After falling a vote short of winning speaker of the Mississippi House last year, Columbus Rep. Jeff Smith has changed his political party and, he hopes, his luck.
Smith, who has represented House District 39 since 1992 as one of the dwindling number of conservative Democrats, is now running unopposed for re-election as an independent.
“By becoming independent, I”ll be able to solidify the Republican vote and get the conservative Democrats,” he said, outlining his plan to become speaker of the House.
His chances are looking better than ever this week as Democratic House Speaker Billy McCoy announced that he will not seek re-election to the Legislature.
If Smith is picked by his peers, he has promised to change the landscape dramatically.
Instead of the Democrats controlling all 41 of the House committees, Smith plans to split the chairmanships between the Republican, Democrat and black caucuses.
Two of the most coveted positions — the chairs of the Ways and Means and Appropriations committees — will go to conservatives, who are eager now to cut spending, he said.
Smith, a longtime Columbus attorney, said he wants to “bridge that gap” between Democrats, who hold 75 seats, and Republicans, who hold 47 seats. Last year, he snagged all of the Republican vote and 13 conservative Democrats.
“I”m sick of partisan politics,” he said, adding that several colleagues were keeping tabs on his campaign with the idea of switching parties.
But by the time Jan. 3 rolls around, Smith could face opponents from both parties — possibly siphoning off his support.
Democrat Bobby Moak — a longtime McCoy ally — is reportedly running for speaker now that McCoy is out of the picture. The Bogue Chitto representative declined to discuss his plans this week.
On the Republican side, Smith already has one challenger: Sidney Bondurant of Grenada. He could also face Philip Gunn of Clinton and Herb Frierson of Poplarville, who have both said some lawmakers have approached them about throwing their hats in the ring.
Although Smith, a veteran of 20 sessions in the Legislature, is taking an independent stance now, he said he “wouldn”t rule out” becoming a Republican in the future. Smith said he has promised his father he wouldn”t become a Republican in his father”s lifetime.
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