Formby loses chair

Published 4:25 am Sunday, January 20, 2008

Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, was replaced as chairman of the Insurance Committee in the Mississippi House of Representatives for the current session on Friday.

Formby, who was one of the main architects of the state’s wind-pool insurance bill last session, was replaced by Rep. Walter L. Robinson Jr., D-Bolton, in a move by House Speaker Billy McCoy.

Ten days after retaining his leadership job in a close and contentious vote, McCoy on Friday rewarded his allies and shunned his opponents when he handed out the committee chairmanships.

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McCoy, D-Rienzi, named Democrats as chairmen of every House committee and gave Republicans only about one-quarter of the vice chairmanships.

“It’s going to be a long four years,” said Rep. Mark Baker of Brandon, leader of the Mississippi House Republican Conference.

McCoy — who received strong support from members of the Legislative Black Caucus — named a record number of black committee leaders. He created a new Poverty Committee to study what he called one of Mississippi’s most pressing problems.

McCoy also stripped the prestigious Judiciary B Committee chairmanship away from Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Columbus, who built a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats to challenge McCoy for the speakership on the opening day of this legislative session. Smith was not at the Capitol when the committee assignments were announced Friday. He did not even receive a vice chairmanship.

The committee assignments are important because chairmen have great leeway in deciding whether bills live or die. The chairmen of the five most powerful House committees remain the same: Johnny Stringer of Montrose at budget-writing Appropriations, Percy Watson of Hattiesburg at tax-writing Ways and Means, Cecil Brown of Jackson at Education, Ed Blackmon of Canton at Judiciary A and Steve Holland of Plantersville at Public Health and Human Services.