Franks: Economic issues are dividing line in lt. gov’s race

Published 3:51 pm Wednesday, May 16, 2007

State Rep. Jamie Franks, the only Democrat running for lieutenant governor this year, says that on social issues such as banning abortion and same-sex marriage, he’s at least as conservative as the two Republicans in the race.

“The real issues that we are going to talk about once you set those aside, are economics, education and things of that nature that affect the everyday lives of the people of this state,” Franks, 34, said during a news conference Tuesday at the Capitol.

“You can count on Jamie Franks, when it comes to social issues, to be on the conservative side,” he said.

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Franks, an attorney, is traveling the state this week to launch his campaign two and a half months after candidates’ March 1 qualifying deadline. He has served three terms in the Mississippi House of Representatives in a northeast Mississippi district that includes parts of Lee, Itawamba and Tishomingo counties.

The Republicans running for lieutenant governor this year are state Auditor Phil Bryant and state Sen. Charlie Ross, both from Rankin County. The winner of the Aug. 7 GOP primary will face Franks in the Nov. 6 general election.

The current lieutenant governor, Republican Amy Tuck, is term-limited and couldn’t run this year. The office is one of the most powerful in the state because the lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate and appoints committee chairmen. The lieutenant governor also assigns bills to committees — a task that often determines which proposals survive.

Franks said if he’s elected, one of his first actions would be to push a bill that would reduce the sales tax on groceries and increase the tax on cigarettes. Franks has voted for similar bills that have passed the House the past two years. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed two cigarette-grocery “tax swap” bills in 2006, and Barbour’s allies — including Ross — blocked a bill from passing the Senate this year.

“It is a shame when you have one of the poorest states in the union, but you have the highest sales tax on food,” Franks said Tuesday.

Sue Livingston of Pearl, a longtime Democrat who attended Franks’ news conference at the Capitol, said the state Senate needs new committee chairmen and “some fresh and new ideas.” She said she likes Franks’ ideas about health care and education.

“He’s always been a real straight-up guy,” said Livingston, who has known Franks since 1995.

Ross and Bryant have started collecting endorsements from business groups and from other public officials — and campaign finance reports filed last week show they have raised more money than Franks:

— Franks reported having $599,867 cash on hand and raising $144,412 from January through April. Franks has given his own campaign $549,624, according to an earlier finance report.

— Ross reported having just over $1.1 million cash on hand and raising $441,155 from January through April.

— Bryant reported having $800,308 cash on hand and raising $474,215 from January through April.