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Tuck: No run for statewide office in 2007

With candidates already scrambling for support for Mississippi’s 2007 elections, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck on Wednesday answered the biggest question of coming political season.

Tuck, 43, told a Neshoba County Fair crowd that she will not run for any statewide office next year.

State law limits any lieutenant governor to two, four-year terms, and Republican Tuck has a year and a half left on her second term. She had been rumored as a possible candidate for state auditor or secretary of state.

Responding to reporters’ questions after the speech, Tuck would not say whether she’ll run for another office in the future. She said she prayed for guidance in this decision, telling only her mother and a few close relatives and friends before making her public announcement.

Speaking in a steady voice, Tuck told an audience of several hundred under the tin roof of Founder’s Square Pavilion: “Though I may not be your elected public servant when my tenure as lieutenant governor ends, I take comfort in the fact that although none of us knows what the future holds, I know who holds the future and I trust Him completely with my future.”

Her announcement appeared to leave many in the audience in stunned silence. At least two people shouted “No!”

Carolyn Stewart of Raymond, a retired teacher who’s been going to the Neshoba County Fair every year since the 1960s, said she voted for Tuck in 2003.

“I’m sorry that Amy Tuck is going to hang it up, but I think her priorities are in the right order — faith, family and friends,” Stewart said.

The Neshoba County Fair is a gathering in the red clay hills of east central Mississippi, where generations of families and friends live in rows of rainbow-hued, two-story cabins for eight days. The fair has long been considered one of the state’s premier political campaign stops, featuring two days of political speeches each year by everyone from governors to would-be congressmen.

Gov. Haley Barbour, Attorney General Jim Hood, State Auditor Phil Bryant, Secretary of State Eric Clark, Treasurer Tate Reeves and Insurance Commissioner George Dale are among the speakers Thursday.

Tuck, who grew up in the tiny north Mississippi community of Maben, was elected lieutenant governor as a Democrat in 1999. She switched to the Republican Party in late 2002, and won a second term as lieutenant governor a year later. She was an unsuccessful candidate for secretary of state in 1995, losing a close Democratic Primary to Clark. Tuck served five years before that in the state Senate.

Tuck on Wednesday said she was proud of the multiple-year teacher pay package that was passed during her first term and the local bridge replacement program she pushed while in the Senate.

She said she’ll continue trying to increase the tax on cigarettes and decrease the tax on groceries. Mississippi has one of the lowest cigarette tax rates in the nation, at 18 cents a pack. It also has the highest state grocery tax, at 7 percent.

“In recent weeks, many health care advocacy groups have requested meetings with me and they have asked me to continue to work to correct this imbalance,” Tuck said.

She said increasing the cigarette tax would reduce state health care costs in the future and would prevent some young people from starting to smoke.

During the legislative session this year, Tuck found herself at odds with Barbour when she pushed an increase in the cigarette tax and a decrease in the grocery tax. Barbour vetoed both bills, and Senate leaders could not muster enough support for a two-thirds majority to override either veto.

Some political observers immediately started speculating whether Tuck’s announcement would dilute her ability to guide legislation through the Senate next year.

House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said he believes she will still be effective. He said while he and Tuck have disagreed on some issues over the years, “we have never had a cross word.”

Sen. Stacey Pickering, R-Soso, also said he thinks Tuck will still have a promising political future if she decides to seek another office.

“She’s tenacious,” Pickering said. “She does what’s right for the state, so I don’t think her leadership will be affected.”

Pickering — a cousin of U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering — plans to run for state auditor in 2007 if, as expected, Bryant announces plans to run for lieutenant governor. Tuck’s announcement Wednesday could boost Pickering’s ability to raise campaign cash by taking a formidable potential candidate out of the equation in the auditor’s race.