Nominee for Mississippi Superintendent of Education voted down on Senate floor

·5 min read

In a rare case of a nomination failing on the chamber floor, the nominee for Mississippi Superintendent of Education, who was named by the state's education board late last year, was not confirmed by the Mississippi Senate on Wednesday in a 21-31 vote.

Robert Taylor, a native Mississippian who last served as deputy state superintendent for North Carolina and began work in January, will no longer be the chief administrator of the state's education system, with those voting no voicing concerns about his selection process and record on underperforming schools.

“This whole confirmation was a political process, and I knew that coming in,” Taylor told The Associated Press on Wednesday evening after the Senate vote. He said senators in the past have confirmed all previous nominees for state superintendent, and he is disappointed this group of senators did not confirm him.

“The fact that they didn't, that is what I have to live with,” Taylor said. “I will always respect the process.”

In a news conference after the vote, Senate Democrats suggested a different reason Taylor was voted down. Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, is a former longtime schoolteacher who said Taylor's qualifications were more than adequate.

"The person that we're talking about, Dr. Taylor, is a native son," Jordan said. "He's a Mississippian, who went to North Carolina and worked in their system, that system rated is higher than Mississippi, and he came home to serve. He's a great and impressive son of Mississippi, and we rejected him for no reason other than the fact that God made him Black."

The Mississippi State Board of Education selected Robert Taylor to serve as Mississippi’s new state superintendent of education, but he was voted down by the state Senate on Wednesday.
The Mississippi State Board of Education selected Robert Taylor to serve as Mississippi’s new state superintendent of education, but he was voted down by the state Senate on Wednesday.

Despite some bipartisan support — five Republicans voted yes — Taylor's nomination ultimately failed. Some who voted no said the legislature had not been adequately involved in the selection process.

Sen. Daniel Sparks, R-Belmont, said that played a role in his opposition, but added that there were other factors too. Mississippi, Sparks said, needs a superintendent with a strong record of turning around underperforming schools. Taylor's answers on that topic in the confirmation hearings left Sparks unconvinced, according to the senator. Sparks also looked to Taylor's record on that subject in North Carolina.

"There were not things that were said that gave me encouragement about the underperforming schools in our state," Sparks said. "The data that I have before me says that while someone may be constitutionally qualified, they may not be the right person for the job."

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann released a statement after the vote, saying he agreed with the no-vote.

"The Board sent over an appointment but there were legitimate concerns about whether he was the right person for the job. With a position as important as the person overseeing the education of our children, Senators should vote their conscience and confirmation should not be taken lightly. I defer to the body and believe they made the right decision today," Hosemann said.

During floor debate Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, urged his colleagues to support the nominee, and said the process that led to Taylor's selection was far from abnormal.

"I'm aware that among some senators there is opposition to this nomination. I don't know of any reason that has been articulated that is compelling that we should reject this nominee. The state constitution vests in the state school board the authority to operate or choose the state superintendent," Bryan said.

In the news conference, Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, said rejecting Taylor so late in the session sets the state's education system back until the Senate can have a chance to vote on the next nominee.

"Those who voted against the nomination of Dr. Taylor did the state of Mississippi a great disservice," Horhn said. "They have set our education efforts and progress that we've made with regard to education back at least a year because we are rudderless right now. We've got to start all over again and find leadership for our state department of public education. Anytime we put politics and partisanship and race ahead of the progress that we need to be making in the state of Mississippi we're doing our citizens a great disservice, and we did that today."

Mississippi state Sen. Juan Barnett, D-Heidelberg, left, speaks at a news conference Wednesday, March 29, 2023, at the state Capitol in Jackson, Miss., while surrounded by other members of the Legislative Black Caucus. Several caucus members denounced a vote by the Republican-led Senate to reject the nomination of Robert P. Taylor as Mississippi superintendent of education. Taylor would have been the second Black person to hold the job.
Mississippi state Sen. Juan Barnett, D-Heidelberg, left, speaks at a news conference Wednesday, March 29, 2023, at the state Capitol in Jackson, Miss., while surrounded by other members of the Legislative Black Caucus. Several caucus members denounced a vote by the Republican-led Senate to reject the nomination of Robert P. Taylor as Mississippi superintendent of education. Taylor would have been the second Black person to hold the job.

When Taylor was first named by the board, he publicly celebrated the opportunity to return home.

“The opportunity to return home to Mississippi and work hand in hand with all stakeholders to improve education is perhaps the pinnacle of one’s career,” Taylor said in a statement. “This opportunity has been afforded to my family and I and we look forward to our homecoming.”

In November, Taylor was appointed by the Mississippi State Board of Education, which is made up of appointees from the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the house. That came at the end of a months-long search to replace State Superintendent Carey Wright. Taylor started on the job in January, as it is not uncommon for board-appointments to begin work before their confirmation has been made official. Now, it seems, a new search will need to begin. Between Wright and Taylor, Kim Benton served on an interim basis.

Nominations require the advice and consent of the Senate. While the speaker of the house has a role in who sits on the state board of education, the House does not vote on nominations. Sen. Juan Barnett, D-Heidelberg, filed a motion to reconsider the vote, which the Senate voted to table Thursday. The 2023 session is scheduled to end by Sunday.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: MS Senate votes against state superintendent of education nominee