When news initially spread that Democrat Jamie Franks was making a run for the state’s No. 2 leadership post, political pundits agreed he was a long shot.
They agree he’s still considered an underdog in the race against state auditor Phil Bryant in the November 6 general election, but is gaining momentum with good-ol’-boy looks and cerebral verbal sparring. After all, Franks has scrambled to advance his career since paying his way through Ole Miss and Mississippi College School of Law by cutting yards and running a landscaping crew.
Recently, the Mississippi Business Journal asked Franks, a House leader, to share his thoughts on key issues, why he believes he could do a better job than Bryant and how he plans to handle partisan divisiveness in the Senate.
Mississippi Business Journal: How do you respond to the inevitable charge that you are just another “tax-and-spend liberal?”
Jamie Franks: It’s just not true on both counts, and my record shows otherwise. The “tax and spend” part is not true because my voting record is not out of line with any of the membership of the House, Democrat or Republican. Here’s the deal on the “liberal” charge: I’ve voted to ban partial birth abortions, ban homosexual adoptions, ban same-sex marriages and allow every political subdivision in the state to display “In God We Trust,” “The 10 Commandments,” and the “Beatitudes” if they so choose. Tell me what’s liberal about those positions?
MBJ: Is immigration reform really a major issue in Mississippi?
JF: I am concerned about illegal immigrants draining our resources: healthcare, emergency services, education and the like. I have fought to strengthen immigration laws by making companies pay back incentive packages received from state government contracts if they are convicted of hiring illegal immigrants in a court of competent jurisdiction.
My positions on illegal immigrants in our state are clear: When illegal immigrants are identified, they should be returned to their country of origin. I support stiffer penalties for employers who are caught hiring and employing illegal immigrants, penalties which include prison sentences. I support stiffer fines and a ban on state contractors who are caught employing illegal immigrants. We need tighter verification and matches of names and social security numbers.
MBJ: What are the major differences between you and Phil Bryant?
JF: Well, there are several. I’ll just name a few here. My opponent has said — in so many words — that he will be the best ally Haley Barbour has in the Senate. My goal is to manage the Senate and conduct Senate business in the best interest of the people of this state, not what’s best for the Governor’s Office or the Speaker’s Office. He has said he will appoint only Republican committee chairmen. I will appoint chairmen who have the most talent, Democrat, Republican, black, white, male, female. He opposes a cut in the tax on groceries. I support a cut in the grocery tax because it will benefit every single citizen in the state.
MBJ: You’ve said that Phil Bryant would “be a rubber stamp for the Governor’s Office.” Do you plan to do just the opposite?
JF: No. I do not plan to do just the opposite. My opponent has deliberately left the impression that he will side with the governor on every issue, regardless of the issue or who it affects. I want to provide balance, which our state constitution intended. If Gov. Barbour is re-elected, I will work with him on issues which benefit the working families of our state, but when he’s wrong, I will speak up and tell him that.
MBJ: What are the major issues in this race?
JF: Education, economic development, a cut in the grocery tax, healthcare, insurance reform and balance in state government.
MBJ: What are your thoughts on the controversial grocery tax cut issue?
JF: It’s only controversial because some politicians have played games with the issue. It probably should have passed in the 2006 session, and it definitely would have passed in the 2007 session if Sen. Tommy Robertson had not held it up in committee at the behest of Gov. Barbour. I find it appalling that Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the nation, has the highest tax on groceries in the nation. That’s just wrong. The people of Mississippi deserve better.
MBJ: Phil Bryant has been criticized for saying he would have voted against onshore casinos in Hancock and Harrison counties. As lieutenant governor, how strongly would you support the state’s casino industry?
JF: Gaming in Mississippi is here to stay. It is the economic engine of the Gulf Coast and it provides hundreds of millions of dollars to our state coffers. We have come too far with the industry to pretend it isn’t important to tourism, Gulf Coast re-building and re-development and employment security. I oppose the expansion of gaming, and I oppose a proposal for bringing Choctaw gaming into Jackson County. Both of those would hurt recovery on the Gulf Coast.
Editor’s note: This story is the second in a series of statewide political candidate profiles. A Q&A with Republican lieutenant governor candidate Phil Bryant was published in the August 13-19 issue.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.