Speaker Philip Gunn will not seek reelection

Speaker Philip Gunn announced on Wednesday that he will not seek reelection to the House next year, ending the third-longest speakership in state history.

“It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to serve as speaker of the Mississippi
House,” Gunn said in a statement. “I am extremely grateful to the people of District 56 who have given me the opportunity to serve them for the last 20 years and to the members of the House who have entrusted the role of speaker to me for 12 years. I believe we have moved Mississippi in a positive direction, and I am proud of what we have accomplished together and look forward to another productive session in 2023.
“Having said that, I have decided not to seek re-election for House District 56. My service as Speaker coming to an end does not mean I will not be open to future opportunities to serve,” Gunn said. “I love our state and will always work to make her better. I believe there will be an opportunity for me to serve our state soon and when that time comes, I will be ready.”

Gunn made the announcement first to his GOP House caucus members at a meeting at the Capitol on Wednesday.

“I wasn’t surprised, but for selfish reasons I am disappointed because I think Philip has done a wonderful job,” said House Education Chairman Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach. “He is the best speaker I have known in my time. His ethics, his morals and his wanting to do the right thing — that’s in his DNA. He doesn’t just talk, he walks the walk. You’ll see that in anything he decides to do in the future … He said he doesn’t have any plans right now. He’ll rejoin the private sector at some point. It’s just going to be a huge loss not only for the House of Representatives but for the state of Mississippi. That’s why I hope he will get back into the public arena.”

His announcement ends more than a year of speculation on Gunn’s future — particularly whether he might make a gubernatorial run in 2023. He made some such overtures last year, including fundraising and statewide travel, but had appeared to cool on the idea of challenging incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves. He had also been discussed more recently as a possible candidate to run the state community college system.

A Clinton resident, Gunn was elected to the House in 2003 and soon rose to prominence as a key voice in the Republican caucus. When the Republicans garnered the majority in the House as a result of the 2011 elections, Gunn was elected speaker by the 122-member House, the first Republican to hold that office since Reconstruction.

Gunn helped increase Republican numbers in the House, with the 2015 elections resulting in a GOP supermajority. He successfully championed numerous tax cuts during his time in office, but has so far been unsuccessful with what he said has been his No. 1 policy priority, elimination of the state personal income tax.

State Rep. Nick Bain of Corinth, a former Democrat who changed to the Republican Party before the 2019 election, said, “He has been good to me. He has been good to my constituents in Alcorn County … I have nothing but good things to say about him.”

Gunn was one of the first Republicans on the statewide level to advocate for removing the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag. Gunn did so after a shooting at an African American church in Charleston, S.C., killing nine people by a white supremist who featured a Confederate flag on his social media posts.

For years, Gunn’s Republican caucus did not express interest in following his lead on the state flag. But in 2020 legislation came out of the House championed by Gunn and ultimately approved by the full Legislature retiring the state flag and establishing a panel to recommend a new flag to place on the ballot. Mississippi voters overwhelmingly approved the new flag sans the Confederate symbol.

House Speaker Protem Jason White, R-West, is considered by many as the heir apparent to the speakership, although Gunn reportedly did not endorse a successor to the caucus on Wednesday.

“He told everyone that it is not for him to turn his seat over to anyone, but would be up to the House of Representatives,” Bennett said. “… But I think Jason (White) is the lead person and I’d be surprised if Jason was not the next speaker of the House.”

Bain said of a possible White candidacy for speaker, “If Jason runs, he will have my full support.”

This story will be updated.

The post Speaker Philip Gunn will not seek reelection appeared first on Mississippi Today.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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