By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Bill Luckett is sitting in his downtown Jackson apartment answering questions from a member of the media and intermittently checking the computer for an update on a line of thunderstorms that could affect his flight to the Gulf Coast for another campaign event.
His wife, Francine, who is quick to smile, interrupts her Sudoku game to inform her husband of 27 years that she is not flying into a storm. Luckett, who is his own pilot on this particular trip, assures her the storm will break.
She smiles and chimes in on another topic.
With the Lucketts, there are a lot of topics to cover.
If Bill Luckett, a 63-year-old Clarksdale Democrat, was not running for governor, it is hard to say with certainty what he would be doing.
He might be practicing law where he has excelled not only in the state, but also nationally, representing companies such as Wal-Mart, Kroger and Cracker Barrel to name a few. He might be overseeing one of his many business interests – most of which he co-owns with Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman. He might be restoring another old property in his hometown or he might be involved in one of his volunteer efforts in Clarksdale.
Or, in his free time, he might be on the open road on his motorcycle. And the 6-foot-6 Luckett, who played golf, not basketball, at Clarksdale High School, admits that he still plays on occasion – primarily with Freeman.
Luckett’s responsibilities and interests are as varied as the international clientele that can be found on any given night in the Ground Zero Blues Club or Madidi Restaurant, two Lucktt/Freeman business ventures that have helped revitalize the Delta town.
Jon Levingston, owner of Levingston Furniture in Clarksdale and a Luckett neighbor, said, “He is an inquisitive fellow. He has a genuine curiosity about the way things work. He has a genuine interest in people.
“He has all the qualities that make a good chief executive.”
Luckett is now trying to convince Mississippians he can translate those qualities from the private sector to the public sector. He has never run for office, though he did serve a stint on the Coahoma County Democratic Executive Committee.
Luckett recalls 10 years ago his hometown newspaper had a feature where it asked community members what they envisioned doing in 10 years. He said he never envisioned then that he would be running for political office, and probably said he wanted to travel more and practice law less.
“But I didn’t think I would be practicing law zero and traveling just in Mississippi,” he quipped.
But that is exactly what Luckett is doing now. He and his wife already have pumped more than $400,000 into the campaign and are traveling the state trying to convince Mississippians he is the right person to succeed Haley Barbour
For good measure, friend and business partner Freeman has contributed $125,000, according to records at the Secretary of State’s office. And it is not unusual to see other celebrity donors, such as Jimmy Buffet.
Luckett’s curiosity knows no boundaries. He has poured himself into learning about state government and what he believes needs to be done to move Mississippi off the bottom.
Examples of that curiosity and quest for knowledge have been evident throughout his life. As a young boy he built tree houses.
“Some got pretty elaborate,” he recalls.
As a young adult, he once rebuilt two 1950s models MGA sports cars because he wanted to learn how motors work. But he now restores old buildings.
“He is a carpenter and he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty,” Levingston said. He developed his “know-how” in carpentry while serving in the National Guard where he commanded an engineering unit.
That’s how he met Freeman, who was having issues with a home he was building in his hometown of Charleston in Tallahatchie County. The actor was told he needed a lawyer to deal with construction issues on the home. Someone recommended Luckett.
When Luckett started considering a run for governor, on the recommendation of friends in Clarksdale, he approached the subject like all his other endeavors. He did research. He met with past gubernatorial candidates, including Jack Reed of Tupelo, the Republican nominee in 1987.
“Even though some of the people I met with lost, they all told me what a rewarding experience it was, but they also said it also would be a challenge. There would be insults and disparaging remarks,” he said.
Luckett believes he can make a difference. He said Mississippi has been on the bottom for too long but believes through education, jobs creation and cultural changes the state can get off the bottom. He believes a strong early childhood education program is a key for the state’s success.
“I just want to take the bull by the horns,” Luckett said. “I am a good consensus builder. There is no need to re-invent the wheel in some instances.
“We just need to get everybody turning in the same direction….I can’t wait. I want to get started. But we have to get there first. It is a long road.”
Luckett has traveled – or flown – many roads in his life. The coming months will tell whether one of those roads leads to the Governor’s Mansion.