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House changes committee rules to favor GOP

JACKSON — The Mississippi House changed its rules yesterday to ensure Republicans have a majority on both money committees.

Under longtime rules, the House speaker could name three members to the budget-writing Appropriations Committee and three to tax-writing Ways and Means. Thirty members of each were selected based on seniority. Six were chosen from each of state’s five congressional districts that existed before 2000.

Keeping those rules was likely to mean that Democrats, who predominate among long-tenured members, would have retained a majority on the two committees, despite now being in a 64-58 minority in the House.

The House voted yesterday to cut members selected by tenure to 24, giving Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, six more appointments. Six members will be chosen by seniority from each of the four congressional current districts, drawn in December by a three-judge federal panel.

House Rules chairman Mark Formby, R-Picayune, said the move would ensure that Republicans have a majority of three members on each committee.

Democrats questioned why it was necessary to change the system and wondered who exactly would lose their seats. Formby said he hadn’t looked at specific names, and said that Democrats wouldn’t lose their influence just because they were in the minority.

“Majority does not always mean control; minority does not always mean you get walked on,” Formby said.

He said Republicans are trying not to mistreat the Democratic minority.

“We’re trying awfully, awfully hard to maintain unity, offer a little olive branch of peace, so we can work together.”

He noted that Republicans didn’t implement new congressional districts for votes on the influential Management and Rules committees, which could have decreased Democratic numbers on each.

The House has 32 committees, and Gunn has yet to name leaders and members of those where appointments are not controlled by the House rules. Until he does so, little work can be done by the body.

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