Bryant visits Picayune, speaks to Rotarians

Published 2:33 pm Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Republican gubernatorial candidate, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, campaigned in Picayune Tuesday morning and spoke to a noon luncheon of the Picayune Rotary Club at Magnolia Columns during the club’s annual installation ceremonies.

Bryant, who left immediately after his short address to fly to Jackson for an editorial board meeting with Clarion-Ledger editors and a 3 p.m. meeting with Gov. Haley Barbour, urged Rotarians to “get involved with elective office.”.

He reviewed how he began his political career and told Rotarians that “you can make a difference in the world through elective office.

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“It really is an honor to serve,” he said.

Bryant faces four opponents in the Aug. 2 GOP First Primary: Former state employee, Baptist preacher and Tea Party activist James Broadwater; Gulfport businessman and contractor Dave Dennis; Poplarville businessman, retired two-star general and supervisor Hudson Holliday; and Moss Point businessman Ron Williams, who owns a hazmat service business.

If no one gets a majority of votes cast in the Aug. 2 primary, the top two vote-getters will meet in a second primary on Aug. 23.

The winner will face one of four Democrats in the Nov. 8 General Election: Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny L. DuPree, Clarksdale attorney Bill Luckett, Meridian high school science teacher William Bond Compton, Jr., or former Yalobusha County tax assessor Guy Dale Shaw of Coffeeville.

Jackson pundits right now say Bryant is the odds-on favorite to win the GOP race, unless a dark horse, such as Dennis or Holliday, can knock him off. They are given little chance of doing so.

Bryant has an air of confidence about him and on Tuesday touted his record and service in state government. He was introduced by friend and one-time fellow legislator State Rep. Mark Formby (R-Picayune). Bryant served as a state legislator from Rankin County. He said he decided to enter public service when he and Formby met former President Reagan. “It changed my life and direction,” he said.

He got his big break in 1996 when Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice named him State Auditor. Bryant told Rotarians that he really did not formally accept the position. He said Fordice told him he was going to name him State Auditor, and “told me to go home and tell my wife and be back here quickly so we can swear you in.”

The Moorhead native, son of a diesel mechanic, zeroed in as State Auditor on malefactors, and during his tenure recovered $12 million of taxpayer funds either embezzled or improperly spent by Mississippi public officials, Bryant told Rotarians.

Labeling himself “a strong fiscal conservative,” Bryant ran for lieutenant governor in 2007 and won with 59 percent of the vote. He ticked off a list of reforms he pushed while lieutenant governor and said his main goal was to make public officials responsible and answerable to taxpayers and voters both fiscally and ethically.

He said he led efforts to open up public meetings by strengthening the state public meetings law, and for citizens to get easier access to public records. He said he also pushed for tough immigration measures and enforcement, while opening up the legislative process by leading a successful effort to broadcast legislative sessions live on the Internet. He said he faced tough opposition when he first broached the subject of Internet broadcasts.

He also bewailed the recent redistricting efforts on the part of the legislature, calling the process corrupt, and said some legislators try to “draw out” their opponents from their districts. He said that is why he put forth his own redistricting plan in the last legislative session.

As lieutenant governor, Bryant presides over, the State Senate. The lieutenant governor’s post is one of the most powerful offices in state government.