JACKSON — Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn has been traveling the state telling voters the same thing months: If you want your man’s voice to be heard at the Capitol, you’d better make sure he’s a Republican.
Gunn is a Republican, so of course he’s going to push the GOP. But, it’s also important to listen to the rest of the speaker’s message — because he almost always refers to legislators as men.
“Who’s dictating the policy? Who’s shaping the direction of the state? It’s the Republicans,” Gunn said late July at one of the biggest political events of this election year, the Neshoba County Fair. “Every year we meet, in the fall of the year, we decide what we’re going to do, we set forth a platform, we decide the agenda. Your man, because he’s a Democrat, is not a part of that conversation.”
Women make up 51.4 percent of Mississippi’s population, according to the Census website. However, women in the state have always run for public office in significantly smaller numbers than men.
Two of eight statewide offices are held by women — the highest number ever. That will stay the same for the four-year term that starts in January, with Treasurer Lynn Fitch and Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith, both Republicans.
Women held 17.2 percent of Mississippi’s legislative seats during the current term, and that will decrease to 14.4 percent in January.
n During the current term, eight women have served in the 52-member Senate. Next term, there will be nine. That’s an increase from 15.4 percent to 17.3 percent.
n During the current term, 22 women have served in the 122-member House. Next term, there will be 16. That’s a decrease from 18 percent to 13.1 percent.
The question of whether women will be appointed to influential legislative jobs will be answered in January, when Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves appoint committee members and leaders.
At the Neshoba County Fair, Gunn publicly acknowledged the Republican men and women he said had shaped public policy the past four years, with their party controlling the House and Senate. He also exhorted voters to elect more Republicans.
“When it comes to leadership positions, who do we pick?” Gunn said. “Well, we pick people who share our values, people who want to move the same direction that we want to go. So, we pull out the roster of our team and we pick leaders from that list. Your man, because he’s a Democrat, is not on that list.”
Speaking to reporters in his Capitol office Nov. 4, the day after Republicans increased their House majority, Gunn repeated what he had told voters about the GOP controlling the legislative agenda.
“If you send me a Democrat, then he’s not part of that conversation,” Gunn said. “He has every right that any other member does on the House floor, but they’re not going to have as much of an input. … And I think the people, the voters, need to realize that. They just need to contemplate, ‘Hey, is my district being represented? Is my man having a voice, or is he not?'”
The Associated Press asked: “What about the women?”
“Man or woman,” Gunn said. “Whatever. I should have said, ‘the member.'”
Wrapping up the interview moments later, Gunn circled back to referring to legislators as men.
“I didn’t mean to not include the girls,” he said.
AP: “The women?”
“They like when I call them girls,” Gunn said, “cause they think they’re younger.”