Republican Ross pledges to be ‘work horse’ as lt. governor

Published 4:08 pm Thursday, August 2, 2007

Charlie Ross, a 51-year-old attorney and state senator, is not a flashy guy. That’s something he readily acknowledges while campaigning for Mississippi’s second-highest elected office.

“We need to elect a work horse to lieutenant governor, not a show horse. I am not a show horse,” Ross told about a dozen members of the Florence Lions Club recently during a lunch meeting at a fish house off U.S. 49.

Ross faces state Auditor Phil Bryant in next Tuesday’s Republican primary for lieutenant governor. The incumbent, Republican Amy Tuck, is limited to two terms and couldn’t run again.

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The winner of the GOP primary will face Democratic state Rep. Jamie Franks of Mooreville in the Nov. 6 general election.

The lieutenant governor has enormous control over policy proposals at the state Capitol by presiding over the 52-member Senate, appointing committee chairman and assigning bills to committees.

Ross and Bryant are jostling over who would be the closer ally for Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who is widely expected to win a second term.

“You look at my record. I’ve been there with him on tort reform. I’ve been there with him on balancing the budget,” Ross told the civic-club members as they finished their catfish. “I was the leader of the forces to sustain his veto on things like Mike Moore’s Partnership, while my opponent was serving on the board of Mike Moore’s Partnership.”

The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi was a private, nonprofit group that used to receive $20 million a year to fight the use of tobacco. Moore, a Democrat who served four terms as attorney general, sued cigarette makers in the 1990s to recover public costs of treating sick smokers.

Moore obtained a court order in 2000 diverting part of Mississippi’s tobacco lawsuit settlement to the Partnership. In the past four years, Barbour sued to stop funding of the Partnership, and the group went out of business in May.

“Every tough fight — I’ve been there,” Ross said. “I like the governor. I trust his judgment. I believe in his philosophy.”

Ross and Bryant both live in the Republican stronghold of Rankin County. Although Barbour is staying out of the lieutenant governor’s race, one of the governor’s older brothers, Jeppie Barbour, is a paid member of Ross’ campaign staff.

Ross has been in the Senate 10 years, after serving one year in the state House of Representatives. He won the House seat after Bryant left the job when then-Gov. Kirk Fordice appointed Bryant as auditor.

In this race, Ross is endorsed by the National Rifle Association and Mississippi Right to Life.

J.T. Morgan of Florence, a former Rankin County Chamber of Commerce president who attended the Lions Club meeting where Ross spoke, said he has known Ross and Bryant for years and likes both. Morgan said he is backing Ross because he has seen the senator working at the Capitol.

“I just believe he’s got the experience that’s necessary to get … the bills through the system without getting bogged down,” said Morgan, a businessman and Church of Christ minister. “Him being a conservative as he is, he’s got a good track record.”

Ross was educated in Webster County public schools, the Air Force Academy and Harvard Law School. Even on casual days at the Capitol, the father of three sons and former fighter pilot is always clean-shaven and wears neatly creased trousers and a tucked-in shirt. He usually speaks in a near monotone and rarely cracks a smile during policy debates.

Ross spent six years on active military duty before law school. As a member of the Mississippi Air National Guard, he piloted a C-141 during Desert Storm.

In a rare moment of swagger, Ross elicited chuckles from the Lions Club members as he recalled going up in a military jet a few years ago with a trainer from Columbus Air Force Base. After they were off the ground, the trainer let Ross take over the controls.

“It had been 10 years since I had flown a military jet, maybe a little bit longer. I was so excited,” Ross said. “I called my wife, Sharon, and I said, ‘Baby, I don’t want to brag, but I still got it.’”

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