Luckett slams Bryant, DuPree runs on own record

Published 3:22 pm Thursday, August 11, 2011

One of the Democrats running for Mississippi governor is sharpening his criticism of the Republican nominee, while the other says he’s running on his own record and not talking about other candidates.

During a news conference Tuesday outside the state Capitol, Clarksdale attorney and businessman Bill Luckett said Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant has hurt state employees by making them pay more toward their own retirement. The Democrat also said Bryant has fallen short on education funding.

“I’m going to focus on keeping Phil Bryant out of this state Capitol,” Luckett said. “I want to retire him at the end of December.”

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Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, who finished ahead of Luckett last week in the four-man Democratic primary, said in a separate interview that he’s running on his own record that includes work as a businessman, school board member, county supervisor and mayor.

“I don’t think it elevates anybody by getting down in the dirt with another candidate,” DuPree told The Associated Press. “I think voters get enough of that from Washington. They don’t need that down here.”

DuPree and Luckett compete in an Aug. 23 runoff for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Bryant won a five-person contest for the Republican nomination.

“Phil is looking forward to addressing issues of substance with whomever eventually wins the Democratic runoff,” Bryant campaign spokesman Dan Turner said in an email Tuesday. “After the Democrats settle on a candidate, there will be plenty of time for voters to weigh Phil’s principles, experience and leadership against whomever the other party chooses.”

Turner did not respond to specific points from Luckett.

At the request of Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, a bipartisan group of lawmakers voted last year to require state and local government employees to pay 9 percent of their paychecks toward their own retirement, up from 7.25 percent. The change took effect July 1, 2010, and is in effect for two years. It was intended to shore up the Mississippi Public Employees Retirement System.

Luckett said Tuesday that Bryant, who presides over the Senate as lieutenant governor, “has been meddling with PERS.”

“Don’t mess with people’s retirements,” Luckett said. “He is, in effect, changing the rules of the game during the game.”

DuPree did not criticize Bryant or any other state official about the increase in public employees’ contributions toward their own retirement. He said that as mayor, he and the city council had to tell city employees that they had to pay more toward their retirement through PERS.

“That was one of the toughest things we had to do,” DuPree said.

DuPree said to ease the financial strain for the Hattiesburg government employees, the city picked up the tab when the cost of the workers’ health insurance increased.

Luckett said that Bryant, as lieutenant governor since January 2008, has not ensured full funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. The complex formula, put into state law in 1997, is designed to ensure that all school districts receive enough money to meet midlevel academic standards.

Funding for MAEP has fallen short most years since it was adopted, mostly because lawmakers have stretched tight budgets to cover a wide variety of state services, from health care to transportation to education.

“I vow to you and I pledge to you that I will see that MAEP is fully funded,” Luckett said Tuesday.

DuPree said: “This whole election season, I’ve said that MAEP needs to be totally funded.”

DuPree also said the state needs to keep its commitment to other parts of education funding, including ensuring that teachers receive enough money to buy classroom supplies. He said many educators — including his daughter, who teaches first grade in Jackson — pay for supplies out of their own pockets.

The Nov. 8 general election ballot for governor will have Bryant, the Democratic nominee and independent Will Oatis of Silver Creek. Two rival factions of the Reform Party also want to run a candidate for governor. After Aug. 23, the state Election Commission could decide which Reform candidate, if either, will be on the ballot.

Barbour is limited to two terms and cannot run for governor again this year.