With Thursday's switch of party affiliation by Ripley House Representative Jody Steverson from Democrat to Republican, Mississippi House Republicans are on the brink of a supermajority they have sought since taking over as the majority party, said Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden (R-Meridian).
The party switch by Steverson gives the Republicans 73 seats. Republicans need 74 seats for the supermajority and it appears as if they may get it.
The House race that's still in limbo is in District 79 in Jasper and Smith counties, where unofficial results show Republican challenger Mark Tullos of Raleigh with a six-vote lead over Democratic Rep. Bo Eaton. Four affidavit votes remain to be counted in Smith County, from people who forgot to take a government-issued photo identification to the polls.
Each of those four voters have until next week to return to the circuit clerk's office to show an ID to have his or her ballot counted, the Associated Press reports. Although Eaton could not close the gap even if he receives all four votes, it was not immediately clear whether the five-term lawmaker might challenge the election.
"Attaining a three-fifths supermajority is absolutely huge," Snowden said. "Last year, House Republicans supported extensive tax cuts that would have given every teacher, state employee, and, indeed, every Mississippi taxpayer a real pay raise by cutting the taxes they would pay.
"Even though we had a simple majority, Democrats were able to block the tax relief efforts we put forward because we did not have the three-fifths supermajority necessary for passage of a revenue measure. If Republicans can muster and maintain a three-fifths supermajority, as we appear now to have achieved, we will be able to enact revenue legislation, including tax cuts which we favor, without having to rely upon Democratic support."
Snowden confirmed that the House Republicans maintained its current leadership with Clinton's Philip Gunn being re-elected as Speaker of the House and Snowden re-elected at Speaker Pro Tempore.
"I am deeply grateful to Speaker Gunn and the members of the House Republican Caucus for the opportunity to serve a second four-year term as Speaker Pro Tempore, the second-highest officer of the body," Snowden said. "I have enjoyed my service as Speaker Pro Tem since 2012, and believe that I remain uniquely situated to serve the citizens of East Mississippi by virtue of holding this very significant leadership position. The voters of District 83 expressed tremendous confidence in me last Tuesday by re-electing me with over 80 percent of the vote, and I am absolutely committed to being the best legislative leader that I possibly can be."
Snowden said even with the supermajority, he said House Republicans will want to work with their Democratic counterparts.
"We will, of course, continue to reach across the aisle and seek bipartisan support for our fiscal agenda, but with a supermajority, House Democrats no longer will be able to block us," Snowden said. "That is a very positive and exciting development."
With Mississippi voters rejecting Initiative 42 and its legislative alternative I-42A, which Snowden drafted much of the language for, House Republicans are anxious to tackle the funding matter when the Legislature convenes in January, Snowden said.
"Republicans are proud of our record of K-12 education funding," Snowden said. "Since we first attained a majority in 2012, the Legislature has increased K-12 funding by almost $300 million, to the highest levels in the history of our state. But our primary concern has been and will continue to be increased funding to the classroom, and not to school administration. Positive changes are coming in the way we fund K-12 education.
Snowden said the debate over funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) is over.
"The days of liberal partisans using full funding of the MAEP to bludgeon the Legislature are over," Snowden said. "Changes are coming, and those changes will be positive for instruction in the classroom. We want effective schools, where students learn as they should. Many important relationships have been ruptured in the wake of the failed Initiative 42 push, and a lot of work needs to be done by a great many people to restore a level of trust."