Bryant wins lieutenant governor race

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 7, 2007

JACKSON (AP) — Republican Phil Bryant will be Mississippi’s next lieutenant governor after defeating Democrat state Rep. Jamie Franks on Tuesday.

Bryant, 52, who served five years in the state House and has been state auditor since 1996, touted himself as a conservative and close ally of Barbour. He also made promises to crack down on illegal immigration and criminals.

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.

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Franks said he wanted to cut the state’s 7 percent grocery tax in half and increase the excise tax on cigarettes. It’s a proposal that was vetoed twice by Gov. Haley 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.

Bryant of Brandon said he was against the tax cut without a study to support whether it’s feasible.

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 of Mooreville 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 stood up for Mississippi values and now I’m going to do that as your next lieutenant governor,’’ Franks said during a recent stump speech.

Franks accused Bryant of botching an investigation of a failed beef plant that cost the state millions of dollars. He also said Bryant, if elected, would be little more than a ‘‘rubber stamp’’ for Barbour, who won re-election on Tuesday and whose policies have not always favored working-class Mississippians.

The two were vying for the open seat being vacated by Republican Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who did not run for a third time because of term limits.

The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and appoints the chairman of committees that decide the fate of bills. Over the past four years, the Senate has supported many of Barbour’s legislative proposals.

Bryant issued an audit report in 2006 saying illegal immigrants cost Mississippi $25 million a year for education, health care and other social services. He said he would push for mandatory life sentences for second-offense drug dealers and expand the state’s sex offender registry to include those convicted of crimes against children and the elderly.

Franks had faced the challenge of overcoming an opponent with name recognition. If elected, he said he would make education funding a priority, promote economic development throughout the state and make health care more affordable and accessible.

Franks also said he wanted to fix the insurance crisis created after Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.