Spell wins GOP nomination for agriculture commissioner

Published 4:13 pm Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Incumbent Agriculture Commissioner Lester Spell survived criticism over his role in promoting a failed beef plant project to win Tuesday’s Republican primary.

Spell, who was running for the first time as a Republican after being elected three times as a Democrat, defeated Max Phillips of Taylorsville. Incomplete and unofficial returns show Spell with 54 percent of the vote. Phillips had 46 percent.

Spell, who will face Democrat Rickey Cole of Jackson in November, said apparently voters had moved past the issues related to the beef plant debacle.

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Spell was a member of the Land, Water and Timber Resources Board that made the decision to allow the Mississippi Beef Processors plant to open in Yalobusha County. The plant operated for only three months in 2004, and its abrupt closing left the state of Mississippi holding a $43.5 million bill on a defaulted loan and 400 people without jobs.

“I think that the people have spoken on that issue. We’re putting that behind us and we’re going ahead,” Spell said Tuesday.

Spell said he wants a fourth term to continue work on food safety programs and other projects that produce Mississippi’s agricultural industry.

“We’re going to continue to be vigilant on the front of food safety. We’re going to work with agriculture business to help create jobs,” Spell said.

In other races:

— Rob Smith of Richland won the Democratic nomination for the open job of secretary of state. Smith had 73 percent of the vote, defeating Jabari Toins and John Windsor, both of Jackson.

— Republican Delbert Hosemann of Jackson, with 54 percent of the vote, defeated Mike Lott of Petal, Jeffrey Rupp of Starkville and Gene Sills of Crystal Springs, winning the GOP nomination for secretary of state.

— Todd Brand of Bailey and Mike Sumrall of Mt. Olive will face each other in an Aug. 28 runoff election for the Democratic nomination for state auditor. The two defeated a third candidate, Jacob Ray of Jackson. Republican Stacey Pickering of Laurel was unopposed.

There were no primary contests for attorney general and state treasurer.