GOP lawmakers vow to vote in bloc for next Miss. House speaker

Published 6:18 pm Friday, August 31, 2007

Republican members of the Mississippi House have vowed to vote in a bloc for the next speaker of the House — and the votes won’t go to incumbent Democrat Billy McCoy of Rienzi.

P) —“We’re going to have a new speaker next January, and it’s not going to be Billy McCoy,” Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, assistant leader of the 47-member House Republican Conference, said Thursday.

Two legislators have announced plans to seek the powerful speaker’s job once the next four-year legislative term begins Jan. 8.

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One is McCoy, who hopes to be elected to a second term as speaker in January. He is being challenged by a fellow Democrat, Jeff Smith of Columbus, who has strong Republican support.

“I would not expect anything but (the Republican Conference) coming together to vote for Jeff Smith, but the conference has not spoken to that,” Snowden said.

Republicans would have a difficult time electing a member of their own party since they do not have a majority in the 122-member chamber.

While a news release sent out by the conference said the vote against McCoy was unanimous, Rep. Noal Akins, R-Oxford, said after the meeting that he is uncommitted in the race for speaker.

“I have my own election. I am going to win that and then we will talk about it,” said Akins, who is being challenged by Democrat Jim Payne.

Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, who like McCoy represents part of Prentiss County, said, “I wasn’t there” when asked if he agreed with the Republican Conference’s resolution.

Turner, who also represents part of Lee County, would comment further. Rep. Brian Aldridge, R-Tupelo, Lee County’s other Republican House member, also was not there, but had said earlier he is committed to Smith.

McCoy said he was “saddened we have reached a point where we have a pure partisan situation in the Mississippi House. We have always tried to be bipartisan. We have given major committee assignments to individuals regardless of party.”

While McCoy said he still hopes to obtain Republican support, “we have made arrangements without them. We still have a majority of the present members of the House.”

The Republican Conference had issued a similar resolution earlier this year.

One difference Thursday was comments from Rep. Ray Rogers, R-Pearl, who is McCoy’s chairman of the Military Affairs Committee and has been considered a close friend of the incumbent speaker.

In the news release, Rogers said, “It is so good to join colleagues meeting in good faith with great respect for each other, and working together for a common purpose. Mississippi has a bright future, and House conservatives must help lead our state toward that future.”