Bryant defeats Franks in lieutenant governor’s race

Published 6:56 pm Wednesday, November 7, 2007

After winning the lieutenant governor’s race, Republican Phil Bryant reiterated his pledge to work closely with Gov. Haley Barbour and promised to make voter identification one of his priorities next legislative session.

Bryant, who defeated Democratic state Rep. Jamie Franks of Mooreville on Tuesday, will preside over the 52-member Senate as lieutenant governor, where he’ll appoint lawmakers to lead key committees that will decide the fate of bills.

“For too long we have talked about voter ID. It is time that we do it, and I pledge to that in the Senate in the first 30 days,” Bryant said during his victory party at the Marriott hotel in downtown Jackson.

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A federal judge ruled this summer that the state must adopt a party registration system for the 2009 elections and require potential voters to show a photo ID at the polls. The ruling also ordered the Legislature to enact a voter identification law. The ruling by U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper has been appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We’re going to get a real voter ID program,” Bryant said.

Bryant, 52, served five years in the state House and has been state auditor since 1996. He entered the race against Franks with an edge — name recognition.

Franks, 34, who was first elected to the state House in 1995, made a tax cut proposal one of the main topics in the race since the lieutenant governor could influence how far legislation could advance in the next session.

While Franks said he wanted to cut the state’s 7 percent grocery tax in half and increase the excise tax on cigarettes, Bryant said he was against the plan without a study to support its feasibility.

The tax swap proposal was vetoed twice by Barbour in 2006 and didn’t make it out of a state Senate committee this year. The proposal will likely be presented again when the 2008 Legislature convenes in January.

Barbour has said that he would review the state’s antiquated tax code with the goal of reducing taxes — an initiative Bryant said he supported.

In advertisements and campaign literature, Bryant and the Mississippi Republican Party portrayed Franks as a liberal trial lawyer who had close connections to high-profile national Democrats, such as presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

Franks pointed to his voting record in the House to illustrate his conservative values. He had supported bans on partial birth abortions and homosexual adoptions and is anti-abortion.

“I’m surprised that things turned out the way they did,” Franks said Tuesday. “I know the people of Mississippi wanted tax relief for working families.”

Even with the loss, Franks gained ground, said Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University.

“He proved himself to be a very viable candidate,” Wiseman said. “He’s an up and comer in the state Democratic Party. It’s a party badly in need of great new talent to bring everybody back under the tin and he fits the bill perfectly.”

Bryant succeeds Republican Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who did not run for a third time because of term limits. Over the past four years, the Senate has supported many of Barbour’s legislative proposals and could be poised to do so again under Bryant’s leadership.