By Bob Pittman
special from The Independent
A select group of Democrats gathered quietly in Hattiesburg this weekend to talk about their plans for the 2008 campaign for governor in Mississippi.
They made it known they have their candidate. In fact, they acknowledged that they have already held meetings in Meridian and Columbus to line up support for the candidate and they advised that similar other meetings are scheduled around the state. More importantly, they announced that they have already begun to raise money for “her” campaign.
Lieutenant Governor Amy Tuck, the Republican leader of the Senate who two weeks ago initiated a popular sales tax reduction on groceries.
Her proposed reduction of the sales tax on groceries won instant approval from the Senate and the House of Representatives. Now it awaits action by Republican Governor Haley Barbour, who had earlier voiced his opposition to any tax increase or decrease in this post hurricane legislative session.
Tuck’s tax reduction measure also included a tax increase on tobacco. The two proposals, however, are not “revenue neutral.” Reports from the capital are that the reduction of the sales tax on groceries, even with the increased tax on tobacco products, could mean an annual net loss to the state’s General Fund of about $75 million.
The Independent reported in mid summer in 2005 that Tuck was considering a return to the Democrat Party after having been approached by Democrats who were encouraging her to come back to the party and, as a reward, gain their support as the party’s choice for the governor’s race in 2008.
Tuck denied the report at that time.
It is significant, however, that in recent weeks she has taken a decidedly independent stance in her role as lieutenant governor, separating herself from Governor Barbour who warmly welcomed her to the Republican ranks three years ago, just before she announced as a candidate for lieutenant governor.
It was about that same time that her political campaign debt of about a half million dollars to the state’s most prominent trial lawyer, Richard Scruggs, was marked “paid.”
In recent weeks, the Lieutenant Governor has split with Governor Barbour on these issues:
1. She took the opposite side from the Governor when he initiated legal action to end the $20 million annual payments of state money to a private foundation created by then state Attorney General Mike Moore, a Democrat. Tuck joined present Democrat Attorney General Jim Hood in opposing the Governor’s attempt to place the funds, which have no cutoff date, under legislative control, as required, the Governor contended, by the Constitution. This issue is still in court.
2. Tuck announced her support for state funding for a three-county plan to create a 1,500-acre “mega site” as a lure for a possible location of an automobile assembly plant in northeast Mississippi. The state would fund a $15 million bond issue for the counties to acquire the site although there are no current prospects for location at the site. Tuck lined up with Democrat House Speaker Billy McCoy in supporting the proposal although the Governor had voiced his opposition, holding that state funds should be set aside for such projects only when there is a commitment from a company to locate at the site and create a sufficient number of jobs.
3. And Tuck’s advocacy for the tax increase on tobacco while, at the same time lowering the sales tax on food, flew in the face of Governor Barbour’s opposition to any tax increase. The Governor has said he is opposed to any change in the state’s tax structure until he has more information on the cost of recovery from Hurricane Katrina. One Democrat who has reportedly been encouraging Tuck to return to the party and who has offered his support for her as a Democrat candidate for Governor is Senator Jack Gordon, who was appointed by the Republican Lieutenant Governor as chair of the powerful and influential Senate Committee on Appropriations. As committee chair, Gordon is also a member of the Legislative Budget Committee, a House-Senate committee that holds strong influence on state taxation and spending.
Serving her second term as Lieutenant Governor, Tuck is term limited in that office, which means she may not seek re-election to the position. This means that if she is to remain in state office she must choose another position and offer as a candidate if the position is elective or she must be appointed to another office.
Meanwhile, Democrats are planning other meetings around the state as they attempt to build a war chest for the Republican Lieutenant Governor who may become the Democrats’ candidate for Governor in 2008.