Reps. Flaggs, Monsour tapped for House boards

Published 11:33 pm Friday, January 20, 2012

Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn named leaders for the House’s 40 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, though Democrats, including Vicksburg’s George Flaggs, were named to head 10 of the others.

“I want a team that is capable and will help move Mississippi forward,” Gunn told reporters after the announcements.

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Flaggs, representing District 55 and beginning his seventh term in office, will chair the House Corrections Committee. He chaired the House Banking and Financial Services Committee in his previous term. He could not be reached for comment.

Gunn named Vicksburg Republican Alex Monsour chairman of the Ports, Harbors and Airports Committee, and — a boon to Vicksburg, Monsour said — also appointed him to the Tourism and Gaming committees.

“The appointment is a good one for our area here, considering our port, the airport and what they mean to Vicksburg,” Monsour said of the chairmanship. “I’m going to be looking for ways to work for job creation — trying to attract industry into our port and seeing how we can best utilize what we have here.”

Monsour has four years’ experience as a committee member on Ports, Harbors and Airports, and said he learned from former chairman Billy Broomfield, D-Moss Point, and also traveled around the state observing operations at other ports.

“As a member of the gaming and tourism committees, I’ll also be able to help in both directions there,” he said. “It’s going to be a very, very good four years.”

Monsour’s other assignments are Judiciary B, Judiciary En Banc, Public Property and Ways and Means committees, while Flaggs’ other appointments are Appropriations, Banking and Financial Services, Constitution, Legislative Budget, Public Health and Human Services and Rules.

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:

• Appropriations, Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville.

• Ways and Means, Jeff Smith, R-Columbus.

• Judiciary A, Mark Baker, R-Brandon.

• Judiciary B, Andy Gipson, R-Braxton.

• 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.

Four years ago, Democratic Speaker Billy McCoy froze out GOP members from chairmanships after they failed to depose him, but 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 was surprised,” Monsour said. “The speaker and his team didn’t let any information out.”

“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.

He noted he was not named a chairman or vice chairman.

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.

On Jan. 6, Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, was named chair of the Senate’s Judiciary A Committee and a member of the committees for education, universities and colleges, appropriations, public health, environment and, newly-created, accountability, efficiency and transparency.