JACKSON — Republican Gov.-elect Phil Bryant will have the opportunity to do what no governor in modern times has done — have eight appointments during his first term to the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning.
Thanks to a constitutional change approved by voters in 2003, Bryant will make four appointments to the board in 2012 and four more in 2015.
If Bryant wins a second term in 2015, he will have all of the appointments on what is commonly referred to as the College Board.
The 12-member College Board was established by constitutional amendment in the 1940s. It was set up where four vacancies would occur each gubernatorial term, preventing any one governor from being able to appoint a board majority in the days when Mississippi governors could not serve consecutive terms. The College Board terms were for 12 years.
Under the new system, the terms are for nine years. In making the change in the length of College Board terms, the governor serving from 2012-16 ended up getting eight appointments instead of the customary four.
“It was just happenstance,” said Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, who helped push the change through the Legislature in 2002. “I don’t think anybody was looking ahead to see who would be governor” when the change went into effect.
Bryant, the incumbent lieutenant governor who won the gubernatorial election on Nov. 8 over Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, said he would take great care with the eight appointments.
Spokesman Mick Bullock said: “Gov.-elect Bryant believes these appointments should not be taken lightly and when the time comes, candidates would be evaluated on a number of different levels including — educational background, professional experience and community support.
“Furthermore, the IHL Board will be inclusive and fair to the state’s universities and, regardless of where any person went, their interest should be that of all eight universities instead of just one.”
The appointments must be confirmed by the state Senate.
One of the most coveted powers of the governor of Mississippi is the ability to make a host of appointments — ranging from heads of various agencies to members of boards and commissions that govern other agencies. The College Board is generally viewed as the most coveted appointment to a board.
The College Board hires the higher education commissioner who oversees the state’s eight public universities. The commissioner reports to the board, not the governor.
When the College Board was set up in the 1940s and made part of the state Constitution, the intent was to limit gubernatorial influence. The board was set up after Gov. Theodore Bilbo in the 1930s fired university faculty with whom he disagreed.
Since the state did not permit gubernatorial succession at the time, the 12 members of the board were appointed by three different governors at any one time.
In the mid-1980s, Mississippi voters approved a constitutional change allowing governors to serve two consecutive terms. This change gave Republican Kirk Fordice — the first governor to serve consecutive terms — eight appointments to the College Board in the 1990s.
Incumbent Gov. Haley Barbour now has eight appointments on the board. But under the 2002-03 change, Barbour’s first four appointments will serve 11 years instead of the customary 12 and his appointments made in his second term will serve 10 years. All appointments from now on — starting with Bryant’s 2012 nominees — will serve nine years.
Burton, who was chair of the Universities and Colleges Committee at the time, said the change was made for two reasons.
The first is that the appointments were made from the 1940’s congressional districts and did not reflect population shifts that had occurred in the state. Because of using those outdated lines, Burton said there was a belief that some universities did not receive adequate representation on the board.
Under the change, when fully enacted, the College Board members will be divided equally among the three Supreme Court districts.
And secondly, some believed the 12-year appointments were too long.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said he thought it made sense to have the 12-year terms to ensure the College Board’s independence.
“I think all the turmoil about the 12-year terms was wrong,” he said. “And when you switch from 12-year terms to nine-year terms, mathematically something like this had to happen.”
The College Board change had to be approved by a two-thirds vote of each chamber and by a majority of voters in the state. In 2003, 85 percent of voters approved the change.
While Bryant will be the first to have eight appointments to the College Board, under the new nine-year terms, he will not be the last governor to have that opportunity.