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Gov. candidates of one mind on eminent domain (Update)

October 6th, 2010 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace is not finding much disagreement among the 2011 candidates for governor on the issue of employing eminent domain for private economic development.

Two of the three Republicans who are running support Farm Bureau’s efforts to put the issue on the ballot.

So do the two Democrats who hope to reach the Governor’s Mansion.

“As a businessman I strongly encourage economic development, but using eminent domain as a device to take privately owned land to transfer to developers is improper,” Bill Luckett, a Clarksdale attorney, said in a statement emailed to Magnolia Marketplace.

“Mississippians should be able to count on preserving their individual and personal rights against overbearing big government. (Farm Bureau’s) initiative protects private citizens from governmental abuse. Passing this initiative will greatly discourage government entities from taking one’s property for the sole purpose of making money.

“Unless property is taken truly for the good of the public, I do not believe in using confiscatory endeavors as a means of economic development.”

Luckett joins Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Gulfport businessman Dave Dennis in supporting the Farm Bureau petition.

“I tend to agree with them,” Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree, a Democrat who will oppose Luckett in the primary, said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “It it is used for public use, I certainly support that.”

The other Republican in the race, Pearl River County Supervisor Hudson Holliday, has not returned a voicemail we left on his cell phone Tuesday afternoon. If and when he does, we’ll let you know his stance.

UPDATE : We just heard back from Holliday. He said he understands the principles behind employing eminent domain for private economic development. That doesn’t mean he agrees with them.

“It’s a slippery slope and something that can easily be abused,” Holliday said. Holliday added that he signed Farm Bureau’s petition. That makes two gubernatorial candidates — Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is the other — who have confirmed that they signed it.

So if you’re scoring at home, every candidate who has either unofficially or officially started pursuing the governor’s seat is in favor of restricting the use of eminent domain to projects that serve a direct public use — like roads, bridges and utilities — and eliminating the government’s power to take private property and give it to a private entity for development.

Bryant, Dennis agree: No eminent domain for private use

September 30th, 2010 12 comments

If Dave Dennis and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant are going to butt heads over an issue in their bids to be the Republican nominee for governor in 2011, they’ll have to find something other than the use of eminent domain for private development.

Both are adamantly against it.

“I have long tried to find common ground between Farm Bureau and the Governor on this issue,” Bryant said in a press release. “There must be a balance between growing jobs in our state while not trampling the rights of our citizens. I am for property rights and congratulate Farm Bureau on what appears to be a successful petition drive.”

Bryant was referring to Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation handing over to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann Thursday morning 119,000 signatures of registered voters who oppose the use of eminent domain for private development. Mick Bullock, spokesman for Bryant, said the lieutenant governor was one of the folks who signed Farm Bureau’s petition.

Most likely, the issue will appear on the 2011 ballot. Bryant also alluded to Gov. Haley Barbour’s vehement opposition to the restriction. During the 2009 legislative session, Barbour vetoed a bill that would have eliminated the government’s power to employ eminent domain for projects that did not serve a direct public use, like roads or bridges. His veto was narrowly sustained in the Senate, after being overwhelmingly overridden in the House.

Barbour argued then that stripping government of the power to use eminent domain for private economic development would be deal-killers for major projects like Toyota and Nissan.

Dennis, a Gulfport businessman, disagrees.

“Plainly and simply, if a development is that good and that attractive and that resourceful, then there should be appropriate dollars associated (with it),” he said. “If somebody thinks there’s that good a return coming in, they should be willing to pay market or even premium-of-market value. If for some reason people still would not sell, then you work around them.”

Dennis told Magnolia Marketplace that he has had two pieces of property over the years seized by eminent domain, both times to clear the way for road-widening projects.

“That eminent domain I’m very comfortable with,” he said. “Eminent domain should not be used to take private property for private development. If you’ve got a piece of property that has stayed in your family, it’s hard for me to swallow somebody coming in and taking it.”

