Hardworking Franks hoping to become next lieutenant governor

Published 6:08 pm Friday, November 2, 2007

All his life, Jamie Franks has worked hard.

Born to factory-employed parents, Franks didn’t have much growing up, so he found ways to earn extra money. He hauled hay and cut firewood in the winter. By junior high, he had a lawn care business that paid his way through Itawamba Community College. A second company he founded, North Mississippi Horticulture Services, allowed him to graduate from the University of Mississippi debt-free.

That’s why it’s not surprising to see how much energy the Democrat expends to persuade people to elect him lieutenant governor.

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His work may be cut out for him as he faces the challenge of defeating an opponent with name recognition. Republican Phil Bryant has served as state auditor since 1996.

Franks also may have to overcome the momentum downticket races could get from Republican Gov. Haley Barbour’s re-election campaign.

Walking along the streets of Yazoo City in a dark, pinstriped suit on an unseasonably warm day this week, Franks introduced himself to nearly everyone he passed and gave them campaign literature that features pictures of his wife, Lisa, and his two sons, 7-year-old Jase and 3-year-old Nicholas. Franks had just come from Canton, and before the sun set he will have made campaign stops in Belzoni, Greenwood and Grenada.

Franks visited with Yazoo City Mayor McArthur Straughter, a Democrat, to talk about the anticipated election turnout on Tuesday, as well as some of the issues that appear to be resonating with voters.

“That sales tax on groceries,” Straughter told Franks. “People say if they can get some relief on that, that would help. You don’t have to ask them about it. If you see them in the grocery store, they’ll tell you.”

A proposed tax swap has been one of the main points of Franks’ platform and his position differs from Bryant’s.

Franks has voted for legislation that would have reduced Mississippi’s 7 percent sales tax and increased the excise tax on tobacco products. The proposal was vetoed twice by Barbour in 2006.

Bryant, who served in the Mississippi House from 1992-1996, said he wouldn’t support a tax swap unless there’s a study that show the proposal is feasible.

Franks wants the opportunity to debate Bryant on that issue and many others. He’s frustrated by what he calls his opponent’s unwillingness to spar with him in public. Bryant’s campaign has said scheduling conflicts have prevented the two from debating, but the candidates have made joint appearances.

“I wish Phil Bryant will come out and face the people … answer questions in front of an audience where he doesn’t have his handlers telling him what to say,” Franks told a crowd earlier this week at the Stennis Institute of Government-Capitol Press luncheon in Jackson.

Bryant also had been invited to the luncheon, which featured a question-and-answer session, but he was traveling with the governor that day.

Franks and Bryant are vying for the seat left open by Republican Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who was limited to two terms. The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and appoints the chairmen of committees that decide the fate of bills.

Franks, who practices law in Tupelo, first ran for office in 1995. At the age of 22, Franks won the House District 19 seat comprised of Itawamba, Lee and Tishomingo counties. He could not simultaneously run for that seat and the statewide office this year.

During his tenure in the Legislature, Franks said he has supported conservative causes like anti-abortion bills. He also touts his work on economic development, including support for the incentive packages for the Nissan plant in Madison County and the under-construction Toyota facility in northeast Mississippi.

On the stump, he promises to push for full funding of public education and find ways to make health care more affordable and accessible.

“He’s a bulldog. He fights tenaciously, unendingly and unceasingly for those causes he believes in. You have to respect a man like that,” said House Public Health Committee Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville. “You can always bank on Jamie being on the side of the least, last and most vulnerable. Those that don’t have a paid voice in the Capitol.”

After he finished making his rounds at the Yazoo County Courthouse, Franks asked for the vote of a man with a familiar last name.

“I’m Jamie Franks and I’m running for lieutenant governor,” Franks said to a man who identified himself as Wiley Barbour.

“Now, you know who I’m kin to,” the governor’s brother said with a laugh.

“Who you vote for in the governor’s race is your own business,” Franks said. “I just need your vote in the lieutenant governor’s race.”