Two Mississippi House seats become vacant after municipal elections

Published 10:22 am Monday, June 12, 2017


Mississippi Today

Two seats in the House of Representatives are open after two Republican representatives won municipal races, removing a Republican supermajority for now.

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Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, was elected mayor of the Hub City on Tuesday while Rep. Alex Monsour, R-Vicksburg, was elected an alderman in Vicksburg.

Both will resign from the House, giving Gov. Phil Bryant an opportunity to schedule special elections for those two seats.

A third seat was already vacant after Bryant appointed former Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, to the Workers Compensation Commission. Bryant has set the special election for that seat for July 25.

The loss of one GOP seat would mean a loss of the supermajority Republicans have enjoyed since the beginning of the 2016 legislative session.

The three-fifths supermajority, which House Republicans enjoy for the first time since Reconstruction, means that Republicans can pass revenue or tax bills without needing a single Democratic vote. In the House, a three-fifths vote (74 of the 122 seats) is necessary to pass those bills.

Officials can hold two elected offices at once in some cases, according to state law and opinions from the attorney general. State lawmakers can serve as city aldermen or county supervisors because those posts are considered legislative branch seats. Lawmakers could not serve as mayors, as that is considered an executive branch post.

Even though Monsour’s alderman seat is considered a municipal legislative seat, he told the Vicksburg Post on Thursday he will resign his House seat.

Barker, who was first elected to the House in 2007 at the age of 25, chairs the Performance Based Budgeting committee. He’s gained the trust of the Republican leadership as he sat on conference committees in 2017 for key education and appropriations bills.

Of the vacant House seats, Barker’s seat representing House District 102 appears most vulnerable for Republicans. In 2010, that district’s black voting age population – which historically goes to Democrats in Mississippi – was 30.4 percent. Barker, who ran as an Independent in the mayoral race, has been viewed a moderate Republican, swinging likely Democratic voters to his camp.

The past four elections have gone decidedly Republican, though the district is considered “in play” to several Democratic operatives in Mississippi.

• 2015: Barker garnered 3,500 votes, or 73 percent, edging out Democratic opponent Taylor Brinkley, who received about 1,300 votes, or 27 percent.

• 2011: Barker earned 3,957 votes, or 66 percent, while Democrat David Cook earned 2,049 votes, or 34 percent.

• 2007: Barker earned 2,955 votes, or 63 percent, while Democrat Jolly Matthews earned 1,766 votes, or 37 percent.

• 2003: Longtime Republican Rep. Lee Jarrell Davis, R-Hattiesburg, earned 4,007 votes, or 72 percent, while Democrat Rick James earned 1,549 votes, or 28 percent.

Monsour, who was first elected to the House in 2007, chairs the House Ports, Harbors and Airports committee.

Monsour’s House District 54 is a Republican stronghold, and the chances of Democrats winning the seat are slim, one Democratic operative said. In the past four elections, Republicans have run unopposed all but once. The black voting age population in the district is 23.8 percent.

• 2015: Monsour, running unopposed, earned 5,777 votes.

• 2011: Monsour, running unopposed, earned 7,189 votes.

• 2007: Monsour earned 4,961 votes, or 67 percent. Democratic challenger Jenny Thomas earned 1,675 votes, or 22 percent, and Independent challenger Tom Setser won 809 votes, or 11 percent.

• 2003: Republican Rep. Chester Masterson, R-Vicksburg, ran unopposed and earned 7,276 votes.

Rep. Shane Barnett, R-Waynesboro, previously held a Waynesboro alderman-at-large seat for four years. He did not run again this year.

Even if one of the seats goes Democratic, the GOP could hold onto its supermajority in the House by convincing a Democrat to switch parties and join the Republican bloc.