My political godfather, the late Gil Carmichael, fought hard for a new state constitution. A key purpose was to strengthen the office of Governor. He called Mississippi’s chief executive “one of the weakest in the nation.” As one of the pioneers of the modern Republican Party in Mississippi, he would be aghast that the Republican controlled Legislature is actively considering two bills that would do the opposite.
House Bill 1013 introduced by Rep. Trey Lamar of Senatobia, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, provides, effectively, for a takeover of the Division of Medicaid by the Legislature. The bill would abolish the Division of Medicaid as an executive agency under the Governor. Instead, it would put the agency under the control of a new Medicaid Commission. Further, the Lt. Governor, currently Delbert Hosemann, would get to appoint a majority of the commission members, with a sneaky assist by the Speaker of the House, currently Philip Gunn.
As passed by the House, the bill provides for four commission members to be appointed by the Lt. Governor and three by the Governor, currently Tate Reeves. However, the bill further requires the Lt. Governor to consider recommendations from the Speaker of the House for two of those appointments. As Bobby Harrison explains in his Feb. 3 Mississippi Today column, this last provision sneaks around a constitutional separation of powers restriction. The Speaker cannot directly appoint members to an executive agency since he is in the legislative branch. (The Lt. Governor constitutionally serves in the executive but operates in the legislative branch as President of the Senate.)
The bill sailed through the House by a vote of 102 to 15 with five absent or not voting, far more than needed to overcome any veto. Hosemann double-referred the bill to the Senate Medicaid Committee and the Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Committee.
Senate Bill 2727 introduced by Sen. Mike Thompson of Long Beach simply brought forward code sections dealing with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, not an unusual way to get legislation started. Once it got to the Senate floor, Thompson offered an amendment to change the way members of the department’s board get appointed.
Created in 1902, Archives and History collects and promulgates the state’s history, manages the state’s historic preservation program, and manages state operated museums including the Governors’ Mansion. It has been a very unpolitical agency by design. The law provides for its board to appoint its own trustees subject to Senate confirmation.
Thompson’s change would assign appointment power to the Governor (5) and the Lt. Governor (4). While not a dilution of current gubernatorial power, this would continue the Legislature’s move to limit governor appointments.
This bill sailed through the Senate 34 to 14 with one voting present and three absent or not voting, again enough to override a veto. As this was written, Gunn had not referred it to any House committee.
Despite the authors’ claims these are good bills that promote transparency and accountability, others see them as political cabals.
Whatever the motivations, both defy Gil’s goal to strengthen the office of Governor.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” – Isaiah 5:20.
Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Jackson