An overflow crowd was on hand June 5 at Dennery’s in Jackson for the Mississippi Associated Builders and Contractors’ (MABC’s) monthly membership meeting. The June gathering was highly attended primarily due to the featured speakers.
The two Republican candidates for lieutenant governor, Phil Bryant, who currently serves as state auditor, and State Sen. Charlie Ross (District 20), were on hand to introduce themselves to the MABC’s membership and share their philosophies. The men also responded to five prepared questions focused on project labor agreements (PLAs), immigration, voter I.D. and workforce development.
Bryant and Ross have thrown a few public jabs at each other on the campaign trail, but none of that was evident during the candidates’ 15-minute introductory speech. Ross, who has criticized Bryant for being reluctant to debate, immediately thanked Bryant for being there, and added, “This is what elections should be about.”
Bryant opened by saying, “Charlie and I just talked, and we both do not want to destroy a friendship to be the next lieutenant governor. Maybe our staffs would disagree. But, we have been friends for about 15 years now, been in each other’s homes, know each other’s families.”
During their introductory speeches, both candidates touted their conservative philosophies and track records. Ross talked of his role in passing tort reform legislation and his work to stiffen punishment for criminals, particularly those who prey on children. He made three promises if elected — to be conservative, straightforward and accessible.
Ross also called himself an “ally” of Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, and added, “I like the direction we’ve been going in the last four years.”
Bryant, who was originally appointed state auditor by former Gov. Kirk Fordice, who he called his mentor, said, “Mississippi has never had a better governor than Haley Barbour.”
Bryant also focused on his crime-fighting efforts, particularly in the area of public graft, and generally reminded attendees of his conservative stance on issues.
The lack of skilled workers is a major concern in the construction industry, and both men talked of their ideas to strengthen the state’s educational system. Ross pointed out that the need for skilled workers is growing across industry sectors, not just in construction, and public schools needed to do more to prepare graduates for work as well as college.
Bryant echoed Ross’ thoughts, and said the State Auditor’s Office has implemented a process for determining financial accountability of school districts.
PLAs and immigration
Buddy Edens, head of the MABC, opened the meeting by holding up a copy of the new immigration bill under debate in Washington. He urged members to familiarize themselves with the legislation.
He then talked about PLAs. The MABC endorses the merit shop philosophy, and Edens said PLAs are a concern, giving unions the opportunity to “infiltrate your company.” (PLAs were included in the negotiations between the state and Toyota concerning the automobile manufacturing plant in Blue Springs.)
Both PLAs and immigration were the focus of three of the five prepared questions, and both candidates expressed similar views. The first two questions were would you support state incentives for companies that utilize PLAs, and would you support prohibiting PLAs on all public works projects?
Both Ross and Bryant said they are strongly against PLAs, though both believe the Toyota deal and the accompanying PLA was good for Mississippi.
“The margin was really thin with Toyota,” Bryant said. He added, “We’re probably going to have to take a hard hit some time. We’re going to have to make a stand (against PLAs). One day, we’re just going to have to say ‘no.’”
“I’m a free market guy. I don’t think anyone should be forced to use union or non-union labor,” Ross said.
Immigration is another construction hot-button issue as the industry uses a large number of foreign-born workers. Question three was what is your stance on immigration? Both men said the nation’s southern border with Mexico had to be strengthened. Bryant said he was against amnesty. He quickly added that he understood businesses’ concerns over the burden they could have to accept in documenting workers, but said with computers and other technology, this burden should not be that onerous.
Ross said the federal government has failed in its responsibility to protect the nation’s borders.
Question four centered on voter I.D. Once again, both candidates gave similar views. Bryant said legislation requiring voter I.D. should have passed years ago, and Ross said he has introduced bills that would do just that for the past six or seven years, only to see them die in the House of Representatives.
The final question was what would you do to help bring more skilled craftsmen into the construction industry? Both candidates reiterated their views given earlier on education. Bryant added that the state’s drop-out rate had to be addressed, and Ross said he supported more apprenticeship programs.
The winner of the August party primary faces Democratic candidate State Rep. Jamie Franks in the general election.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org.