Eminent domain sure to be hot campaign topic

September 14th, 2010 25 comments

Mississippi Farm Bureau President David Waide has told a couple Mississippi media outlets the past few days that supporters of an eminent domain initiative are getting really close to gathering enough signatures to put the issue on the 2011 ballot.

With Waide telling a newspaper in Tupelo that enough signatures have been gleaned from three of the four required Congressional districts, it would be a surprise at this point if organizers did not meet the Oct. 6 deadline to submit their documents to the secretary of state’s office.

The notion that government can use eminent domain to benefit a private enterprise is one of the most contentious political issues Magnolia Marketplace has covered. It is a near certainty that it will be a major talking point for statewide candidates next year.

The most interesting dynamic will likely play out on the Republican side of the field. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who will run for governor in 2011, did not strongly commit one way or another on the issue during the 2009 session, when the Senate narrowly upheld Gov. Barbour’s veto of a bill that would have restricted the use of eminent domain to projects of public interest, like roads and utilities. It would have been really interesting if the sustain/override vote in the Senate would have required Bryant to break a tie. He’s probably glad it didn’t.

Barbour spent many hours and a lot of energy lobbying lawmakers after he vetoed the legislation, which originally passed both chambers easily. It didn’t garner a single nay in the Senate, clearing that body 52-0. The crux of Barbour’s argument was that things like Toyota and Nissan would not be here if the state were not allowed to use eminent domain during the development of each.

Waide told the Mississippi Business Journal earlier in the summer that he expected enough signatures to arrive some time in September, and that timeline looks like it will be met. Voters will most likely decide the issue next fall. This is one of those issues where candidates will have to go all in or all out. There is no comfortable middle ground. The landowners’ rights lobby and economic development groups both have deep pockets and big voting blocs. Alienating either is never a good campaign strategy, so candidates have a tough decision to make.

Bryant: Barbour’s veto will be sustained

February 24th, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour earlier today vetoed Senate Bill 2688, a bill that would have restored money to some agencies after budget cuts, because he said in a press release that “it spent too much of the state’s reserves and ineffectively divided funds among several agencies. This legislation would virtually guarantee higher taxes within a few years,” Barbour said of the bill’s use of one-time money to fund recurring expenses .

Specifically, Barbour said the bill spent too much of the Health Care Trust Fund and the state’s rainy day fund to fill some of the gaps left by budget cuts, which have totaled more than $400 million since the fiscal year started last July.

Barbour had signaled his intentions to veto the bill almost from the moment it cleared both chambers of the Capitol about a week ago. There had been some strong indications that Barbour’s perfect veto record would acquire its first blemish once the legislation headed back to the House and Senate.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, in a statement released about 10 minutes ago, doused cold water on that notion.

“It is my intent to sustain the Governor’s veto and immediately move on SB 2495,” Bryant said. “This bipartisan compromise allocates nearly $40 million to restore cuts made to education. It also places a total of $16 million, including $14 million that we did not anticipate receiving, to the Department of Corrections. In all, SB 2495 restores $82 million of cuts made to state agencies for FY 10. I will continue to work with the Governor and the House leadership to reach a fair and reasonable solution without compromising the state’s savings account.”

Obviously, if enough senators vote to override Barbour’s veto, Bryant’s plan will fail. With the House all but certain to override Barbour’s veto, it will be up to Bryant to muster enough votes in the Senate to sustain it.

Barbour’s undefeated veto record has come close to entering the realm of political legend. Magnolia Marketplace will never forget Barbour’s veto last session of a bill that would have eliminated the use of eminent domain for economic development projects. The bill originally cleared the Senate 52-0. His veto was sustained with a handful of votes to spare.

“That’s the damndest thing,” said Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute, shortly afterward the Senate sustained the veto.

It sure was.

Barbour throws down amnesty gauntlet

January 7th, 2010 1 comment

The morning session of the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual A Capital Day featured the state’s education officials providing an update to attendees on, for the most part, the condition of their agencies in the middle of the Mississippi’s revenue plunge.

Superintendent of Education Dr. Tom Burnham, Higher Education Commissioner Dr. Hank Bounds and State Board of Community and Junior Colleges Executive Director Dr. Eric Clark each stressed the importance of education as a tool that can propel the state out of the national recession, and said that they would manage the budget situation the best they could.

Gov. Haley Barbour, though, provided the most substance when he took the podium at the Jackson Marriott.

As it has been for what seems like forever, Barbour’s budget forecast was grim. Fiscal year 2010′s budget will eventually be cut 8.1 percent across the board; FY2011′s budget will be cut an additional 3 to 4 percent. By the time lawmakers start the 2011 session to craft FY2012′s budget, they will have 15 percent less money than what was originally appropriated for FY2010, which started last July.

FY2010′s budget has already been cut some $226 million, but will need roughly $200 million more in cuts to balance. That’s a big reason, Barbour said, he has been pushing the Legislature to extend his authority to cut the budget from 5 percent to 10 percent.

“These cuts need to be made yesterday,” Barbour said of the additional $200 million from FY2010.

Barbour’s biggest obstacle to gaining that authority lies in the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives.

There will be disagreement within Barbour’s Republicans over the tax amnesty proposal that was included in the Joint Legislative Budget Committee’s budget recommendation. The proposal is designed to allow businesses and individuals who are delinquent on their taxes to pay them minus the penalties and interest.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant has come out strongly for the proposal, telling the Mississippi Business Journal in an extended interview in December that he sees it “as a break for small businesses.”

Barbour does not share the same view. In fact, at the Marriott this morning, the most impassioned part of his 20-minute speech came when he was slamming the amnesty proposal.

“I’m a recovering lawyer, and I know lawyers will tell their clients not to pay their taxes because they know an amnesty period will be down the road,” Barbour said. “That should not be the message we’re sending. The message should be that we will run you down and make you pay your taxes and the penalties and interest if you don’t pay them when you’re supposed to.”

That statement drew a round of applause from the 1,000 or so folks in attendance.

Barbour did say he was happy with most of the rest of the JLBC’s budget proposal, and that it dealt with real numbers and tried to achieve most of the savings he did in his executive budget plan.

Moving forward, though, the tax amnesty issue will probably — at least temporarily — drive a wedge within the Republican leadership in the Senate and Barbour. How big the wedge becomes will be one of the more interesting subplots of the session.

MEC Transformation Tour comes to Jackson

December 2nd, 2009 No comments

The Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Transformation Tour stopped in Jackson this morning at the Hilton on County Line Road.

A few hundred folks crammed into one of the hotel’s ballrooms to hear a handful of elected officials offer their take on the upcoming legislative session.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant touted the Commission for a New Mississippi’s recommendations to overhaul the state’s budgeting system. Bryant unveiled the plan Monday, and used the same arguments today as he did then.

Bryant said the state desperately needs to develop a strategic plan and tie the allocation of state funds to agencies to the components of that plan. The performance-based budgeting concept is a big part of the Commission’s goals.

“If nobody’s monitoring your level of success you’re probably not going to get much accomplished,” Bryant said. Magnolia Marketplace is writing a story for next week’s MBJ that will take a long look at the Commission’s report and try to gauge how it will play when lawmakers convene in January. Here’s a hint: Some parts of the plan stand a better chance at becoming reality than others.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann touted the new Blue Book and warned against the inclination some legislators may have for diverting 16th Section revenue from school districts to the general fund. Hosemann’s legislative agenda includes reforming the state’s LLC, trademark, tradename and uniform commercial code laws.

Institutions of Higher Learning Commissioner Dr. Hank Bounds and State Board of Community and Junior Colleges Executive Director Dr. Eric Clark both said that their respective levels of education were Mississippi’s key to properly emerging from the recession. New State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tom Burnham, who just started his second stint in that seat, echoed Bounds and Clark.

The Transformation Tour started Nov. 9 in Greenwood and will end Dec. 10 in Gulfport. In all, 12 cities across the state will host or have already hosted the event.

Hudson Holliday lays out his platform

October 16th, 2009 No comments

First-term Pearl River County District 3 Supervisor Hudson Holliday retired from the Mississippi Army National Guard in 2004 as a one-star general.

His campaign for the Republican nomination for governor is less than a week old, but he’s already bringing a military style to it. It could be summed up in three words.

Ready.

“I feel compelled to do it,” Holliday said.

Aim.

“I really do think that people are fed up with professional politicians,” he continued.

Fire.

“Phil Bryant was a deputy sheriff (before serving in the Legislature and then being appointed to the State Auditor’s office). What does he know? He’s never created the first job. He has never hired anybody. He’s never paid workman’s comp insurance on anybody. He’s never had to deal with withholdings or regulations. Now he’s been in Jackson (for several years). He’s just moved up that political ladder. What does he know about that contractor that’s out there in the mud trying to build a building? He’s never been there.”

Then Holliday reloaded.

“What in the world does Tate Reeves know about what’s going on out in the (rural areas)? He’s a bean counter. Did he ever serve in the military?”

Spokespersons for Bryant and Reeves did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Holliday’s campaign will attempt to draw a contrast between him and Bryant, the lieutenant governor who has said he will seek the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2011; and Reeves, the Republican state treasurer who has not committed one way or the other as far as 2011 goes but is thought to a strong possibility for the governor’s race.

In about a 22-minute conversation with Magnolia Marketplace this morning, Holliday touted his experience in the small business world. His background is diverse. He has owned and operated a construction company, developed subdivisions as a homebuilder, established a crop-dusting service, farmed and run a timber-cutting business.

He also served as a deputy sheriff under his brother, the former sheriff of Pearl River County.

“There’s not a whole lot that goes on in Mississippi that I don’t understand,” Holliday, 65, said. “I’ll just be honest with you, I’m tired. I’m tired of us leaving our future up to professional politicians that too often, not all of them, are more concerned about their future than they are ours. They’re just looking for the next ladder to climb instead of making hard decisions.”

Holliday said he’s mulled over the idea of running for governor for about six months. He will run as a Republican, he said, but he’s “not proud of either one of the parties. I think they’re the downfall of this country, to tell you the truth. I’m not sure a Democrat could be elected in a governor’s race.

“I believe good government suffers when good people don’t get involved. I’m going to get involved. I’m not going to sit at the house and complain about the way things are when I know I can do something about it.”

Holliday was elected to his current post last year. It was the first time he had jumped into the political arena. He realizes that name recognition and fundraising ability will be major issues against opponents who have plenty of both.

He’s depending on his time in the military to spread the word about his candidacy.

“When I was in the Guard, I had units from Southaven to Pascagoula, from West Point to Vicksburg, all those units reported to me,” Holliday said. “They know who I am. The Guard won’t elect you, but it is a seed source that I can expand to just about every community in this state. I assure you the Guard will be behind me 100 percent. That opens doors for me to come into North Mississippi.”

Magnolia Marketplace was unable to confirm Holliday’s assertion that he is the first sitting county supervisor to seek the governor’s office. He hopes his experience with the ground level of politics will gain him the support of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors.

“That’s the political leaders in every county,” he said. “The majority of supervisors are Democrat. If I could get through the Republican nomination I will pick up a lot of the Democratic supervisors. They realize that I understand the problems that they face.”

The role of governor, Holliday believes, should be built around two things: Developing a vision for the state and providing the leadership to get there. If the state were a group of folks walking through the woods in the dark, he said, the governor should be the one holding a flashlight.

“You’re destined to look where the guy that has the flashlight is shining the light. His job is to lead us out of the woods and onto the highway of prosperity.”

An antique car enthusiast, Holliday is already rebuilding a 1942 International pickup and plans to outfit it with campaign billboards in time to drive it across the state visiting coffee shops, cafes, truck stops and restaurants and community festivals.

“I’m never gonna have the money Phil Bryant and those guys are going to have,” Holliday said. “It’s going to be a battle but I think people are hungry. I’m one of us. That’s the message.”