The Mississippi House of Representatives elected a new Speaker in Jason White and Speaker Pro Tempore in Manly Barton on Tuesday after gaveling in for the start of the 2024 session.
Lawmakers returned to the Mississippi Capitol on Tuesday to begin the 2024 legislative session. After being sworn in to office themselves, lawmakers in the House voted overwhelmingly for State Representative Jason White to become the new Speaker of the House. White has previously served as the Speaker Pro Tempore for the House under former Speaker Philip Gunn. White has long been assumed to be the heir apparent for the position.
With 2024 following a statewide election year in Mississippi, both chambers saw a slew of new members. The Senate welcomed seven new Senators to the chamber while there are 25 freshman lawmakers in the House.
Per procedural rules, a Temporary Speaker was nominated by State Rep. Jody Steverson of House District 4. State Representative Trey Lamar was elected to serve in the position, allowing lawmakers to move forward with the official selection of a new Speaker and Speaker Pro Tempore.
Election of Jason White as Speaker
Two resolutions were adopted regarding temporary rules for the process of electing chamber officers. This prompted nominations for Speaker.
State Representative Hank Zuber from the Coast was the first to the podium to nominate Jason White to serve as Speaker of the House for the new four-year term. Zuber touted White’s work ethic and his dedication to his family and faith as primary reasons he will be the best fit for the job.
“Lastly, his leadership, having served as a city and youth court judge. Jason has very different life experiences that regardless of our political party, where we are from, our color, our beliefs, our creed, he understands and appreciates that we have more in common than our differences,” said Zuber of White.
The motion to nominate White was seconded by State Representative Donnie Bell, who has been his desk-mate in prior years. An additional second was made by State Representative Karl Oliver.
“I know that he [White] will continue to be a great and strong leader for the House of Representatives. He will lead the house to accomplish great things this session and those to come, “said Representative Bell.
House Democrats did not nominate a candidate for Speaker, leaving the chamber with only one nomination. The members voted by acclimation for White with a voice vote, followed by a standing ovation for the new Speaker as he made his way to the podium. The oath of office was administered by Rep. Lamar as White was joined by his wife of 27 years, Jo Lynn, and their three children.
“What an incredible honor it is for me to stand before you today,” said Speaker White.
White expressed gratitude to all members of the House as well as former Speaker Phillip Gunn.
“Speaker Gunn was a good, fair leader who held to his conservative convictions and his fingerprints are left all over this place,” said Speaker White. “I want to thank him personally for his friendship and for his leadership.”
White says he hopes to use his time in leadership to focus on ways lawmakers can help Mississippi’s people and “get out of the way” with everything else. White said he hopes members of both political parties can work together across the aisle to make it a successful year.
Speaker White called for lawmakers to chase after the difficult issues and tackle topics that continue to create problems for Mississippians, a task not so easily taken on. He referenced a quote from a Christian book, “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day” by Mark Batterson.
“Normal people run away from lions, they run as far and as fast as they possibly can. But lion chasers are wired differently,” quoted Speaker White of the book. “I’m going to ask you for the next four years to chase a few lions. It won’t be comfortable and won’t be normal. The easy thing will be to run away. We owe it to our people, especially our next generation to confront these issues that still plague our state.”
White reiterated the issues he plans to focus on during this session and into the four-year term. His remarks included the Mississippi Adequate Education Program – the state’s education funding formula, educational accountability models, additional school choice options, tackling the state’s retirement plan (PERS), and health insurance access for the uninsured working poor of the state who have few options.
“We need to find ways to ensure that folks who are working have some basic access to healthcare that keeps them working,” said White.
He hopes initiatives between the government and private health care entities will “connect the dots” on this issue and also increase the state’s workforce participation rate.
Lastly, Speaker White hopes to cut state spending, which has increased the last two years. He hopes to see this happen to also encourage a tax cut and infuse funds into the state’s retirement system. White plans to add subcommittees to the House Appropriations Committee, announcing his goal of having the state budget finished by April 15, Tax Day, despite the much later Sine Die date. He hopes the Senate will also agree to bump up those deadlines to make this happen.
Barton to serve as Speaker Pro Tempore
Joining White in a leadership capacity in the chamber will be State Representative Manly Barton, who has served District 109 for 13 years. Rep. Barton, a former Jackson County Supervisor, was tapped by members to serve as Speaker Pro Tempore for the term. He was nominated by State Representative Steve Massengill and elected by acclimation on a voice vote by the House.
“It is my great honor on this great day in this great state to nominate Manly Barton as our next Speaker Pro Tempore,” said Massengill. State Representative Brent Powell seconded the nomination.
Speaker Pro Tempore Barton was sworn in by Speaker White. He reminisced on his time in public service, saying that he has found that much of his success has been because of others who believed in him along the way. Barton says he will measure his success moving forward by how much he can do for others in the House to best serve their districts.
“Some of the best friends I have ever made are here today. We have always stood with each other through sickness and tragedy, black, white, Republican and Democrat,” said Pro Tem Barton. “When my family went through a very difficult time you were all there to help me, to show your love and support, and I will never forget that.”
Barton’s son passed away unexpectedly last year.
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