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Mississippians aren’t just electing a...

Mississippians aren’t just electing a Governor, they are electing a government

By: Rebekah Staples - October 31, 2023

Mississippi Governor's Mansion (Photo from VisitMS website)

Columnist Rebekah Staples says the downstream effects of who voters select as the state’s chief executive are immense and often unseen. 

Chances are you’ve heard of the “butterfly effect.” It’s the idea that a single butterfly flapping its wings can start a string of escalating events that leads to a hurricane. The butterfly effect stands for the proposition that seemingly simple things can trigger large-scale consequences. 

Mississippi voters will head to the polls next Tuesday, November 7 to elect a number of officials, from local legislators to the state’s governor.

If you’re one of the many folks who silently wonders, “What does a governor do, anyway?,” let me offer some perspective, having served on a governor’s staff for two terms. 

To be candid, I was inspired to write about gubernatorial powers after reading a document produced by the Business and Industry Political Education Committee (BIPEC), a trade association in Jackson that keeps an active eye on elections. The BIPEC document outlined in summary form the many duties of Mississippi’s governor. 

It brought to mind the butterfly effect. I’ll explain. 

You might agree with me that court systems at all levels have seen upticks in political activity in recent years.  But did you know the Governor of Mississippi fills judicial vacancies when they occur, all the way from County Court to the state Supreme Court? 

Governor Reeves has already made 15 judicial appointments in the last four years. His predecessor, Governor Phil Bryant, made 21.  My former boss, Governor Haley Barbour, made 19 judicial appointments. Between Governors Barbour and Bryant, they appointed five of the nine current members of the Mississippi Supreme Court. 

The Governor also fills any vacancy related to the U.S. Senate, meaning he (or she) often picks who represents us in Washington, D.C.  Vacancies may sound tentative, but both of Mississippi’s U.S. Senators were initially appointed by governors. Senator Roger Wicker was appointed by Gov. Barbour. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith was appointed by Gov. Bryant.

By law, a governor serves on several policymaking bodies that impact Mississippi’s economy.  These include the State Bond Commission, which manages financial deals on behalf of Mississippi; the State Election Commission, the body responsible for certifying elections; entities like the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority, which provide grants and support to underserved areas; and organizations like the Occupational Licensing Review Commission, which reviews business regulations with an eye toward cutting red-tape. 

The Governor has appointment responsibility for critical state agencies and numerous regulatory bodies which oversee business and industry, healthcare, public safety, local governments, infrastructure and transportation, and educational institutions in Mississippi. From Child Protective Services to Environmental Quality to Mississippi’s economic development agency to the state Medicaid program, the Governor directs these departments of government. 

The Governor works with the Legislature to accomplish policy. A governor has the power to call special legislative sessions and set the agenda for the special session in advance. Additionally, the Governor has the power to veto legislation, a power which has been expanded in recent years to include line item veto powers over spending. 

And did I mention there are another 750 or so statutory and/or constitutional appointments the Governor is responsible for handling?

I’ll spare the nitty gritty details of those specific duties, but I hope it’s clear: The Governor of Mississippi has many responsibilities not often considered by everyday Mississippians.

When Mississippians go to the polls next Tuesday, they aren’t just electing a governor; they are electing a government. The downstream effects of who they select are immense and often unseen. 

Elections matter, and every office has different degrees of importance placed on it by voters.  I hope this short synopsis of gubernatorial duties helps voters come election day.

About the Author(s)
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Rebekah Staples

A native of Laurel, Mississippi, Rebekah has worked in the communications and public policy fields for over a decade and currently works as president of her own consulting firm, Free State Strategies. Rebekah previously served as Gov. Haley Barbour’s policy director on issues including budget, finance, workforce and economic development, pension reform, and government efficiency. Most recently, she has built on this experience to serve as a senior advisor to Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, assisting him with passage of major policy priorities and management of legislative committees. Rebekah graduated summa cum laude from Mississippi College and has a Master of Business Administration from Vanderbilt University. Rebekah is a Fellow of the second class of the Civil Society Fellowship, a Partnership of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and The Aspen Institute, and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.