January 20, 2012 11:54:00 PM
By JEFF AMY
JACKSON -- Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn named leaders for the House's 41 committees Friday, allowing the chamber to move ahead with business.
With the GOP takeover of the House, Republicans were named to head all of the major committees. Unlike four years ago, though, when Democratic Speaker Billy McCoy froze out GOP members from chairmanships after they failed to depose him, Republican Gunn of Clinton named Democrats to head 10 committees.
"I want a team that is capable and will help move Mississippi forward," Gunn told reporters after the announcements.
The assigning of members to committees in the House, where Republicans seized a majority for the first time since Reconstruction, took two weeks longer than in the Senate. Gunn said party affiliation, along with regional balance, were factors he considered in making his choices.
"The citizens of the state put the Republicans in charge of the House," Gunn said. "They want to see conservative ideas come forward."
New committee leaders for some of the House's most prominent committees include:
n Appropriations, Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville.
n Ways and Means, Jeff Smith, R-Columbus.
n Judiciary A, Mark Baker, R-Brandon.
n Judiciary B, Andy Gipson, R-Braxton.
n Education, John Moore, R-Brandon.
Gunn said many people recommended Frierson and Smith to him as chairmen of the two money committees. He noted each had served on their respective committees for years.
All of the men who ran against Gunn to be the Republican choice for speaker are in charge of powerful House committees. Besides Frierson, Smith and Moore, Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, was named earlier as chairman of the House Rules Committee. Republicans chose Gunn as speaker in November, several days after the state election. When the 2012 session opened Jan. 3, he was elected without opposition from Democrats.
House members said they had little advance notice of their assignments, which Gunn said he was tweaking as late as Friday morning.
"I didn't have a clue," said Rep. Hank Zuber, R-Ocean Springs, named as chairman of the Banking and Financial Services Committee.
Moore said that he hoped to steer state policy in such a way that it focuses on teachers, saying he hopes to "turn them loose" in the classroom. He said he was very confident that a bill widening the opportunity to set up charter schools in the state would pass, but said he has no particular preferences on that subject.
Democrats were mixed in their reactions.
"The Democrats fared well in being members of committees, if not chairmen," said Rep. Greg Holloway Sr., D-Hazlehurst. Holloway, a former Jackson State University employee, said he was pleased to be named vice chairman of the Universities and Colleges panel.
Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, was less positive. Ellis said he believed Democrats who had major leadership roles in the last term had been excluded.
"It's not all bad, but I think my skill set has been underutilized. With 33 years' experience, I had a lot more to offer," said Ellis.
He noted he was not named a chairman or vice chairman.
"That would be too much reward for the former majority leader of the House," he said.
The Legislature is 18 days into a 120-day session. Gunn said he expects committees to get organized by the end of next week. He noted that the deadline to request the drafting bills, Feb. 16, is still almost four weeks away.
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