JACKSON – In January 1976, Jimmy Carter was winning the Iowa caucuses to set the stage for his surprise run to the presidency.
Mississippi, meanwhile, was swearing in a new governor, lieutenant governor and speaker. It’s the last time the three most powerful positions in state government changed hands simultaneously – until January 2012.
Gov. Haley Barbour, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and House Speaker Billy McCoy are all leaving their current positions, an unusual triple turnover. But the potential replacements – including Bryant as a possible governor – aren’t necessarily strangers to the scene.
“For most people involved, it’s not their first time around the track, just like it was not in ’76,” said Rep. Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley, who entered the House in January 1980, but remembers the events of January 1976.”There may be a few rough edges to begin with, but I don’t think experience will be a problem.
“If there is a problem, it will be policy and the execution of that policy. But let’s hope for good things.”
Republican Bryant and Democratic Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree are vying to replace Barbour, who is term limited. Treasurer Tate Reeves won the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in August and faces no major party opposition in November.
Assorted House members are positioning themselves to replace Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, who after two terms as the chamber’s presiding officer is not seeking re-election.
In 1976, District Attorney Cliff Finch of Batesville was the surprise winner of the gubernatorial seat, replacing Bill Waller, while Evelyn Gandy of Hattiesburg captured the lieutenant governor’s post that was vacant because incumbent William Winter opted to run for governor. C.B.”Buddie” Newman of Valley Park was elected speaker for the first of three terms.
Ed Perry of Oxford, who served in the House from 1968 until January 2000, said of the new faces,”I don’t think we thought about it much one way or the other back then … Everything was so much different then. There was not the partisan differences we had today. People did not have to answer to party leadership.”
Winter agreed, saying,”The big difference is that we did not have the political parties that exist now. It was almost a matter of individual leadership rather than choosing sides on the basis of party.”
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