Luckett touts emphasis on public education in state

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

This is the first in a series of editorial board interviews with candidates for governor.

TUPELO – Bill Luckett hadn’t planned to run for governor.
The 63-year-old Democratic candidate said he didn’t decide on a race until he began to study the man that many have labeled as the front runner, Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant.
“My friends convinced me that I really needed to run for office,” Luckett to the Daily Journal editorial board on Thursday. “After looking at the political landscape, I decided to do so.
“I did a lot of research, and I looked into Phil Bryant a little more and that sealed the deal. I don’t want to see him elected governor, and I’ll do my best to stop him.”
Luckett, who is making his first run for public office, will face three other Democrats – Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, Guy Dale Shaw of Coffeeville and William Bond Compton Jr. of Meridian – in the Aug. 2 primary. The general election is Nov. 8.
The Clarksdale businessman and attorney said his campaign’s central pillar is education, something he doesn’t believe Bryant emphasizes or values enough.
“I’m sick and tired of Mississippi being last in education,” Luckett said.
His plan involves finding a way to fund early-childhood education so students are prepared for school before kindergarten. Mississippi is currently the only Southern state without a state-funded early-childhood education program.
Many statewide candidates have stressed the importance of early-childhood education but said funding for a statewide program isn’t practical in the current economic environment. Luckett said that isn’t enough.
“It is necessity, not a luxury,” Luckett said, noting that the state also needs to improve its kindergarten to 12th-grade education system, including making qualifications for teachers more demanding and increasing teacher pay.
Mississippi’s teachers are the lowest paid in the nation, Luckett said, and that gap is growing.
“I don’t think our current administration has paid nearly enough attention to public education,” he said.
In terms of funding an early-childhood program, Luckett cited the example of Georgia, which uses a lottery to both fund early education and college scholarships.
“We have 25 casinos in Mississippi,” he said. “A $1 lottery ticket at a Double Quick doesn’t scare me like it used to. I want to get it out and vet it more… I’m not sold on it completely, but I’m looking for ways not to increase taxes.”
He’d also like to make it easier for small businesses to get loans and would consider requiring a Mississippi sales tax for Internet sales.
“It might level the playing field and encourage more people to shop locally,” he said. “By buying on the Internet, you save money because there is no sales tax, but you are costing your local business a sale and costing your state a tax collection.”
Asked about Gov. Haley Barbour’s efforts to lure large industries to the state, Luckett said he would still entertain such companies but his priority would be on small businesses.
Luckett touts his own business successes in Clarksdale, which include ownership of an upscale restaurant and a blues club with actor Morgan Freeman. His role in helping revitalize Clarksdale’s downtown and attracting tourists to the city is evidence of what he can do on a larger scale as governor, Luckett said.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@journalinc.com.