Gulfport man questions Luckett residency

JACKSON — A man is asking state election commissioners to rule whether Democrat Bill Luckett has been a Mississippi resident long enough to run for governor, but the secretary of state’s office says the panel has no immediate say over questions about candidates’ qualifications.

“Candidate qualifications are determined by the respective parties until the primary process is complete,” said Pamela Weaver, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.

Luckett faces Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, teacher William Bond Compton of Meridian and retired tax assessor Guy Dale Shaw of Coffeeville in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary for governor.

Austin Barnett, an 81-year-old Gulfport resident, said he mailed a letter Tuesday to the three members of the state Board of Election Commissioners — Hosemann and Gov. Haley Barbour, who are Republicans, and Attorney General Jim Hood, who is a Democrat.

Barnett told The Associated Press that he’s not involved in any campaign. He said he’s asking the commission to meet and determine whether Luckett, a Clarksdale attorney and businessman, meets the constitutional requirement of being a Mississippi resident for the five years leading into an election for governor.

In March, AP obtained election commission records from Shelby County, Tenn., which show Luckett voted in Memphis on Nov. 7, 2006. That’s five years and one day before Mississippi’s 2011 general election, which is Nov. 8. A person registering to vote in Tennessee must sign a statement that he’s a resident of that state.

Luckett, 63, told AP in March has lived in Mississippi “over 61 years straight” and has owned multiple homes, including several in Tennessee. The day after AP wrote about the voting records, the state Democratic committee met and voted unanimously to let him on the primary ballot. The committee did not discuss the residency question because no formal complaint was filed, members said.

Luckett has said he meets the residency requirement, and the Democratic executive committee voted in March to allow him on the primary ballot.

The governor’s race is open this year because Barbour is term-limited and couldn’t run.

DuPree campaign manager Sam Hall said he doesn’t know Barnett and doesn’t know why Barnett sent the letter.

“We haven’t asked anybody to do that and we wouldn’t ask anybody to do that,” Hall said.

Still, Hall said serious questions have been raised about Luckett’s residency.

“We’ve looked at this issue long and hard and we definitely think there’s a question as to whether or not he meets the qualification to run for governor,” Hall said.

Attorney Sam Begley of Jackson, who represents Luckett, said the campaign has researched the residency questions.

Begley said Luckett owned a second home in Memphis, Tenn., and registered to vote there, but considers Mississippi his home.

“He was registered to vote in Tennessee at some point. Voting is one aspect of weighing someone’s residency, but at the same time he maintained his law offices and his home in Coahoma County,” Begley said. “Clarksdale has always been his legal domicile and we just don’t believe he’s done anything to move his domicile from Coahoma County.”

Barnett said he’s retired teacher who moved to Mississippi in January 2005 after living in Las Vegas and Chicago. He considers himself a concerned voter and loyal Democrat.

“I want the Democratic Party to win the governorship of Mississippi,” Barnett said in a phone interview. “I do not want a Democrat to win in the primary based on faulty information that will allow the Republican Party to knock him off the ballot.”

Emily Wagster Pettus and Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Press