Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann made it clear at the start of the session that he does not intend to engage in petty partisan politics, pledging to get good work done for the people of Mississippi and to work with anyone who is likewise inclined.
Speaker Philip Gunn, not so much. Gunn is telling four duly elected representatives, all state retirees, that they must resign or forfeit their retirement, a mandate that conflicts with state law and policy. All four legislators being targeted qualify to serve in the Legislature while drawing their retirement, according to a new regulation adopted by the PERS board that complies with the Attorney General opinion issued last summer. The AG opinion cites state law that specifically allows public retirees to serve in any governmental job.
Gunn apparently told the four he believes former AG Hood was trying to elect Democrats, so he is refusing to comply. All four representatives affected are Republicans.
Mississippi retirees are allowed to draw their pensions and be reemployed in any state government job, so long as they draw only a part-time salary. Gunn refuses to acknowledge this reality. Long-time Capitol reporter Bobby Harrison broke this story today – read it here, including quotes from Gunn and some of the legislators he’s pressuring to resign.
The four affected legislators are:
• Rep. Billy Andrews of Purvis (House District 87)
• Rep. Ramona Blackledge of Laurel (House District 88)
• Rep. Jerry Darnell of Hernando (House District 28)
• Rep. Dale Goodin of Richton (House District 105)
There are many benefits to having state retirees serve in our Legislature. One of them is that it saves the state money by paying retirees only a portion of their legislative salary. Gunn is insisting on paying these four the full legislative salary, intentionally putting them in conflict with state law.
It seems Gunn believes he should have the last word on who gets elected and how and when PERS benefits can be drawn. Allowing him to overrule PERS policy and state law is a dangerous precedent.
You can reach Speaker Gunn at his Capitol office at 601.359.3300.
We’ve got a great crop of legislators ready to serve, the teacher pay raise fix sailed through both chambers, a terrific Senate Education Committee has met already, and Lt. Gov. Hosemann is charging ahead with a pro-public school agenda. Let’s hope cooler (less partisan) heads will prevail on the retiree issue, as well.