Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Sid Salter: Governor's Powers Changed Little Since 1890 Constitution Adopted

So a Mississippi governor and the state’s Legislature disagree over constitutional powers and responsibilities when it comes to how the state utilizes and expends the $1.25 billion in funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. For those familiar with the state’s history, is that development particularly shocking or surprising?

 And is the political spat something that particularly traces to the individuals involved – Gov.

Tate Reeves, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn – or are they merely the latest set of actors in a political passion play that Mississippians have witnessed many times before?

The 1890 Mississippi Constitution created a “weak governor, strong Legislature” system of government. Nearly a century after the 1890 Constitution was adopted, Mississippi’s governor was granted the increased powers of gubernatorial succession and the authority to propose an executive budget. But overall, the 1890 constitution still vests the lion’s share of raw political power in the state Legislature. Therefore, the legislative leadership since 1890 has wielded enormous power.

The system spawned strong, dominating lieutenant governors (as Reeves certainly was during his two terms leading the State Senate), House speakers, and legislative chairmen of the “money” committees in the House and Senate. For many years, Mississippi governors were often more in the role of spectators to the formation of public policy than active and equal participants with the legislative branch.

That is not to say that there have not been exceptions to the “weak governor” model. In 1982, Democratic Gov. William Winter harnessed media coverage to essentially go over the heads of the Legislature to enact sweeping public education reforms. But a key factor in Winter's success was that the fight over education reform in 1982 never took on partisan overtones. It was a fight between the "old guard" in the then-dominant Democratic Party in the state and the younger, more progressive members of the same party. What it was not was a partisan fight between Republicans and Democrats. In 1982, Republicans were still on the outside looking in when it came to state government.

The “weak governor” model was completely turned on its head while Republican Gov. Haley Barbour was in office from 2004 – 2012. Barbour, the longtime national GOP political force of nature, enjoyed an outsized amount of power and influence during his two terms in office despite meager constitutional powers. Barbour implemented Washington-style party discipline particularly in the state Senate and used that discipline to manipulate state government into a model which pitted him and the Senate in many cases against the Democrat-controlled House.

The strategy was simple. Barbour made support of his position a litmus test for Republicans. Republicans who failed to support Barbour found themselves ostracized to a degree within their own party. The threat of Barbour’s possible intervention in the legislative races of his fellow Republicans during the primaries was also a point of intimidation.

Barbour leveraged that set of circumstances into more power than any modern governor in either party has been able to enjoy. But in the aftermath of the 2011 statewide elections, the rules of engagement changed.

Republicans swept to power in both the House and the Senate, giving the GOP simultaneous control of the Senate, House and the Governor’s Mansion for the first time since Reconstruction. Then-Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, even with a resume of prior state legislative experience far superior to that which Barbour held when he was elected governor in 2003, never enjoyed the leverage that Barbour held in dealing with the Legislature.

The dynamics of an all-Republican legislative power structure has returned the role of the governor to that which existed when the Democrats controlled the House, the Senate and the Governor’s Mansion. Gov. Reeves certainly knew that when he assumed office in 2020.

Gunn made no secret in 2019 of his intention for the House and the Legislature to reassert itself in 2020. Hosemann was equally vocal about his desire for a stronger Legislature.

The decision by Reeves, Hosemann, and Gunn to govern nimbly together in the expenditure and distribution of the CARES Act funds was wise on several fronts. But it also underscores the fact that having a single party in control exacerbates the same constitutional issues for the GOP that it did for the Democrats for the better part of a century before them.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at


Anonymous said...

So what you're basically confirming Sid is that Mississippi's governance has been fucked up as a soup sandwich for over a hundred years. Just ignore the damn constitution and do as you please is basically what you're describing elected officials to have been doing all along.

Anonymous said...

up as a soup sandwich...

I like that.

Anonymous said...

8:16 am Neither the Governor or the legislature have ignored the Constitution.

What Sid is saying, and what the Constitution Commission would have said if Brad Dye hadn't threatened all the legislators who were members of the Commission, is that the 1890 Constitution doesn't check power. It disproportionately awarded power to "planters" and the railroads.

It was surprising that as the Commission functioned in committees, it became non-partisan as each committees first task was to learn how other State Constitutions dealt with the sections they were assigned. It was shocking to see legislators suddenly abandon their own hard work ( even some who authored a proposed change).

The power of the Governors, as Sid points out, only happens if they have either national party influence so that national funds flow or not to individual legislators or have an inner party revolt ( Dixiecrats vs Democrats which also influenced national party donors).

The notion that legislators, while protecting their district, should have a primary responsibility to the prosperity of the State as a whole and the citizens therein, and also to the United States, is thus, not surprisingly ignored.

The GOP rather quickly became the old corrupt DEMS but with new tools to make their grip on the State more powerful and their ability to serve themselves easier.

Anonymous said...

california has a population of 320 million people. about 10% of the population of the USA . it has 120 legislators.
mississippi has a population of about 3 million and a legislature of 175 members.
can you see where this comment is going?
any debate by the media ''personalities'' in this state need to center on how top heavy government is in this state.
government is the only growth industry in mississippi.
and,of course, this is all brought to you by your precious mississippi republican party, the party of ''limited government'' , right here in you one-party state of mississippi.

Anonymous said...

10:03 is right.............the only ''economic'' growth in mississippi is the growth of government. and that is hardly economic.
perfect example, the mississippi department of marine resources. yet another stinking administrative agency, created by the legislature to administer the 35 mile coastline of mississippi.
we already have an administrative agency to do that. its called the Mississippi department of natural resources, or the good ole game and fish Commission.
an example of buracracy heaped on top of more buracracy.
oh, BTW, just how much money did john walker, marine resources head, manage to steal? was it 8 or 10 million? oh well, who's counting.

Anonymous said...

Another rain is wet article by Sid! What fool is paying this man to write these articles?

Anonymous said...

12:08 - Well said.

Anonymous said...

Robert St. John's columns are so much more interesting than Sid's.

(Even when Robert is writing from Italy).

Anonymous said...

California has population of 320 million?

Well, the entire U.S. has 328 million.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS