Soon after Mississippi voters gave the green light to State Auditor Phil Bryant to take over the top leadership spot in the Senate, the lieutenant governor-elect started lining up his 2008 agenda. The Mississippi Business Journal caught up with Bryant last month and asked him about several issues concerning the state’s business community.
Mississippi Business Journal: Even though you and Gov. Haley Barbour have similar agendas, how do you plan to maintain your independence and not be perceived as a “rubber stamp” for the governor’s office?
Phil Bryant: Gov. Barbour and I have closely aligned agendas because we share similar beliefs about what is good for Mississippi and what will bring about a brighter future for all Mississippians. If I agree with the governor, it will be because I think the governor is right on a given issue, not because I am some sort of “rubber stamp.”
MBJ: On which issues do you and the governor differ?
PB: The governor and I have met several times since the election and we have discussed legislative agendas. We are not focusing on where we differ on issues. As far as I am concerned, the opportunity exists for us to find mutually acceptable positions on every issue important to the citizens of Mississippi. I do not believe we were elected to agree or disagree on issues but to work together to find solutions to the problems that we all face.
MBJ: What are your top priorities on the legislative agenda?
PB: I will have a number of priorities — and I talked about these throughout the campaign. These will include full funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, voter ID, performance based-budgeting for state agencies and changes in state law to address the problem of illegal immigration, among others. In an effort to get input on these and other issues and focus our priorities, there will be a state policy summit held on January 3 as part of our lieutenant governor inaugural activities.
MBJ: What are the specific opportunities you envision with a Gulf States economic development partnership?
PB: I envision a coalition of Gulf of Mexico coastal states working in concert through a formal structure, an act of Congress or compact, to promote the region. Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and Texas working together could bring five governors and 10 U.S. senators to bear on specific projects and issues that would contribute to economic development and trade opportunities on a regional basis. We have learned over the past four years the advantage of having strong leadership and teamwork in the pursuit of major projects, like the Toyota plant in Blue Springs, and there is no reason we cannot extend this type of cooperation across state lines. Specifically, I see the opportunity to improve and increase the utilization of the region’s ports and surface transportation infrastructure.
MBJ: House Speaker Billy McCoy appears headed for another four years in the post. How do you plan to work with McCoy, a Democrat, so that issues do not boil down to partisan differences?
PB: I am presently concentrating on defining the new leadership in the State Senate and how to improve cooperation there. I will work with whomever the House membership elects to lead them. Remember, in 1999 I was the only Republican elected to statewide office, and I managed to work effectively with Democrats in the Speaker’s Office, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office and the Governor’s Office.
MBJ: You’re a nationally renowned authority on e-government and said years ago that you envision Mississippi as one of the most technologically-advanced government systems. After the election, you mentioned focusing on technology in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office and furthering e-government in the state. Tell us more.
PB: We will focus on technology in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. We are thinking about innovative concepts like Web-casting Senate proceedings, along with faster and better public access to legislative proceedings. We have already had a lot of success with e-government and we will continue to build on this by finding ways to help the counties and municipalities participate and to encourage standardization of state information systems for ease of access.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.