State Sen. Chris McDaniel announces that he is running for lieutenant governor during a press conference at the Mississippi Republican Party Headquarters in Jackson, Miss., January 30, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

In his effort to label incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann “Delbert the Democrat,” challenger Chris McDaniel says Hosemann gives Senate Democrats too much power as committee chairmen.

But Hosemann counters that he’s appointed more Republicans to chairmanships than any first-term lieutenant governor and that he routes important legislation to GOP-run committees.

McDaniel, if elected, vows to break with Republican lieutenant governor predecessors Hosemann, Gov. Tate Reeves, former Gov. Phil Bryant and Amy Tuck and appoint only Republicans to Senate chairmanships.

“As lieutenant governor, I will empower my Republican colleagues and appoint Republican senators to all chairmanships,” McDaniel said in a statement.

But McDaniel faces at least one challenge in that: math.

The Senate has 41 standing and joint committees.

The Mississippi Senate has 52 members. There are 36 Republicans and 16 Democrats, a number not expected to drastically change with this year’s election.

Further complicating things, of the 36 current Republicans, there are 11 freshmen. While there are occasional exceptions, unless they come in with specific expertise, freshmen are not usually appointed to major chairmanships until they’ve served at least a term because they haven’t learned the ropes of legislating and how to run committees.

Under McDaniel’s vow, it would appear some Republican senators would chair multiple committees. Unlike the House, there is no Senate rule against one member chairing multiple standing committees, but it would create a heavy workload for someone doing so, and concentrate much power into a smaller, less diverse group.

Under the current Senate makeup, this would also mean McDaniel would appoint no Black senators to chairmanships, despite Mississippi having the highest percentage Black population in the nation, 38%. An all-white Senate leadership team would hearken back to Mississippi’s Jim Crow past style of governance.

Hosemann has appointed 13 of the 16 current Democratic senators to chairmanships. This is the same number of Democratic chairmen now-Gov. Reeves had in his final term leading the Senate as lieutenant governor. In Reeves’ first term as lieutenant governor, he appointed 17 Democrats as committee chairs.

But McDaniel has not accused Reeves, who he endorsed for governor, of closeted Democratic leanings, instead recently saying, “Tate is a conservative.”

Reeves’ predecessor, Republican Gov. Bryant, ran a Senate that still had a slim Democratic majority and fewer committees. In his term as lieutenant governor, Bryant had 17 Republican committee chairs and 19 Democrats.

In his statement, McDaniel said: “Lieutenant Governor Delbert ‘the Democrat’ Hosemann used his office to further his liberal agenda and undermine Republican lawmakers by appointing Democrats to chair powerful committees. His appointment of Democrats to these pivotal positions undermines the will of Mississippi voters — who elected supermajorities in both chambers for a reason.”

McDaniel points to Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, serving as Public Health Committee chairman — a relatively powerful position in the Legislature — and said Hosemann “appointed one of Mississippi’s most liberal leaders to its powerful post.”

But Bryan has served nearly 40 years in the Senate, and held the Public Health chairmanship under Bryant. Under Reeves for two terms, Bryan held the also-powerful post of Judiciary B Committee chairman.

McDaniel, whom Hosemann appointed chair of the Environmental Protection, Conservation and Water Resources Committee, said: “The Democratic Party is so radicalized today, they do not reflect the values of Mississippi, and certainly do not deserve appointment to position of power to wield their socialist agendas.”

Hosemann in a statement said: “I have appointed more Republicans to chair committees during this term than the first term of any lieutenant governor. Additionally, every major piece of legislation has gone through Republican chairmen — from a $525 million tax cut to our election security package to increasing penalties for violent crime to the largest teacher pay raise in the state’s history.

“My opponent simply is not being honest about the Senate’s conservative achievements and the facts.”

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.