In trying to squeeze every ounce out of Haley Barbour’s pardons for their political benefit, the Mississippi Democrats recently sent out a press release labeling legislation that would put limits on the attorney general when it comes out hiring outside counsel as retaliation against “the only statewide official who has taken action to protect Mississippians from Republican recklessness,” talking particularly about the pardons.
As I said, Democrats are trying to get everything out of this and that is understandable. Why else would a Public Service Commissioner, tasked with regulating utilities and telemarketers, be devoting so much time and energy to the subject? When the issue first came up, I didn’t instantly go to Lynn Posey for his opinion, but Brandon Presley has taken it upon himself to be seen and heard. But unfortunately for Democrats, Phil Bryant- who was dealt with this hand on his first day in office- has handled the issue smoothly and legislation will pass some time during this session limiting the governor’s ability to pardon, and my guess says it has 174 yes votes with it.
As Sid Salter talked about in his column today, this isn’t a new issue. This practice of awarding hiring outside counsel who then make substantial donations to your campaign is nothing new, and it certainly didn’t start with Jim Hood. Some could say that former Attorney General Mike Moore was the architect behind such a practice, and it certainly began to take off throughout the country in the 1990s.
And what is going on with legislation in Mississippi isn’t anything much different than legislation being proposed in various state capitol’s. What has been introduced in Mississippi is based roughly on what is known as the Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act. Here is a review of legislation that has been introduced and passed throughout the nation, courtesy of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business group Mississippi Democrats target in their release. And they wonder what they get such low grades from organizations like BIPEC.
Sen. Joey Fillingane is again the author of the legislation (details on the bill here), as he has been for years. A bill known as SB 2188 cleared the Senate in 2008 by a 29-18 margin. Sen. David Blount is the remaining Democrat in the chamber who backed the legislation at that time. Former Sen. Tommy Dickerson also supported it, as did former Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Nolan Mettetal who were elected in 2007 as a Democrats. Mettetal may have switched parties by this time; we known Hyde-Smith wouldn’t switch until last year.
Democrats who have a conservative image such as Sens. Haskins Montgomery, Nickey Browning and J.P. Wilemon opposed it, as did then-Democrat Gray Tollison. While his vote won’t derail this bill by any means, will be interesting to see what he has to say now that he is a Republican.
But the difference with the legislation this year, and why Democrats and their outside groups are making such a big deal about it, is obviously because of the House- and who is now controlling things. As Rep. Bob Evans reflects in the party’s release, “We were able to kill these efforts in the House during the last term.” Not anymore.