It was the night of Nov. 6, 2007, and a handful of Republicans in Mississippi were cussing voter turnout. Certainly there was celebration at the reelection of Gov. Haley Barbour with 58 percent of the vote, along with the retention or capture of six other statewide seats by the GOP. The Republican tide brought in one of the best election nights in modern Mississippi GOP history. Despite those victories, Republicans were not turning out like legislative candidate needed.

Barbour won re-election by a greater percentage than his initial election, but he did so with 40,000 fewer votes than four years prior. Had those missing voters turned out as targeted by Republicans in selected legislative districts, Barbour would have governed with a conservative (albeit a Democrat) Speaker of the House in his second term.

The handful of seats the GOP missed due to low turnout cost control of the House of Representatives. When the vote for Speaker tied on the first day of the legislative session at 61 for sitting Speaker Billy McCoy (D-Rienzi) and 61 for conservative Representative Jeff Smith (D-Columbus), one more Republican vote for Smith would have shifted control; meanwhile Republicans had lost one seat in a Gulf Coast Republican district by 11 votes to Brandon Jones (D-Pascagoula).

McCoy persuaded a shift in votes giving him control and Republicans (along with their conservative Democrat colleagues) were banished to a powerless minority for four more years.

On the evening of Nov. 8, 2011, Republicans looked at very different turnout numbers and felt extremely optimistic they would have an outright Republican majority in the House of Representatives. A lot had changed over the course of four years.

President Barack Obama was sworn in as President. The Tea Party movement started. A twenty-year conservative Democrat incumbent had been unseated by a Republican. More than 40 elected Mississippi Democrats switched parties and became Republicans including seven legislators. And conservative voters - whether due to passionate ballot initiatives or because their Bush fatigue had become Obama adrenaline - returned to the polls. While unofficial numbers do not have the 2011 statewide election reaching the same level as 2003, it looks to have surpassed the dismal 2007 turnout by more than 100,000 voters.

McCoy did not seek reelection in 2011 and Republicans captured his open seat. Jeff Smith switched parties and was re-elected after a spirited Republican primary. Jones who won by 11 votes in 2007, lost by 35 votes in 2011. And rather than 47 Republicans throwing their support to a conservative Democrat over his more liberal colleague, 64 Republicans (perhaps more) have an outright majority and expect several Democrats to vote with them and their pick for Speaker of the House (62 votes are needed for a majority).

On Monday, Nov. 14 as the dust settled from the election a week prior, Republican representatives-elect gathered at Brandon's City Hall for a closed door meeting to select their candidate for Speaker of the House. The GOP caucus determined the previous year that regardless of final numbers, they would remain united in their votes for a Republican Speaker candidate. With that agreement and a majority of votes, this selection was tantamount to the Speaker's election.

After a series of votes in the closed meeting, the Republican caucus eliminated John Moore of Brandon, Mark Formby of Picayune, Jeff Smith of Columbus and Herb Frierson of Poplarville, leaving Philip Gunn of Clinton with a majority of the caucus vote and a commitment of the entire caucus for the official vote on Jan. 3, 2012.

Gunn, an attorney with Wells Marble & Hurst who focuses on civil litigation and insurance defense, represents House District 56 comprised of parts of Hinds, Madison, Warren and Yazoo counties. He will take the Speaker's gavel in his third term as a legislator. Gunn was first elected in 2003 when he defeated Rep. Jep Barbour of Yazoo City (nephew of Haley) in a hotly contested Republican primary. In 2007, his Republican colleagues chose him as House Republican Conference leader - second in GOP leadership. As Speaker, Gunn will appoint committee chairman and direct the House agenda.

For the past eight years, Gov. Haley Barbour largely directed Republican policy. I expect that to change under the new Republican governing dynamic. In addition to Gov. Phil Bryant's policy assistants, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is expected to engage an aggressive policy shop and now add to that a distinctly House policy team directed by the conservative Gunn.

While Republicans did not achieve legislative control during the Barbour administration, the gains in statewide and legislative seats would not have been achieved without Barbour's leadership. My friend and conservative policy wonk Grant Callen said Haley Barbour is like the Republican Moses, he led the GOP to the promise land, but Republicans did not enter until after his term was up.



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