Sunday, October 23, 2011

Did Y'all Politics uncover vote-buying by Rep. Jeff Smith? ***Updated***

It's fairly common knowledge that, when running for Speaker, one does not promise committee chairmanships to folks in exchange for votes.  Well, apparently Jeff Smith didn't know that.  Here's what Frank Corder of Y'all Politics recently wrote in a story attacking Rep. Brandon Jones:
I heard that had Rep. Jeff Smith won the Speaker vote in 2007, Smith would have appointed Jackson County representatives Rep. Hank Zuber and Rep. John Reed as House committee chairs. Zuber would have been given the reigns of Transportation and Reed would have chaired Public Health. This would have given Jackson County and the Coast tremendous influence on two vital committees.

I verified this with Rep. Jeff Smith. When asked about this scenario, Smith said, "It is true. John is my best friend in the Legislature and Zuber had paid his dues and deserved a Chair and would have gotten one, just as they both will if I become Speaker this time."
Well, here's the thing.  When you're promising people chairmanships of committees, you put them in a situation where they have a direct pecuniary interest in voting a certain way as a legislator.  That's because committee chairmen get extra salary for the time they have to spend working on issues before their committees.

Of course, there's another problem with what Corder wrote about Jeff Smith.  It's probably not true.  One of the reasons Jeff Smith had trouble getting the votes he needed to become Speaker is because he'd promised everything to everyone.  And what we've got in this Y'all Politics article is another instance of Jeff Smith telling someone who doesn't know any better whatever they want to hear. (The guy is on his third political party this year, after all.)

So allow me to take Frank Corder to school on Jeff Smith for a second.  To begin with, Rep. Zuber was appointed Vice Chair of Transportation by Speaker Billy McCoy in 2004. However, there were four other members of the Transportation committee who were in contention to be Chairman of Transportation under a Jeff Smith speakership: Rep. Bobby Shows (R-Ellisville), Rep. Mark Baker (R-Brandon), Rep. Jerry Turner (R-Baldwyn) and Rep. Mark Formby (R-Picayune). Formby and Shows both had more seniority than Zuber. And the word was all over the state that Shows would get the chair as a result of being one of the (at the time) Democrats who had agreed to vote for Smith. Turner was in the running because northeast Mississippi wanted the chairmanship, since Rep. Bill Miles was retiring and since highways are so important in that part of the state. At the time the Speaker's vote was taken, Shows was the unquestioned frontrunner.

Now let's look at this stuff about the Public Health Committee. First, Corder misspelled Rep. John Read's name (he had it "Reed"). While Read (R-Gautier) was a member of Public Health, the clear frontrunner at the time was Dr. Sid Bondurant (R-Grenada). Once again, Smith was giving it to Bondurant as a Democrat voting for him, and Smith could justify it because Bondurant is a medical doctor. Also in the running was the more senior Bobby Howell (R-Kilmichael), a pharmacist. John Read wasn't getting the Chairmanship of Public Health, period.

Now, this tells us a few things. First, it tells us that Corder didn't know enough about what went down in late 2007 and early 2008 to be writing this piece. Second, Jeff Smith knew that, and thought he could hoodwink Corder into believing this nonsense. Finally, it tells us that Corder doesn't do his homework. Why, you ask? Well, Corder makes the following claim in his piece:
When the legislature convened in January 2007, Jones was a decisive vote that handed McCoy the Speaker's gavel. For his vote, he picked up a vice-chairmanship on the Insurance Committee.

No other Jackson County representatives received any consideration for chairs or vice chairs. Why? Because these true conservatives all supported the conservative choice for Speaker that year - then-Democrat, now Republican Rep. Jeff Smith. (Emphasis mine.)
Well, the aforementioned Rep. Hank Zuber (R-Ocean Springs) was appointed vice chair of Marine Resources in 2008 by Speaker McCoy, which is kind of a big deal on the Gulf Coast. Even better? Jackson County's own Rep. Billy Broomfield was appointed the chairman of Ports, Harbors, and Airports.

***UPDATE 10/24/11 at 9 a.m.*** - It somehow slipped my mind that Rep. Frank Hamilton (R-Hurley) was appointed vice chair of Military Affairs.  So, in actuality, even though Corder claims "No other Jackson County representatives (aside from Rep. Brandon Jones) received any consideration for chairs or vice chairs," we see that, in truth and in fact, of the 6 Jackson County members of the House, only two aren't a chairman or vice chairman. (Reps. John Read and Jeff Guice).  And Read would have a hard time knocking his committee assignments, as he was appointed to the powerful Appropriations committee. Guice is finishing his first term, and is assigned to several committees, including the Select Committee on the Gulf Coast Disaster and Marine Resources.

For the sake of thoroughness, Rep. Deryk Parker (D-Lucedale) has a district (107) that encompasses a portion of northern Jackson County.  I don't count him as a "Jackson County" member, though since he lives in George County.  Rep. Parker is vice chair of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.

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