- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Republicans are closer to having a three-fifths majority in the Mississippi House for the coming term because a newly re-elected Democrat said Thursday that he is jumping to the GOP.

Passing tax or bond bills takes a three-fifths vote, and having a supermajority of 74 out of 122 members would clear the way for Republicans to make such financial decisions without seeking Democrats’ support.

Rep. Jody Steverson of Ripley announced his party switch two days after all 174 legislative seats were on the ballot and he won a second four-year term, unopposed, as a Democrat in the northeastern Mississippi counties of Benton, Tippah and Union.

“I want to be a part of the progression of Mississippi,” Steverson said in a news release. “I’ve always been conservative in my voting record concerning social issues like Second Amendment rights. My views line up closer with those of the Republican Party. With this switch, I know I will be able to better help my constituents of Tippah County in House District 4.”

With one other House race in south Mississippi unresolved, Steverson’s switch gives the GOP 73 out of 122 seats.

Longtime Democratic Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville, who won a ninth term Tuesday, said he wasn’t surprised by Steverson’s move.

“I guess Jody wants to be a part of the team while he is here,” Holland said in an interview.

House Republicans also announced Thursday that they intend to choose Rep. Philip Gunn of Clinton for a second term as speaker, once the legislative session begins in early January. Members of the House Republican Caucus - minus Steverson - met privately Thursday in Brandon. Their announcement about keeping Gunn as the presiding officer came as no surprise because his campaign financially supported many Republican incumbents and challengers before Tuesday’s elections.

Gunn said Wednesday he has invited Democrats to switch parties. In the joint news release Thursday with Steverson, Gunn said of the new Republican: “His views and ideology closely align with those of the Republican Party. We look forward to continuing our work together.”

The House race that’s still in limbo is in District 79 in Jasper and Smith counties, where unofficial results show Republican challenger Mark Tullos of Raleigh with a six-vote lead over Democratic Rep. Bo Eaton. Four affidavit votes remain to be counted in Smith County, from people who forgot to take a government-issued photo identification to the polls. Each of those four voters have until next week to return to the circuit clerk’s office to show an ID to have his or her ballot counted. Although Eaton could not close the gap even if he receives all four votes, it was not immediately clear whether the five-term lawmaker might challenge the election.

While most party switchers in Mississippi in the past generation have gone from Democrat to Republican, Holland moved the other direction. He lost his first legislative race in a 1980 special election as a Republican. “I started as one and got over it,” he said Thursday.

In 1983, Holland ran as a Democrat and won the seat he still holds. Speaking of Steverson’s switch from D to R, Holland said: “I hope it prospers him.”

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .


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