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State trade associations getting more political

Even associations that aren’t getting more political during Election 2003 are becoming more vocal. Several associations that have never endorsed a political candidate have jumped on the bandwagon. Others are quick to point out that their organization will probably never endorse a politician — on the record, at least.

For the first time ever, the Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA) endorsed a candidate seeking the state’s highest post. Two months ago, Mississippi doctors gave a thumbs up to Republican gubernatorial candidate Haley Barbour.

“We simply need more malpractice reform, and Haley Barbour’s our man to do it,” said MSMA’s political action committee (PAC) chairman J. Patrick Barrett, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon in Jackson.

The state’s largest trade association, the Mississippi Association of Realtors and its 5,000 members, has endorsed candidates in every statewide race except governor.

“We’ve got a fortunate situation in that regardless of which of those two men win the governorship (incumbent Democrat Ronnie Musgrove or Republican contender Haley Barbour), we’ve got a friend in that office,” said MAR executive vice president R. Scott Brunner. “In general, Gov. Musgrove has been a supporter of our issues in real estate during his term as governor. Likewise, Haley Barbour is right down the line for us in terms of his philosophical stance on the positions we’re involved in — home ownership, affordability and property ownership issues.”

MAR’s endorsement in other key races include incumbents Amy Tuck for lieutenant governor, Eric Clark for secretary of state, Phil Bryant for state auditor, George Dale for state insurance commissioner and Lester Spell for state agriculture commissioner.

“There wasn’t a lot of controversy among our members, but we had to work sometimes to shed ourselves of our political affiliations and look at the best thing to do for our membership,” said Brunner. “We also wanted to make certain the candidates were right for Mississippi, not only real estate. Once we viewed it through that lens, we acted shrewdly but fair. Basically, we supported those who supported us. We have had a long and positive relationship with Secretary Clark, and Phil Bryant was very supportive and helpful to us in launching move-the-vote, a voter registration drive where folks can now register at the real estate closing table. Lester Spell is a real estate licensee and that’s very attractive to us.”

NFIB goes Republican

The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), the nation’s and state’s largest small business advocacy organization, with more than 4,200 members in Mississippi, endorsed Barbour and Tuck, and several legislative candidates for the first primary, said NFIB Mississippi state director Ron Aldridge.

“We have a definite set of guidelines that must be followed for an endorsement,” said Aldridge. “All 50 states follow the same rules. We will also look at making possible endorsements for any second primary races, and of course, for the general election in November.”

Before publicly supporting candidates for the state’s top two elected posts, an endorsement for governor or lieutenant governor must first be polled among Mississippi members, said Aldridge.

“We do a fax survey and only ask two questions: first, should NFIB make an endorsement in the governor’s or lieutenant governor’s races, and second, if so, who should we endorse? We list the candidates, the party, hometown, profession and any previous elected office experience or races. We do not sway our members with any stand on issues,” he said.

An extremely high percentage of NFIB members voted for Barbour and Tuck, said Aldridge.

“In fact, I understand that both of these set records for NFIB among all the 50 states,” he said.

After members vote to endorse candidates, NFIB sends Candidate NFIB Issue Questionnaires to the principal contenders, said Aldridge.

“Based then on the poll, their answers to our questionnaire, possible follow-up interviews, we then take one further step,” he said. “A gubernatorial endorsement must then pass both our Mississippi SAFE Trust PAC Board, comprised of Mississippi small business members, and also our national NFIB SAFE Trust PAC Board. A lieutenant governor endorsement only must pass the Mississippi SAFE Trust PAC Board.”

Legislative endorsements follow a little different path since incumbents have a voting record, said Aldridge.

“At the end of each four-year term, NFIB Mississippi prepares a voting record of all incumbents based on approximately 15 or so key NFIB small business issues brought up for votes during the past four years of regular and special sessions,” he said. “NFIB is not secretive in any way of these issues. We make the legislators aware that these could be key votes during a session prior to the vote and then identify fully what the vote is, so that each incumbent has a chance to explain their vote to their constituents.”

NFIB’s stance on these issues is based on a previous vote of state membership, said Aldridge.

“This alone sets NFIB apart,” he said. “Any incumbent with at least a 70% voting record has the possibility to be endorsed. However, that does not automatically guarantee an endorsement. Our Mississippi SAFE Trust PAC Board looks at each of the races based on all candidates running. Generally, we will not endorse an opponent if the incumbent has a 70 or better. We can’t endorse a non-incumbent unless we have their response to our NFIB Legislative Candidate Questionnaire. We also do interviews with potential endorsed candidates. Upon receiving NFIB’s SAFE Trust PAC endorsement, our full membership is alerted and called to action in their behalf, with their votes, voice, and valuables (time and money).”

Construction industry splits support

Following suit behind the Mississippi Manufacturers Association (MMA), which endorsed a gubernatorial candidate for the first time in its history — Barbour —Mississippi Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) board of directors voted unanimously last month to endorse Barbour for governor and incumbent Amy Tuck for lieutenant governor. The reason: tort reform.

“Tort reform is a key issue for the construction industry as well as every other business,” said ABC executive director C.B. “Buddy” Edens. “The stance on civil justice reform that some people have taken has very much had a bearing on our contributions to statewide candidates and legislative candidates.”

Many people believed that the Associated General Contractors of Mississippi (AGC) might follow suit when its board met two days following ABC’s vote.

“AGC has never gone on record endorsing one candidate over another, but we did address it at our statewide convention,” said AGC executive director Perry Nations. “However, we decided to stand pat on our policy because we’ve got folks on both sides.”

Home Builders Association of Mississippi CEO Marty Milstead said the association, which is interested in seeing right-to-cure legislation passed next year, hasn’t endorsed a gubernatorial candidate, but is supporting Amy Tuck in the lieutenant governor’s race.

Mississippi Road Builders Association hasn’t endorsed gubernatorial candidates and probably won’t, said executive director Don Richardson. Neither will the American Subcontractors Association (ASA) in Mississippi, said executive director Kathy Waren.

No allegiance, please

Bob Wilson, director of program services for the Mississippi Main Street Association, said the board “stays very apolitical.”

“About 70% of our budget comes from a contract
we
have with the Mississippi Development Authority to handle the Main Street program in Mississippi,” he said. “We have thought about trying to become a line item, but this isn’t the time.”

Carol Hardwick, director of the Mississippi Economic Development Council, s

About Lynne W. Jeter

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