BOBBY HARRISON: Tuck weighs options as 2011 political speculation builds

JACKSON – Remember Amy Tuck? When the Oktibbeha County native left the lieutenant governor’s office in January 2008 after two terms, most believed she would return to politics in 2011, probably running for what would be the open seat of governor.
In recent years the speculation about Tuck re-entering the political fray in 2011 has died down – to almost a non-existent murmur. But the Tuck speculation is again picking up a little steam – at least a murmur.
It is fairly certain that Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Gulf Coast businessman Dave Dennis will enter the Republican gubernatorial primary to replace Haley Barbour, who must step down because of term limits.
The speculation in recent months has centered on whether Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann will enter the governor’s race on the Republican side.
Some believe the Republican secretary of state will make an announcement this week at the annual Neshoba County Fair political speakings, which are watched closely by the state’s media. I find it hard to believe Hosemann will tip his hand this early for the 2011 elections.
But if he does, he will receive the lion’s share of the attention from this year’s political speakings.
He is the only statewide candidate whose plan for the 2011 elections has yet to be announced – either formally or informally.
If Hosemann does run for governor, that could make the race more attractive for Tuck.
Tuck, who currently is serving as an administrator at Mississippi State University, is a natural campaigner who has strong grassroots support.
Most believe she would do well in a November general election, but not in a smaller Republican Party primary.
Most believe the more crowded the field, the better chance she has of winning a party primary. On the other hand, most believe she would have difficulty winning in a smaller primary where she would be forced to go head to head against Bryant or Dennis – both with strong credentials among the Republican Party faithful.
Tuck started her career as a Democrat. She served in the state Senate as a Democrat and lost a close Democratic primary to Eric Clark for secretary of state in 1995. She was selected by newly elected Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to serve as secretary of the Senate after that loss.
She was elected lieutenant governor in 1999 as a Democrat.
But she butted heads with the Democratic Party hierarchy primarily over the issue of making changes to the civil justice system to provide more lawsuit protection for businesses.
After trying unsuccessfully to craft a compromise early in her term, she came down forcefully on the side of business interests on the issue, putting her in jeopardy in a Democratic primary for re-election.
Recognizing that, she announced during a state Capitol news conference, flanked by Republican Party heavyweights, such as Haley Barbour and U.S. Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, that she would run for re-election as a Republican.
Cochran, as well as others, stressed that they would do everything possible to ensure Tuck had a clear path to re-election as lieutenant governor in the Republican primary.
They kept their word. Tuck did not have any Republican opposition.
But during her second term, she eventually clashed with Barbour on taxes. She found it harder and harder to justify Mississippi having the third lowest cigarette tax in the nation.
To rectify that, she proposed increasing the cigarette tax and using that revenue to offset a reduction in Mississippi grocery tax, which is the highest state-imposed tax of its kind in the nation.
Barbour did not like that idea and blocked Tuck’s efforts to pass the tax proposal, which would have been the signature accomplishment of her tenure had she succeeded. Her stance on the tax issue put her at odds with many Republicans – especially Barbour.
The result is that Tuck finds herself in an unusual situation.
She would strike fear in any candidate in a November general election contest.
But in a party primary – either Republican or Democrat – she is viewed as much less formidable.
In a crowded party primary – especially one where Hosemann is pulling votes from Bryant – she might have a better chance.
The other challenge for Tuck – as it is for so many candidates who are not viewed as front-runners and who are not independently wealthy – would be raising money.
Contact Bobby Harrison, the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief at bobby.harrison@djournal.com, or call (601) 353-3119.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal