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Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant campaigns along Gulf Coast

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who wants to be governor, made a campaign swing along the Mississippi Gulf Coast on Monday and Tuesday, and Tuesday afternoon he campaigned in Picayune. He arrived in a huge, plush motor home with campaign logos emblazoned on the sides.

On his first-of-the-week tour, he opened campaign offices in Vancleave and Gulfport, attended a Biloxi fish fry with 150 supporters, breakfasted in Bay St. Louis  early Tuesday morning with officials there, came to Picayune later in the day, lunching with local GOP officials at Don’s Seafood and visiting the Pennies for Your Park construction site. Then he dropped by the Item office to discuss his candidacy for governor.

Lunching with him at Don’s were Sheriff David Allison, Picayune Mayor Ed Pinero, Jr., City Councilman Wayne Gouguet, State Rep. Mark Formby (R-Picayune) and other local GOP supporters and officials.

After the Item interview, he headed north, stopping in Laurel on Wednesday and was scheduled today to compaign in Granada and Southhaven.

Bryant is considered the front-runner in the race for the GOP nomination. The first primary is Aug. 2, 110 days away. Bryant certainly has the most campaign resources.

He said his No. 1 priority as governor will be “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

“We are at little bit below 10 percent unemployment, and if you can’t get people working, everything tends to break down,” he said.

He said he would institute state programs that would help Mississippi employers create jobs in the state. “We go to Japan and create all kinds of incentives for these foreign companies to come to Mississippi. Why not do it for and help our own people?” he asked.

“Without jobs, good-paying jobs, nothing will happen for our people,” said Bryant, who served as State Auditor for 11 years, and now as lieutenant governor, is President of the State Senate. He is in his first term as lieutenant governor.

Some say the lieutenant governor’s post in Mississippi is more powerful than the governor’s since the lieutenant governor, as Senate President, appoints Senate committee chairmen and can help guide legislative proposals through the maize of Senate hurdles some measures have to pass over.

Bryant also managed to mention that he has family in Pearl River County. Bob and Betty Applewhite of Poplarville are his uncle and aunt through his wife, Deborah’s side of the family.

He and Deborah have two children, Katie and Patrick.

Bryant is in the center of all the political issues in Mississippi and has years of experience in state government, which he says is needed if one is to move the state forward.

He says the redistricting issue was “a mess,” and he took the unprecedented step of introducing his own redistricting plan in the Senate when he felt districts around Hattiesburg were being gerrymandered to the detriment of Republicans.

“We have tried to be fair,” said Bryant. “And I have tried to pull the curtain back on it. It is a bunch of powerful politicians drawing lines to benefit themselves.”

“The House wanted to draw a plan where the vast majority of district would have favored Democrats,” he added.

Eventually, the State Legislature adjourned without settling the redistricting issue.

Bryant said that although this is tough economic times, the state is in a lot better financial condition than many other state governments. “Can you imagine, California is $30 billion in the hole. Here in Mississippi, we balanced our budget and have a multi-million-dollar surplus.”

He said he gives Gov. Haley Barbour an A as governor. Barbour is not running for re-election because he is term-limited to two terms and is being mentioned as a presidential candidate.

“He came in when we were in a deficit situation and is leaving us with a large surplus,” said Bryant. “The governor has been a good manager of state resources, and, of course, is now considered a possible contender for President.”

Bryant is a native of Morehead, a graduate of USM, and has a master’s degree from Mississippi College, where he is an adjunct professor of government studies in his spare time.

He was elected the state’s 37th lieutenant governor in 2007 with 59 percent of the vote.

Bryant said on Tuesday that as State Auditor he recovered more than $12 million in taxpayer dollars that were embezzled or improperly spent. He was first appointed State Auditor by Fordice in 1996 and won the post in 1999 and 2003, when he carried 81 of 82 counties.

Bryant said he also was the major promoter of webcasting legislative proceedings and that he led the fight to pass the most comprehensive ethics legislation in 25 years.

Before being appointed State Auditor, he served five years as a state legislator in the House, according to his website.

Bryant’s opponents in the GOP race are Pearl River County supervisor and Poplarville businessman Hudson Holliday, commercial contractor and Gulf Coast businessman Dave Dennis, former state employee James Broadwater, who styles himself as a Tea Party activist, and Moss Point businessman Ron Williams.