Hosemann makes committee assignments, including some Democrats in key spots

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann speaks after being sworn into office in the House chambers at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020.

Republican Delbert Hosemann, on his first day graveling the Senate into session as lieutenant governor, announced committee assignments Friday morning.

While it is difficult in the 52-member Senate to not have some chairs from the minority Democratic Party because of the large number of committees, Hosemann still had some surprising appointments. For instance, Hob Bryan, an Amory Democrat, will chair the Public Health Committee, which is generally considered one of the five most important committees in the chamber.

“What you saw announced today is my very best efforts at putting everybody where they would best serve the state,” Hosemann said. “Hopefully that is in conjunction with where they want to be.”

Of course, Republicans, who hold a commanding 36-16 advantage in the Senate, received most of the plum assignments, including as chairs of the two money committees. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, generally viewed as a moderate, will chair Appropriations while Josh Harkins, R-Flowood, will chair the Senate Finance Committee – replacing Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, who is the new chair of Highways and Transportation. The previous chair of Appropriations during the past four-year term, Buck Clarke, did not seek re-election, running unsuccessfully instead for the statewide office of treasurer.

“You’ll see Democrats and Republicans heading committees here,” Hosemann said. “You’ll see males and females heading committees here. I see no difference in whether it’s a man or woman, Republican or Democrat, minority or whatever. We all got elected. .. They have talents and I intend to use those talents. We are now at the governing stage. We’re no longer at the party stage.”

Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, will chair the Judiciary A Committee.

Perhaps one of the most surprising appointments was Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, as chair of Education. During the past four years under the administration of Tate Reeves, DeBar was vice chair of Transportation.

Perhaps even more surprising is that of the 15 members of the Education Committee, only four voted last term for the unsuccessful attempt by the legislative leadership to rewrite the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which is the mechanism used to provide state funding to local school districts for their basic operation. Eight of the members voted against the new funding formula. Many educators and education advocates said the proposed new funding formula would have made it easier to provide less funding to local school districts.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, who was one of the architects of the rewrite, said he does not believe legislation will be filed this session to attempt another rewrite.

“I think he (Hosemann) was fair to the Democrats as a group,” said Bryan, who also served as Public Health chair three terms ago during the tenure of Republican Phil Bryant as lieutenant governor. “I certainly would have done some things differently, but overall I think it is a very good group of people.”

Making committee assignments is one of the most important responsibilities of the lieutenant governor in the Senate and the speaker in the House. Hosemann, who was only sworn in as the lieutenant governor Thursday, wasted no time fulfilling that responsibility.

Among his priorities, he said, will be reorganizing state government to eliminate some of the more than 200 boards and commissioners that control various agencies. He said that will take the combined work of multiple committees.

“Today when I gaveled in, I told them all to review their committee,” Hosemann said. “Provide to me by next Tuesday what their priorities are. I have my list of priorities. I’ll meet with all the chairman, some of them together because they overlap, and we’ll set our priorities.”

Over in the House, Gunn has named members and chairs of the two money committees. John Read, R-Gautier, will continue as chair of Appropriations while Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, will chair Ways and Means, replacing Jeff Smith, who was defeated this past year in his re-election bid.

Notably, Gunn named Karl Oliver, R-Winona, as vice chair of Appropriations. In 2017, Oliver was roundly criticized for posting on social media that people who supported removing Confederate monuments should be lynched. Gunn condemned Oliver’s comments at the time, and Oliver later apologized. Jody Steverson, R-Ripley, will be vice chair of Ways and Means.

Gunn, beginning his third term as speaker, is expected to make his other committee assignments in the coming days.

Adam Ganucheau contributed to this report.