted: “Congratulations to Representative-elect Missy McGee on her special election win for House District 102.” In the interview Wednesday, McGee spoke highly of Gunn and his staff and said she was “really looking forward to working with them.”

“Congratulations to Missy McGee on a hard-earned victory,” Gov. Phil Bryant, another conservative Republican, said in a statement this week. “Missy ran a strong campaign outlining a positive vision for the future of Hattiesburg. There is no doubt that she will be a fierce advocate for her constituents and a leader in the Mississippi House of Representatives. I look forward to working with her in this capacity.”

District 102, anchored by the University of Southern Mississippi and downtown Hattiesburg, has traditionally been moderate. Barker, who served as a Republican state representative for the district for the past 10 years, was elected mayor in June as an Independent, not a Republican.

Barker was one of seven House Republicans who voted against the 2016 tax cut and one of five House Republicans to vote against House Bill 1523. He voted against an amendment in the 2017 session that would have penalized universities that refused to fly the state flag.

McGee, who worked for Barker’s mayoral campaign, said while she respects Barker’s legacy and service to her hometown, she will bring her own leadership to the Capitol.

“Toby and I have laughed about whether my voting record will look like his,” McGee said. “Am I to the right of him, to the left of him? I don’t know. I can’t predict what those votes would be. But I’m looking forward to it, and I’m to learn as much as I can.”

“I think the best thing I can do is to be an advocate for what’s best for Hattiesburg,” she said.