If Gunn runs for governor, there will be speaker’s race, but not like old-time donnybrooks


(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (Mississippi Today) – Mississippi could be on the verge of what used to be one of the fiercest spectacles in politics — a speaker’s race.

Speculation that three-term Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, will challenge incumbent Gov. Tate Reeves in the Republican primary in 2023 has gotten tongues wagging and House members strategizing on who might run to be the next presiding officer of the chamber.

No doubt, probably every representative in the 122-member chamber believes he or she would be the best person to succeed Gunn as speaker should he opt to challenge Reeves.

But, because of the rise of partisan politics in the state, the race, if there is one, will not play out like past speaker’s races as former Speaker Billy McCoy used to say “in the cold light of day.”

Nowadays, the race for speaker is almost anticlimactic, a far cry from the past. The party that wins a majority in the 2023 election will caucus behind closed doors before the Legislature convenes in January 2024 and select a choice for speaker. All members of the majority party — most likely the Republicans — will cast their vote for that person on the opening day of the legislative term, ending any suspense.

That is what happened when Gunn was first elected. Soon after it became apparent after the November 2011 election that Republicans had captured a majority in the House for the first time since Reconstruction, those newly elected members met behind closed doors in Brandon, away from the Capitol, and selected the speaker from five candidates. After that process was completed, Republicans reemerged and announced they were unanimously behind Gunn.

In the olden days when party politics was not a major issue, members would announce their intention to run for speaker, resulting in a very public, bare-knuckled political campaign that often ended with a contested election where members had to publicly cast their vote for speaker on the opening day of a new four-year term.

The last public and perhaps wildest speaker’s race culminated in 2008, when McCoy was elected to his second term as speaker by defeating fellow Democrat Jeff Smith of Columbus by the narrowest margin of 62-60.

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