The lieutenant governor’s race is growing more intense as it begins the home stretch toward November 6. Both the Democratic and Republican candidates say their campaigns are going well.
Jamie Franks, the Democratic nominee, represents the 19th House District in the Mississippi House of Representatives. He currently serves as the majority whip and chairman of the Conservation and Water Resources committee.
The Republican nominee is State Auditor Phil Bryant, who’s held that office for 11 years. He also served five years in the state legislature.
Franks says he wants to bring balance back to state government’s three branches. “I have always worked with Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “We need an independent senate that’s not a rubber stamp of the governor. People want that.”
Bryant stresses his endorsements from a wide range of organizations. “It’s encouraging and very good when you see these organizations stepping forward saying they want to be a part of this effort,” he said.
Both were asked to comment on concerns they hear from voters and issues they consider important for the state. Among those listed are insurance reform, illegal immigrants, continuing support for education, lowering the tax on groceries, workforce training and maintaining economic momentum.
“We need to make sure we have a Legislature and lieutenant governor that won’t be in the pocket of insurance companies,” Franks said. “I hear stories of homeowners and business owners in South Mississippi who can’t rebuild. We’ve got to do something to get insurance rates under control.”
Noting that the lack of affordable coverage affects the whole state, he said his own home insurance increased by 18% and coverage on his car 12% this year. Franks lives in Mooreville, near Tupelo in Lee County.
Bryant attended a recent meeting about the high cost of insurance in Washington. “Katrina is still a serious issue, and the state’s entire economy will suffer if the Coast doesn’t rebuild,” he said. “I try to remind audiences all over the state that people are still suffering.”
The Rankin County resident says he’s been somewhat surprised that residents all over the state speak up about illegal immigration. “It’s different when you’re out working in small towns. Most people think it’s mostly in South Mississippi and on the Coast, but people in Northeast Mississippi don’t like immigrants being here illegally, and they still think they’re taking jobs,” he said.
Bryant asked the Legislature to mandate that companies doing business with the state determine that workers are here legally. “This is not that hard to figure out and I want to introduce it again,” he said.
Franks says polls show that state residents want to cut grocery taxes and raise the tax on cigarettes. “It cuts across all parties,” he said. “It’s also a public health issue. My granddad died of lung cancer at age 62. I never knew him.”
With the defeat of two senators from the Coast who fought lowering the grocery tax, Franks thinks the state senate may now have the two-thirds votes needed to override the governor’s veto.
Bryant, however, suggests that Mississippi do what West Virginia did and take a close look at the entire tax code. “We can’t propose any adjustments without looking at the whole thing,” he said. “Businesses say they want us to look at it. We don’t want to swap one tax for another one.”
He says businesses are concerned about the suggestion of having a department of labor in the state. “They think it will be additional regulation, telling them who can work for them and who can’t,” Bryant said. “They think it will impede their ability to make decisions of their own.”
Franks supports the measure, stating that Mississippi is the only state in the union that doesn’t have a department of labor. He argues that such a department would make state government leaner, not meaner, and would bring in more federal dollars.
“We are leaving money on the table now. Taxpayers are missing out on the tens of millions of federal funds that our state government would be entitled to if we had such a department,” he said. “It would streamline state government. Right now we have five or six agencies handling employment matters. Employers and employees need a one-stop shop.”
Both candidates voice support for a pro-business environment in the state. “I hear a lot from the business community about tort reform,” Bryant said. “They think successes from the reforms may be under attack and want to protect it. We’ve got to be careful.”
Franks says he doesn’t want to turn back the clock on tort reform and points to new industry in his part of the state. “A lot of people worked hard to bring that in and we want to do that for the rest of the state,” he said. “All the issues of the campaign affect business.”
Stating that Mississippi can’t depend solely on large companies such as Toyota, he added, “We’ve got to fight to keep all the jobs we have and to keep small businesses alive and well.”
Bryant points out that workforce training is a huge part of the business environment. “I would like to see more coordination with businesses; bring them in and develop the training they need,” he said. “Mississippians now understand the benefits of having two auto makers and the most modern steel pant in the world. Let’s have more of that and keep the momentum going.”
An outstanding education is the best economic development tool the state can give to young people, Franks believes. “We need to fully fund education, and not just in election years,” he said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.