Mississippi’s new Republican lieutenant governor, Delbert Hosemann, has a reputation for working hard and expecting others around him to do the same.
Hosemann was an attorney in private practice before he served three terms as secretary of state. He moved from that job to lieutenant governor on Thursday when he was inaugurated to succeed Republican Tate Reeves, the man who is becoming governor on Tuesday.
The lieutenant governor presides over the 52-member Mississippi Senate, appoints senators to serve on committees and names the committee leaders. He — and in the case of two previous lieutenant governors, she — also assigns bills to committees, exerts influence over the state budget-writing process and nominates people to serve on some state boards and commissions.
Legislators have the responsibility to oversee the condition of state-owned buildings and to decide how much money to spend money on maintenance and repairs. The Sunday before he sworn in as lieutenant governor, Hosemann drove himself, unannounced, to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman to see firsthand the damage caused by an outburst of violence days earlier.
Five inmates were killed and an undisclosed number were injured in less than a week in Mississippi prisons, and three of those deaths were in Parchman. Hosemann said that when he arrived at Parchman on Jan. 5, blood remained on some walls outside a block of cells in Unit 29, where the fighting occurred.
“I wanted to see the destruction,” Hosemann said. “I wanted to talk to the corrections officers and I wanted to talk to the Mississippi Highway Patrol. And I did all of those.”
Department of Corrections leaders have told legislators for years that the prison system needs more money to increase the pay for guards because the jobs are hard to fill and many are vacant. They have also told legislators about the need for repairs, including in Unit 29. Legislators have not granted the requests and have recommended cuts in spending.
Hosemann was not yet a part of the budget-writing process when legislative leaders made the most recent set of recommendations in December, for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The prison violence also occurred after those recommendations were made.
Hosemann said he and other leaders will evaluate the long-term direction the state should take with Parchman. He said they have many questions to consider.
“Do you repair Unit 29? “ he said. ”Do you keep Unit 29?”
In remarks to the House and Senate immediately after his inauguration Thursday, Hosemann received some applause when he said mentioned that he had gone to see the situation at Parchman.
Hosemann also said he wants the Legislature to consider pay raises for teachers and state employees and to consider ways to help private businesses thrive and to make health care more accessible and affordable.
One of his first acts as lieutenant governor was naming members and leaders of Mississippi Senate committees. Republicans this term maintained their control of both the state House and Senate. While Hosemann appointed Republicans to most of the top-tier committee chairmanships, he also gave Democrats some high-profile roles.
Democratic Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory was first elected in 1983 and is longest-serving current senator. He is the new chairman of the Public Health Committee.
Democratic Sen. Juan Barnett of Heidelberg, who’s starting his second term, will take on substantial responsibility as the new chairman of the Corrections Committee.
» EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.
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