Two independents who switched from Democrat get key committee chairs in GOP-dominated House

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Rogelio V. Solis, Associated Press

Rep. Angela Cockerham of Magnolia on, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Jackson

Democrats did not fare well in terms of receiving committee chairs from House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, but two of the three members who switched from Democrat to independent during the past year were rewarded chairs.

Gunn announced committee assignments Thursday. Perhaps, most notably, Angela Cockerham of Magnolia, who switched to independent before last year’s election, was named chair of the Judiciary A Committee. She is the first woman to chair the influential House committee.

“I am very grateful to the speaker for this appointment,” Cockerham said. “I am looking forward to getting to work with the vice chair and members of the committee. I am looking forward to passing good legislation for the state of Mississippi.”

Earlier this session, Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, was named to chair the Judiciary A Committee in the Senate, making her the first woman in the Senate to chair the panel.

When asked if she might switch to the Republican Party, Cockerham said, “Right now I am just getting through an election” and said she is focused on getting back to work in the legislative process.

In addition, Kevin Horan of Grenada, who left the Democratic Party to become an independent just before the session began in early January, was tabbed to chair the Corrections Committee. Horan, an attorney with a background in criminal law, will take over a post held for the past term by Bill Kinkade of Byhalia. Kinkade will chair Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

Rep. M. Kevin Horan speaks during a special session of the Legislature at the Capitol in Jackson Friday, August 24, 2018.

Horan will take over the Corrections Committee as the Department of Corrections deals with unrest in the state’s prison system, particularly at Parchman prison in the Delta. There have been 10 deaths in the system since Dec. 29, and new Gov. Tate Reeves has announced a nationwide search for a commissioner of the Department of Corrections.

Republicans hold 75 seats in the 122-member chamber. The only Democrat awarded a committee chair by Gunn was Cedric Burnett of Tunica, who will chair the Youth and Family Affairs Committee.

More importantly Robert Johnson of Natchez, the House Democratic leader, said Gunn removed Democrats from committees where they have served for long periods of time and had garnered experience. For instance, he and Jarvis Dortch of Jackson, who have focused on health care issues, were removed from the House Medicaid Committee and Sonya Williams-Barnes of Gulfport was removed from Education.

He said in many cases younger Democratic members on those committees will have to step up to help develop policy. He expressed confidence they would.

In other key appointments:

  • Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, will remain as chair of Education.
  • Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, will chair Elections and oversee the all-important House redistricting that will occur to match population shifts found by the 2020 U.S. Census.
  • Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, will remain as chair of Transportation.
  • Sam Mims. R-McComb, will remain as chair of Public Health.
  • Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, will chair Rules.
  • Joey Hood, R-Ackerman, will replace Chris Brown, R-Aberdeen, as chair of Medicaid. Brown will chair Conservation.
  • Nick Bain of Corinth, who switched to the Republican Party to run for re-election this past year, will chair Judiciary B.

Earlier this session Gunn named members of the two so-called money committees, Appropriations and Ways and Means. John Read, R-Gautier, was re-named as chair of Appropriations and Trey Lamar, a Republican from Senatobia, was tapped to head Ways and Means.

Lt Gov. Delbert Hosemann announced his committee assignments earlier in the session.

Erica Hensley contributed reporting.