Mississippi House Republicans have nominated Rep. Jason White, R-West, to serve as the new House speaker in the 2024 legislative session. He has expressed an openness to considering Medicaid expansion—a policy outgoing Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn has long opposed.
In a statement after the Mississippi House Republican Caucus nominated him during a meeting at the Annandale Golf Club in Madison, Miss., on Thursday, White said he was “humbled to be unanimously selected as the Republican nominee for Speaker of the House.”
“Mississippi has made tremendous strides over the previous 12 years of conservative Republican leadership and has greatly prospered under Speaker Philip Gunn,” he said. “I appreciate the trust my fellow Republicans have now placed in me as the nominee for Speaker. I am energized going into the 2024 Legislative Session, and I look forward to addressing the challenges and opportunities facing our state with conservative policies and principles.”
— Jason White (@JasonWhiteMS) November 29, 2023
White, 50, first won his seat for Mississippi House District 48 while running as a Democrat in 2011; he switched to the Republican Party the next year as it became the chamber’s majority party for the first time in over a century. His district includes parts of Attala, Carroll, Holmes and Leake counties. Since 2020, he has served as the speaker pro tempore, presiding over the House in Gunn’s absence and serving as adviser to the speaker.
‘We’ve Just Said No’
Over the past decade, Gunn has steadfastly declined to support a vote on accepting $1 billion in federal funds annually to expand Medicaid—which could make health-care coverage available to between 100,000 and 300,000 uninsured working Mississippians.
Critics have pointed to the state’s failure to expand Medicaid as a contributing factor to Mississippi’s ongoing hospital crisis. Gov. Tate Reeves, who led the Senate as lieutenant governor before becoming governor in 2020, has also long opposed the policy.
But the current Republican lieutenant governor, Delbert Hosemann, has expressed openness to Medicaid expansion for years. So has White.
“I think we as Republicans have probably earned a little bit of the bad rap we get on health care in Mississippi,” the speaker designate told Mississippi Today in September. “Part of that is that we haven’t had a full-blown airing or discussion of Medicaid expansion. We’ve just said, ‘No.’ Now, I’m not out here on the curb pushing Medicaid expansion, but we are going to have full discussions on that and on all facets of health care in Mississippi. … Right or wrong, we have been wearing the yoke of, ‘Y’all haven’t even considered this or dug down into the numbers.’ And that’s true.”
The speaker of the House, who has the power to appoint members to committees that decide which bills advance to a vote before the full house, has significant power over the chamber’s legislative decision-making.
In 2020, White called on Republican lawmakers to support a successful effort to retire the old 1894 state flag, which featured an emblem of the Confederacy in its upper left-hand corner. For decades, Black leaders and activists had pushed to change the state flag—including those who protested outside the governor’s mansion in the summer of 2020. Gunn endorsed changing the flag in 2015.
“I know there are many good people who … believe that this flag is a symbol of our Southern pride and heritage,” White said during a floor speech on June 27, 2020. “But for most people throughout our nation and the world, they see that flag and think that it stands for hatred and oppression.”
Barton Nominated For Speaker Pro Tem
During Wednesday’s meeting at the golf club in Madison, the House Republican Caucus also voted to nominate House Rep. Manly Barton, R-Moss Point, as the new speaker pro tempore. The lawmaker, who has served in the House since 2012, previously served as a Jackson County supervisor.
White and Barton will not formally assume their new roles until the full House confirms their nominations when the Legislature begins a new session in January. Confirmation for the two is likely, however, because the GOP holds a supermajority in the House.
Following the Nov. 7 state elections, Mississippi House Republicans grew their majority by two for a total of 79 out of 122 seats. Democrats will hold 41 seats when the new session begins and two reelected independents will also sit in the chamber.