The intricacies of democracy – Mississippi style – will be on full display in the coming two weeks as a new four-year term of state government begins.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann will convene the Mississippi House to order for the new four-year term at noon Tuesday, officiate over the swearing-in of the 122 House members elected in November and begin the process of electing a speaker. On Thursday, Hosemann will begin his new duties presiding over the Senate as lieutenant governor.
Over in the Senate, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves will convene the Senate at noon Tuesday and swear in the 52 senators elected in November. Reeves will continue presiding over the Senate until Thursday when Hosemann, along with the other six statewide officials elected in November, will be sworn in during a ceremony in the House chamber.
At the point Hosemann is sworn in as lieutenant governor on Thursday, Reeves will be unemployed – unemployed until the following Tuesday (Jan. 14) when he will be sworn in as the state’s 65th governor during much pomp and circumstances on the south steps of the state Capitol. Hopefully the weather will cooperate since construction has been under way since mid-December on the elaborate stage where Reeves will take the oath of office administered by Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph. If the weather does not cooperate, everyone will cram into the House chamber as occurred in 2012 during Phil Bryant’s first inaugural.
Another little nugget of interest is that, if Bill Waller Jr. had not retired as chief justice of the state Supreme Court last January and ultimately ran against Reeves in the Republican gubernatorial primary, he most likely would be administering the oath of office to the new governor. Or if things had turned out differently in that August Republican primary runoff, Waller could have been preparing as governor-elect to take the oath of office from Randolph.
If the process of beginning a new four-year term seems prolonged, some comfort can be taken in the fact that before the state Constitution was amended in the 1980s, the process of swearing in the new statewide officeholders took even longer. Now the Legislature convenes on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of the new year, the statewide officeholders other than the governor are sworn in on Thursday and then the governor takes the oath of office the following Tuesday.
Before the Constitution was changed, the whole process took an extra week. The statewide officeholders other than the governor were sworn in during the second week of the legislative session and the governor was inaugurated during the third week.
After the Legislature convenes on Tuesday and the members are sworn in, the first order of business will be electing a speaker and speaker pro tem in the House and a pro tem in the Senate. The Republican majority in the House already has committed to Philip Gunn of Clinton for speaker and Jason White of West for pro-tem. In the Senate, Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, is expected to be selected unanimously by his fellow members.
Incidentally, based on precedent and the current House rules, Democrat Hester Jackson-McCray, who was certified as the winner of House District 40 in DeSoto County by 14 votes over Republican incumbent Ashley Henley will be sworn in with the other 121 House members on Tuesday even though Henley is asking the House to overturn the election results. She is alleging voter irregularities in the Nov. 5 election. The Constitution gives the two chambers the authority to seat or reject its members. At some point, presumably soon after Gunn is elected to a third term as speaker, he will appoint a special committee to hear Henley’s complaints.
In 2000, of course, on that first day the House had to elect a governor since neither Democrat Ronnie Musgrove nor Republican Mike Parker garnered the majority of the popular vote and the most votes in a majority of the 122 House districts as required under the Mississippi Constitution to win statewide office. The House went on to elect Musgrove who was the top vote-getter in the election and missed by less than a percent winning a majority.
As the House voted, Parker, a former U.S. House member, listened in a committee room in the Capitol.
But Musgrove, who was still serving as lieutenant governor until Lt. Gov.-elect Amy Tuck would be sworn in on Thursday, was presiding over the Senate. As the House vote concluded, then state Sen. Travis Little of Corinth who had just been elected by his fellow senators as pro-tem went to the podium where Musgrove was presiding, informed him of the House vote and offered congratulations.
Such are the intricacies of Mississippi state government.