Governor Luckett?

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Published: April 13,2009

Bill Luckett likes to talk about his childhood days as a house painter and that he still enjoys getting out in the sunshine to paint and work with his hands.

In fact, before a recent trial in Jackson, he spent the weekend in the Mississippi Delta painting shutters on a rental house he owns.

“I’ve never been afraid of hard work,” the Clarksdale attorney boasts.

If elected governor, many may ask if he will paint the shutters on the mansion.

“If they need it,” he laughs. “I do like Revere Green. That’s a combination of two parts black and one part green.”

That type of can-do attitude has made him a successful businessman and community and regional leader in Mississippi.

And it is the “why not us?” thinking that has him earnestly pondering running for governor of Mississippi.

“I am giving it serious thought,” Luckett said. “I have been just sort of watching and waiting for someone to step up with some progressive ideas for Mississippi, some fresh looks and some new leadership.

“Plus friends of mine have pushed me in the direction of running for governor now.”

He says he’s not quite ready to make an official announcement, but he does have a political action committee set up asking all the questions and taking a look at if it is feasible for Luckett, a Democrat, to make a run at the state’s top office.

“I do feel like I have something to offer,” he said. “Maybe I will know something by the first of May, no later than the first of June.”

But the question many still have is, “What does Bill Luckett have to offer other than being Morgan Freeman’s best friend?”

His belief in Mississippi has been documented in nearly 100 publications worldwide. In 2005, Luckett was honored for his outstanding and significant contribution to diversity and racial reconciliation with the May Fest “Trailblazer of the Year” award in Tupelo. He was named a “Delta Regional Heritage Champion” by Delta State University in 2007 and “Man of the Year” by the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi in 2008.

Some of his firms’ clients at Luckett Tyner Law Firm, P..A., include Deere & Co., Kroger, Home Depot, Archer Daniels Midland Company, AutoZone, Cracker Barrel and APAC.

Is believing enough?

Luckett believed enough in Clarksdale to take a stab at helping to renovate its crumbling downtown. Today, Clarksdale’s downtown still has a ways to go, but Medidi restaurant and Ground Zero Blues Club (largely born from Luckett’s inspiration in cooperation with Freeman, who is a co-owner) have turned the area into a destination showplace for tourists around the world.

Politically, Luckett is on his soapbox about education and healthcare. He doesn’t understand why we have to be ranked at the bottom of the heap in both categories, saying there is plenty we can do about both.

“We have very low-performing schools. Everybody has done their best, but it is just not getting done,” he says. “I feel like I have been beating my head against a wall (about charter schools).

“And maybe if I could get a little more a bully pulpit like a statewide office, I could impress this upon some people. … We have to get off the bottom; I want to pursue that.”

Luckett can almost look across the Mississippi River from Clarksdale at a prime example of how this state’s public schools could be so much better.

The Delta College Preparatory School in downtown Helena, Ark., started in 2002 with a class of fifth-graders, now has a middle and high school. The original class members are now high school juniors. Test scores have improved significantly. Now KIPP is planning to open an elementary school to take educational charge of kids from the start.

By any measure, the KIPP experiment in the Arkansas Delta has been a success, and Luckett feels it is the model Mississippi must embrace.

“We just have to be willing to make some hard decisions and expect more from ourselves, our teachers and our kids,” he said. “It can be done.”

Cigarette Tax

The other thing is this cigarette tax matter that has been bouncing around for years.

“It makes sense to me that if more than 50 percent of the cost of healthcare that’s paid for by Medicaid is either smoker direct or smoker-related illness, why aren’t we making the smokers pay a much bigger share of the load of the Medicaid payments?” Luckett said. “It just seems like a no-brainer.”

Mississippi has the second lowest cigarette tax in the country at 18 cents a pack, while more than half of the states have a tax of more than $1 and nine at or more than $2.

“We need to make some changes,” he says. “Medicaid is bankrupt basically. We’re scrambling for dollars everywhere that we can in Mississippi, and that just seems to me to make some good sense.”

If the Legislature won’t do it, Luckett says would like to place a constitutional initiative on the ballot to raise the cigarette tax.
“We need a hard worker, who is energetic and a cheerleader for good in this state who can lead the way and think positive and boot strap us out of the bottom,” Luckett said.

“The more I think on these issues, the more I get fired up in trying to do something about them.”

But he cautions that nothing is certain. He could still decide not to run and turn over what money he has raised to what he deems “Good Democratic causes.”

However, it Luckett has all of the wheels in motion — like a team of people working around the clock; he’s doing interviews and getting his name in the public eye more.

At this point, it would seem that it would be more of a surprise if Bill Luckett didn’t run for governor.

Contact MBJ managing editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com.

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