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Lawmakers convene, elect Gunn as House Speaker

JACKSON — Mississippi lawmakers convened their 2012 session yesterday with a history-making Republican majority as the House elected Philip Gunn of Clinton as its new presiding officer.

Republicans already controlled the 52-member Senate, and they took control of the 122-member House in the Nov. 8 elections. This is the first time since Reconstruction that the GOP has held the majority in both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature, and Gunn is the first Republican House speaker since then.

Republicans decided weeks ago that Gunn was their choice for speaker, and Democrats did not nominate a candidate yesterday. Gunn, a 48-year-old attorney, was elected speaker without opposition and received a standing ovation from members of both parties. He pledged to seek unity in House.

“I will do my best to serve you with honesty, fairness and dignity,” Gunn said.

Gunn called for unity and said the House has been divided for too long by opinion, age, race, region and party. He said he also has been guilty of engaging in some types of division, and he apologized for it.

“Let us work together to make Mississippi better than it has ever been before,” Gunn said.

Republican Tate Reeves of Flowood will be inaugurated tomorrow as lieutenant governor, the Senate’s presiding officer. Republican Phil Bryant, who will be inaugurated as governor Jan. 10, is in his final days as lieutenant governor and presided over the Senate yesterday.

Both legislative chambers yesterday unanimously elected their second-highest officers. Republican Terry Brown of Columbus was chosen Senate president pro tempore, and Republican Greg Snowden of Meridian was chosen House speaker pro tempore.

“We’ve got a lot of situations — I don’t call them problems. But we’ve got a lot of situations to address. In about a week from now, we’ve got to get to work,” Brown said.

Snowden reminded House members that the campaign season is over.

“Put it behind you,” he said. “Let it go.”

Republicans hold a 31-21 majority in the Senate and a 64-58 majority in the House.

Reeves could announce Senate committee assignments by this Friday, his staff has said. Gunn told The Associated Press yesterday he hopes to announce House committee assignments and chairmanships by Jan. 13. House members are filling out questionnaires on where they’d like to serve.

Committee chairmen in the Mississippi Legislature generally have power over which bills live or die. Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, said the committee assignments would be the first real indication of how power will be distributed.

“So far, everything has been sort of a get-along love fest,” Johnson said yesterday. “But we’ve got big, serious issues to deal with this session — education, economic development, health care.”

Legislators are scheduled to meet four months, as is customary during the first year of a four-year term. Sessions the next three years will be 90 days each.

The House has 32 new members and the Senate has 15 new ones.

Democrat Billy McCoy of Rienzi, who has been House speaker the past two terms, did not seek re-election to the Legislature in 2011, nor did Democrat J.P. Compretta of Bay St. Louis, who was House speaker pro tem under McCoy.

Republican Billy Hewes of Gulfport, who was Senate speaker pro tem last term, is no longer in the Legislature. Hewes ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2011, losing to Reeves in the GOP primary.

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