PSC, Transportation commission seats up for grabs in election; Simmons jumps in

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The floodgates may be opening in terms of candidates running for the state’s Transportation Commission and the Public Service Commission.

Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, speaks to the Senate concerning Senate Bill No. 2001 in a special session of the Legislature at the Capitol in Jackson Monday, August 27, 2018.

On Thursday, Senate Transportation Committee Chair Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, announced he is running for the open Central District Transportation Commission post.

As chairman, Simmons said, “I have acquired a wealth of knowledge about resources, needs and the roadbuilders’ industry. This knowledge coupled with my commitment and vision for our transportation system, places me in the position of being ready to carry out the duties and responsibilities of the Transportation Commission from the day that I am sworn in.”

While the Transportation Commission and the Public Service Commission have vastly different responsibilities, both are comprised of three members elected from districts —the Central, Northern and Southern.

And both commissions will probably have two of three seats open for this year’s elections.

Simmons is running in the Central District where long-time Republican Commissioner Dick Hall has announced he is retiring. Also, Republican Northern District Transportation Commission Mike Tagert is stepping down. Southern District Commissioner Tom King, a Forrest County Republican, is running for re-election.

On the Public Service Commission, Democrat Cecil Brown of the Central District is retiring and it is widely believed that Sam Britton of the Southern District, a Jones County Republican, is running for treasurer and will announce in the coming days.

Democratic Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley of Nettleton has announced he is running for re-election.

Simmons is not the first to announce for the Central District Transportation post. Edwards Mayor Marcus Wallace already has qualified for the post, and, like Simmons, will be running as a Democrat. State Rep. Michael Ted Evans, D-Preston, also is expected to run for the Central District post.

On Thursday, Simmons announced his candidacy in front of the Department of Transportation building with many of his legislative colleagues standing behind him. Those colleagues included Republican Sens. Briggs Hopson of Vicksburg and Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula.

While Wiggins said he could not vote in Simmons’ district, he is supporting him.

“Party is important, but having the right person is even better,” Wiggins said after the announcement. “Willie has been a good senator.”

At the event, Simmons said last year’s special session where additional funds were earmarked for infrastructure was a good start, but that more needs to be done. He said it is estimated that the special session eventually will result in $200 million annually in additional revenue for transportation, but more than $400 million more per year is needed.

He said there is a need to find additional revenue and said that a motor fuel tax increase “should not be taken off the table” as a possible source of additional funds.

The state’s 18.4-cent per gallon motor fuel tax, enacted in 1987, is the fifth lowest in the nation.

Simmons has been in the Legislature since 1993.