Tuck ends tour

Published 4:19 pm Friday, January 11, 2008

Amy Tuck did her first work at the Mississippi Capitol as a 16-year-old page, a country girl from Maben who fetched copies of bills and ran small errands for senators.

On Thursday, 44-year-old Tuck left the Capitol after completing eight years as lieutenant governor, the Senate’s presiding officer.

She is only the second woman to serve in the state’s second-highest elected job. Because of a two-term limit, she couldn’t seek re-election in 2007 and she opted not to seek any other office.

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Tuck begins her new job Friday at her alma mater, Mississippi State University, as special assistant to President Robert “Doc” Foglesong.

As Tuck presided over the Senate for the final time, Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, told the freshmen lawmakers that they were witnessing history. He recalled his first few days in the Senate 28 years ago, when the only other female lieutenant governor, Evelyn Gandy, was filling the final days of her term.

“Maybe 28 years from today, some of you may say ’I served three days with Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck,”’ Dearing said. “Amy Tuck has been a wonderful lieutenant governor. She has served this state with remarkable courage.”

Senators, staff members and spectators gave her a standing ovation.

“Indeed, it has been an honor to serve with each one of you,” Tuck said with a smile. “As we move forward from today, I wish God’s blessings on each one of you.”

Tuck was 26 when she won a special election to fill an open Senate seat in north Mississippi. She served five years before running for the open job of secretary of state in 1995, a race she lost in a tight Democratic primary to Eric Clark, who also ended his tenure in office Thursday.

In 1996, Tuck was appointed as secretary of the Senate, the chamber’s top administrative officer. That job kept her inside political circles, and she spent four years traveling the state on her own time to keep in touch with her supporters.

In 1999, Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove ran for governor and left the lieutenant governorship up for grabs. Tuck defeated Democratic state Sen. Grey Ferris of Vicksburg in the Democratic primary, then defeated Republican state Sen. Bill Hawks of Hernando in the general election.

She switched to the Republican Party in late 2002, and won her second term as lieutenant governor less than a year later.

In an interview Thursday, Tuck said her proudest accomplishments over the past eight years include approval of funding for education, improvements for health care and protection for the elderly.

Any regrets?

“Well, there were some,” she said with a chuckle. “I would’ve liked to have seen the grocery tax reduction.”

In 2006 and 2007, Tuck had her only major public disagreements with Gov. Haley Barbour over her proposals to pair a decrease in the grocery tax with an increase in the cigarette tax. Barbour, a Republican, vetoed “tax swap” bills in 2006, and one of his allies blocked consideration of the issue last year.

Sen. Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, told reporters that he’ll always remember when he was a freshman in 1992, he came back from a lunch break and saw Tuck — then a senator — sitting cross-legged on the Senate floor, playing jacks with one of the young women who was paging that week.

“It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen,” Kirby said. “But it tells you the relationship she has with people, how she connects with them.”

Tuck’s final official action Thursday was to preside over a joint assembly of the House and Senate for the swearing in of seven statewide officials, including her successor, Republican Phil Bryant.

Tuck ended her brief remarks at the assembly with a message for the teenage pages.

“Not only can you dream your dreams in Mississippi, but you can live them and fulfill them right here in Mississippi,” Tuck said. “And I hope that I just represent a small example of that.”