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BOBBY HARRISON: Legislative process fuels conflict, even among the like-minded

BOBBY HARRISON

It was like old times a few days ago in the Mississippi Legislature – one chamber killing a bill to make a point, leading to the Senate and House remaining in session late into the night.

The scenario has played out many times in the Mississippi Legislature, and no doubt legislative bodies across the world – the two presiding officers wait holed up in their office while the ran-and-file members mull around in a parliamentary recess waiting to see if anything is going to happen.

Years ago, the House under Speaker Billy McCoy sent the Amy Tuck-led Senate a suspension resolution to buy more time to come to a budget agreement. The Senate leaders refused to take up the resolution, saying they were ready to address the differences in a special session.

Just at the deadline hour of midnight approached, the Senate leaders changed their mind, passed a revised version of the rules suspension resolution, rushed it to the other side of the Capitol with the intent of trying to force McCoy to pass those changes with literally seconds to go before midnight.

An outraged McCoy refused to accept the last -minute changes. The Senate leaders probably did not expect him to, but instead took some satisfaction in knowing they got the last punch in on that particular night and caused their legislative adversary to temporarily blow his gasket.

Such is the legislative process.

But hey that was Republican vs. Democrat.

When dealing with such a wide chasm of ideas and each side trying to get its way, inflict its will on the other side, all sorts of brinkmanship is possible in the legislative process.

But when the House members and the senators sat at their desk until the brink of a new day last week near the end of the 2017 session while their presiding officers waited in their office to see what the next move from the other side would be, it was Republican on Republican brinkmanship.

What occurred is that the House, led by its leadership, rejected what the Senate leaders thought was an agreement on a bill to fund the Department of Transportation. The House leaders said they killed the bill to force more negotiations on spending additional money on a deteriorating transportation system.

Then, right after that, just by coincidence the budget bill for the office of Attorney General Jim Hood was put in jeopardy because Speaker Philip Gunn, agreed with the point of order made by Rep. David Baria of Bay St. Louis, the House minority leader, that some of the language in the bill was improper.

Granted, it gets complicated to try to explain the particulars of the rules fight that was part of the disagreement.

But the point is that the two sides sat silently on their side of the Capitol waiting for the next move from the other chamber, waiting to see if the House would accept the fix offered by the Senate or vice versa.

Neither did. Midnight came and now legislators are heading to a special session to fund the Department of Transportation and the office of Attorney General.

The two politicians at the center of this, Gunn and Lt. Gov.Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, are both Republicans who tout fiscally and socially conservative values.

And guess what?

Despite the standoff, they say they still like each other. And they probably do, though, they probably like each a little less, for the time being, at the end of the 2017 session than they did before the session began.

The fact is that the legislative process fuels disagreement and conflict. When dealing with multiple egos, especially the egos of politicians, on countless issues, there will be conflict.

It is almost a fact of life.

That is why politicians have to learn how to disagree and move on to the next issue – if they want to be successful.

» Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol correspondent. Readers can contact him at (601) 946-9939.

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