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Mississippi Election 2011: Phil Bryant, Republican Candidate for Governor

By Rhonda Miller | Published 30 Oct 2011 03:11pm | comments
Phil Bryant, Republican candidate for Governor, talks with Ricki Garrett, executive director of the Mississippi Nurses Association.

Next week, Mississippi voters will head to the polls to choose between Democrat Johnny Dupree and Republican Phil Bryant to guide the Magnolia State for the next four years as governor.  MPB News begins a series of reports this morning that will air throughout the week, looking at the two gubernatorial candidates and the three proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 8 ballot.  We begin with this profile of Phil Bryant, Mississippi’s Republican lieutenant governor.  MPB’s Rhonda Miller caught up with Bryant at a recent state conference of nurses in Biloxi.

“How are you? Listen, I’ve been rootin’ for you and rootin’ for you. If there’s anything you need from me, please don’t hesitate to call.” “Just tell everybody you know to get out and go vote.” ”I have.”

Wherever he goes, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant turns up faithful supporters, like nurse Sharon Holmes from the central Mississippi town of Lena.

"I think he’d do a great job," says Holmes. "He knows what he’s doing. He’s been there. He’s honest and he knows how to do the job."

Holmes likes Bryant’s approach to the critical issues.

"The economy, health care, jobs. Clearly those are the most important things we need to be looking at.," she says.

All those issues combine in what Bryant describes as the driving force of his campaign for governor.

"You know, I’m on the board of the Salvation Army and our slogan is to do the most good. And I believe I can do the most good as governor of the state of Mississippi," says Bryant. "I want to make sure that a child like I was that was raised in a blue collar world has the opportunity to stay here in Mississippi and achieve the American dream. I’ve been able to live the American dream and now I’m at the point of running for governor of the state of Mississippi, and we’re going to make it a better place to live and raise our children."

Speaking of children, or more precisely, unborn children, is where Bryant’s idealism slams into controversy. Twenty-year-old Milsaps College student Nedah Nemati is grilling Bryant about the personhood amendment, which is on the November ballot and defines life as beginning at conception.

"So I wanted to know your perspective on that," Nemati says.

"I think that child in the womb certainly has some human rights. Anyone that can deny that, I think is misguided," Bryant says.

"There are a lot of individuals out there who do not want to have an abortion, but feel that it is their only option," says Nemati..

"Let me tell you, there are so many adoption opportunities in this state. There are thousands of couples that are trying to find babies," says Bryant.

."But we’re not going to rely on them," says Nemati.

The Mississippi Nurses Association opposes the personhood amendment. The group’s president, Gayle Harrell, believes it will discourage desperately-needed doctors from working in the state.

"The legalities are going to be catastrophic. The liability insurance for one thing will go out the roof for obstetricians, for people in women’s health," says Harrell.

Reducing state income tax for physicians who work in under-served areas is one avenue Bryant supports to fill the gap in medical care.  But when it comes to President Obama’s health care reform, Bryant’s position is, “Not on my watch.”

"I’m going to do everything I can to stop it. The Obama health care plan will add 400,000 new Mississippians to the Medicaid roll. That's along with the 640,000 we have now, is a million Mississippians on Medicaid. There’s no way we can afford that," Bryant says. "That would mean draconian cuts in every other agency, including education."

Mississippi consistently ranks near the bottom in education. It is one of only a few southern states without Pre-K. That’s where Bryant says he would start.

"We’re looking at Pre-K, but using the existing systems that we have. Whether it’s Head Start programs or private or parochial daycare centers, we can use a common core curriculum," says Bryant.

Then there’s the state’s dropout rate of 17 percent the new governor will have to confront. If elected, Bryant says one way he will address the dropout crisis is by supporting expanded vocational training in high school.

"We’re going to have an opportunity for dual enrollment," Bryant says. "That means a child can go to high school part of the day and go to a community college, workforce development center and learn a job, a real skill."

Those skilled workers are part of what Bryant sees as the road to growing the state’s economy.

"We’ve got to look at a universal picture where it starts at education, workforce development, keeping taxes low," says Bryant.

"If you will join me nurses..."

From the podium in a big auditorium, or at a ribbon-cutting for a new business, or at a lunch counter, Bryant offers his experience as a deputy sheriff, state legislator, state auditor and lieutenant governor. He is determined to deliver his message - that he is the candidate who can step into the governor’s office and hit the ground running.






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