When Phil Bryant gave a brief victory speech last Tuesday night before a packed auditorium at the at the Jim Buck Ross Agriculture and Forestry Museum, he was understandably upbeat and confident. “We knew conservative leadership, faith and family would win today.”
Bryant and Charlie Ross waged tough campaigns for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.
During his victory speech, Bryant was also optimistic about the November 6 general election, where he will face Jamie Franks of Mooreville, a state representative who was unopposed for the Democrat nomination for the state’s second-highest job. Term limits prevented Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck from seeking re-election because she has served two four-year terms.
Bryant, a Brandon resident, has served as state auditor since Gov. Kirk Fordice appointed him to the post in 1996. At the time, Bryant had served five years in the House of Representatives, where he was vice chairman of the Insurance Committee and authored the Capital Gains Tax Cut Act of 1994. Bryant easily won election in 1999 — the only Republican elected to one of eight statewide offices that year — and reelection in 2003.
In an exclusive post-victory interview the morning after the primary election, the Mississippi Business Journal chatted with Bryant about how he plans to win the powerful post, his response to criticism about the gaming industry and more.
MBJ: Gov. Haley Barbour seems to be a shoo-in for re-election. Franks has said you will “be a rubber stamp for the governor’s office.” How do you respond?
PB: Haley Barbour is the best governor in the United States, and I look forward to working with him. Our agendas will, I’m sure, be very closely aligned because we have the same Republican conservative philosophy. I don’t know any major differences we will have.
MBJ: How will the campaign change for the general election?
PB: We’ve got more counties to look at. Although we were working statewide, we were concentrating on 19 primarily Republican counties. We’ll expand that, as I’ve done in my two previous statewide elections, to get support from conservative Democrats in the November election. A lot of them have given us that support in the past.
MBJ: Do you think the ferocity of the primary has hurt or helped your chances in November?
PB: It’s helped. Once we come together as a team and move forward, we’ll get name identification. We spent $1 million in advertising and running this campaign and that helps. The last time we looked, I have an 80% name recognition across the state. People know who I am and what I’ve stood for in the last 15 years.
MBJ: You have been criticized for saying you would have voted against onshore casinos in Hancock and Harrison counties, an issue that might alienate voters in South Mississippi. As lieutenant governor, how strongly would you support the state’s casino industry?
PB: The casino industry obviously brings a lot of money into the state. I have no intention of harming that industry. Believe me, I want a dynamic, tourist industry on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. But I would not have moved it onshore, and I will resist any such movement in the future.
MBJ: You raised more than $1 million to defeat Ross. Franks has raised nearly two-thirds that amount that he has been able to retain for the November election. How much do you need to raise to win in November?
PB: We’re probably going to need $2 million or more, maybe as much as $4 million. We’re going to raise as much as we need to, to win this race in November. We’ve already had calls from business and industry wanting to help.
MBJ: You’re a nationally-know speaker on e-government and said years ago that you envision Mississippi as one of the most technologically-advanced government systems. If elected, how do you plan to incorporate technology in the lieutenant governor’s office and further e-government in the state?
PB: As soon as we get this political discussion behind us, we’re going to focus on technology. I pushed it as state auditor, and all I can say is … you haven’t seen anything yet! We’re going to apply technology to government like never before.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.