Just four days into the new millennium, representatives made history when they voted 86 to 36 to name Ronnie Musgrove the state’s new
governor. Even though the political party makeup of the House includes 86 Democrats, 33 Republicans and 3 Independents, few crossed party
lines in the landmark vote.
Votes tallied after the Nov. 2 election reflected Ronnie Musgrove (D-Batesville) and Mike Parker (R-Brookhaven) each with 49% of the votes in
the race for governor, with Musgrove edging ahead with a few thousand more votes. The straggling votes that bumped Musgrove over Parker
trickled in from mostly Delta counties, which are primarily Democratic and majority black. Two additional candidates for governor garnered
almost 2%, forcing the governorship to be decided in the opening session of the House of Representatives on Jan. 4.
Few people in the business community were surprised with the results. Even though House Rule 69 required the House of Representatives as a
legislative body to vote for the governor and individual members were not constitutionally bound to vote, none of the members abstained or were
absent. Most had expected Musgrove to capture 65% to 75% of the vote. In the final tally, Musgrove garnered 70%.
“The constitution was followed to the letter of the law and produced a governor,” said secretary of state Eric Clark, who wrote his master’s thesis
on the 1890 constitution.
McKinley “Mac” Deaver, executive director of the Mississippi Bankers Association, said even though the nonpartisan trade organization didn’t
have a position in the governor’s race, a number of bankers threw their support to Musgrove.
“We’ve worked with Ronnie Musgrove and Mike Parker over the years in other positions,” Deaver said. “The consensus from professionals in
our business was that both candidates were well qualified. We’ve had very positive relationships with both of them.”
Some analysts predicted Musgrove would capture 80-plus votes, Deaver said.
“That’s exactly what happened, and I wasn’t surprised in the final analysis,” he said. “I wasn’t surprised at all. I’m just glad it’s over so we can
move on and get to work.”
Because the galley was full, Brad Morris, editor of MS Pol, a statewide political newsletter, observed reactions from a room reserved for the
spillover crowd at the Capitol when representatives’ votes were announced at the roll call.
“I didn’t see anybody fall out of a chair,” he said, with a laugh. “I don’t think anybody was surprised. I think the vote came down to what most
people expected. Most people were looking for Musgrove to break 80. Folks I talked to beforehand were looking in the 82 to 90 vote range and
that’s pretty much how it fell.”
Rep. Jim C. Barnett (D-Brookhaven) crossed party lines to vote for Parker. When Barnett qualified to run for reelection, Democratic committee
members brought up issues that Barnett had written in support of George Bush Jr., a Republican. He had to appeal to qualify.
“After that, it’s interesting that Barnett voted for Parker,” Morris said.
Jerry McBride, president of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, a 1,700-member statewide organization, said the vote “probably could
have been predicted on election night.”
“Representatives pretty much voted along party lines so it wasn’t a surprise,” he said. “The biggest thing that happened today is that we got rid of
a lot of uncertainty, we have a new governor and can move forward to the next four years.”
Charlie Williams, former state representative and gubernatorial candidate, who served as “color commentator” during Mississippi ETV’s live
coverage, said the vote was not manipulated by anybody.
“The House of Representatives is a nonpartisan body,” Williams said. “The vote was handled well by all officials.”
John Deddens, director of the Small Business Development Center at Holmes Community College in Ridgeland, said the makeup of the house
“told me that the vote outcome was inevitable.”
“A certain percentage was going to drift one way or another, based on constituent votes, but the total count, I think, was predetermined,” he said.
“Representatives were going to stick close to party lines, and Musgrove was going to go in.”
Rep. George Flaggs (D-Vicksburg), whom speculation has followed that he will be a key player in this legislative session, and who voted along
district lines, said the popular vote prevailed.
“I commend Parker for sticking it out,” he said.
Rep. Eloise Scott (D-Tupelo), said she received only two calls from constituents prior to the House vote.
“There was no pressure,” Scott said.
Rep. Steve Holland (D-Tupelo), who is serving in his 17th legislative session, said he only received one call from a constituent in his district.
“It was never mentioned,” he said. “It wasn’t an issue with people. There was never any doubt to me who would win the vote.”
Dianne Dyar, executive director of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce, said she is glad the election has finally been resolved.
“I’ve worked with Ronnie since the early 1980s, and he has certainly prepared himself to accept the challenges that are ahead,” Dyar said. “Now
we can move on with the business of the state.”
Patsy Brumfield, Senate spokesperson, said committee assignments would probably not be announced before the week of Jan. 10.
“I think they’ve probably already told some people, and there’s probably been some inside moving around,” Deddens said. “It will be a major
shift. It’s been Republican territory for the last eight years. Now it’s going to be strictly Democratic. Based on the partisanship, I suspect there
won’t be any Republican chairmen of any committees, but there might be one or two. There might be a backlash for Republicans because Parker
didn’t concede when he had the chance. They may make the Republicans pay a little bit. You never know. Politics makes for strange bedfellows.”
Because of a two- or three-week delay in appointments and other administrative tasks, Holland said the session would probably be a long one,
and referred to the interim as a “honeymoon” period.
Prior to the House vote, Musgrove has been tight-lipped about agency appointments, committee assignments and other key positions, Morris
“At this stage in the game, I thought there would be more talk and openness about who is in line for gubernatorial appointments over agencies and
on boards, but I think because of waiting for the vote today, it’s been delayed,” Morris said. “I think we’ll really see an intense period over the
next two or three weeks as he announces names for key positions.”
The 2000 legislative session isn’t expected to be highly issue-oriented, Morris said.
“The focus will be more on policy-type Legislature,” he said. “For example, the Legislature may address DUI laws and reduce the threshold for
DUIs. I think most of the money is tied up and there’s not a lot to talk about there.”
McBride agreed that legislative agendas are not yet clear.
“Because we have a new administration and new people in the Legislature and don’t know how much money there will be to spend, there’s still a
great deal of uncertainty about what’s going to happen in the legislative session, but we will be there to work for the benefit of the manufacturing
community,” McBride said.
Williams said Musgrove will “probably push six to
ight issues the first year, then three to five in the following years.”
“Ronnie can use the governor’s office as a bully pulpit, but more than likely that won’t happen,” he said. “He’s stepped on toes in the past. That’s
fine. He had a right to do that as lieutenant governor. Because the vote went to the House of Representatives, it puts Musgrove in a stronger
position than if he had just won the plurality.” <