Mississippi House Minority Leader Bobby Moak (D-Bogue Chitto) sounded like a proud Democrat but reluctant partisan at a luncheon sponsored by the Capitol Press Corps and The Stennis Institute on Monday. He levied soft disapproval at the Republican agenda in the House of Representatives and revealed a few clues on upcoming Democratic strategies.

Moak criticized the pace of the House both in considering legislation and assigning bills to committee. He said the House is on track to consider a historic low amount of bills and currently it appears as if the Republican leadership is moving an organized program through the process, "It appears to me there is an agenda. Two weeks ago it was the Child Protection Act, last week it was 'sunshine week,' this week maybe it's 'charter school week,' maybe next week is 'immigration week'...right now that is the only logical pattern I can see. Maybe my Republican colleagues have reason for that and that's all well and fine, they have the most numbers, they get to do what they want. It's historically not what's gone on in the chamber....We're going to have a very trim session it appears."

For small government conservatives, a "trim session" does not sound too bad; and the Republican agenda has been no secret. Newspapers reported Speaker of the House Philip Gunn's (R-Clinton) priorities back in November, and Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves and Governor Phil Bryant both released similar legislative priorities. Republicans now in power are moving the legislation they promised while campaigning; and for which the voters elected them to accomplish.

But Moak noted there are sometimes lesser issues that need addressing as well. Clearly there are simple fixes to problems facing small business owners, or big business owners or the quality of life of citizens. For example, after Moak's speech, we exchanged pleasantries. He thanked me for my recent column on beer reform legislation; I thanked him for introducing the legislation. I told him we can all find common ground and sometimes that is found over a cold drink. Whether it is beer reform or any issues legislators push which are not top campaign issues; I suspect there will be Republican and Democrat consensus.



Democrats were wise to choose Moak who speaks softly and
without liberal fire.



On larger philosophical issues, I expect more partisan debate. Moak predicted the legislature would be facing votes on an overhaul of the Workers Compensation Commission, judicial pay raises, immigration, redistricting, personhood and the budget - all could be contentious.

Moak expressed suspicion of Republican efforts in redistricting. He speculated the GOP could push through a redistricting map that consolidated their power this year. He said if the courts forced a new legislative election this year "with Obama on the ballot" that Republicans could use the map to hold or increase their numbers in the House. Alternatively, he suggested Republicans could draw a map they knew the Department of Justice would reject, thus delaying any forced election to benefit from longer incumbency.

Moak noted the 2011 election greatly impacted formerly routine "local and private" legislation to create specific taxes for local projects. Legislators are now reluctant to support such legislation for fear they will pay a political price during elections for raising taxes. Recently a number of legislators - some with sad or bitter emotion - took to the well of the House to decry this development. Apparently some legislators thought they would escape criticism by passing a local tax requested by local officials. But conservatives concerned with the growth of government taxing and spending - both on the state and local level - celebrate this new attention on "local and private" tax increases. While some Tea Party organizations have moved on to other issues, the galvanizing issue of the movement was "Taxed Enough Already" and voters respond accordingly in elections.

Moak recognized that Democrats in Mississippi face political challenges, particularly on the statewide level. He said Democrats needed to utilize mayors and local elected officials to build a bench of candidates to compete. He compared Democrat rebuilding to efforts by Ole Miss head football coach Hugh Freeze.

Moak suggested last year's Personhood Initiative, while a losing proposition, was designed to increase voter turnout in a very specific demographic to help Republicans take the House. He hinted that Democrats might use the process to their own benefit in the future, "Initiative and referendum is a great tool for the minority. That's all I'm going to say on that one." Perhaps Democrats will use imitative and referendum for budget matters - like education funding. (Successfully putting an initiative on the ballot would require a minimum of 107,185 signatures with at least 21,437 signatures from each of the five, pre-2002, congressional districts.)

While appearing a reluctant partisan, Democrats were wise to choose Moak who speaks softly and without liberal fire. With nearly three decades in the legislature, Moak seems prepared to lead his caucus into the political battle.



Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Contact him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.