By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Dave Dennis spoke forcefully Wednesday that his business background would make him better equipped to recruit new jobs and to make existing companies more willing to expand in the state.
It is a theme Dennis, a Pass Christian resident and owner of Gulf Coast-based Specialty Contractors, has emphasized as he tries to upset Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant in the Aug. 2 Republican primary and, on Wednesday, he hammered that point home again in an interview with the Daily Journal editorial board.
“My concern, if we make the wrong choice for governor, from a perception point of view… looking at successful private sector versus career politician, many believe we step back,” Dennis said.
When asked during the far-ranging interview about Bryant’s apparent business support, based on his hefty campaign contributions, in spite of Dennis’ business background, Dennis said the incumbent lieutenant governor has been able to use his current position to boost his fundraising.
“I can tell you a lot of intimidation is going on,” Dennis said in the 50-minute interview. “If I am in position of controlling lobbyists and what their clients get, I probably would have my jackboots on their throats, too… The business community has quietly been with us.”
When asked to expound on charges of intimidation, Dennis said, “He has called a lot of people asking why they are supporting us.”
He added, “I would rather have the people’s vote than the PACs’ votes.”
He downplayed Bryant’s contention that his experience as lieutenant governor and before then as state auditor and as a legislator made him the most qualified. Dennis said neither Kirk Fordice nor Haley Barbour had held office before being elected governor.
Dennis, 58, has never run for political office, but he has held numerous civic and business leadership roles, such as chair of the Leadership Mississippi program and chair of New Orleans Federal Reserve Board of Governors. He also has served as chair of BIPEC – the Business and Industry Political Education Committee, which among other things grades legislators on their level of business support.
BIPEC has been criticized by some Democratic legislators as being a partisan Republican group, and Dennis has run against career politicians, which includes many legislators. Despite this, Dennis said, “I don’t feel I will have serious problems working with legislators. I have worked with them for many years.”
He said working with people is the same in the public sector as in private business, and he had the skills to work with people when there’s disagreement.
Throughout the interview, Dennis stressed his conservative credentials, but did say ultimately the state needs to find funds to make an early childhood education program “an integral part of the education system…”
He said, “It needs to be incorporated into the public education system.”
Dennis also stressed he would be against any tax hike, and criticized Bryant for being part of a process of “balancing the budget with bonds.” The Legislature often approves bonds that are paid off over a period of time to pay for repair and renovation to state-owned buildings.
Dennis also said education needs to be fully funded, but added “not all concerns in public education are dollar driven…You have to look at overhead. What we have to look at clearly is the dollar amount going into the classroom.”
Five Republicans are vying for governor, but Dennis generally is viewed as the front-runner Bryant’s most formidable opposition.