New Miss. governor says he's 'ready to work'

By The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The inauguration of Republican Gov. Phil Bryant on Tuesday capped a week of ceremony in Mississippi state government, as leadership changed hands in the House, then the Senate, and finally in the governor’s office.

Bryant, a 57-year-old Brandon Republican, said after his swearing-in that he was eager to begin his duties as Mississippi’s 64th governor. So eager in fact, that he found it hard to take Tuesday off to celebrate.

“I’m ready to go to work,” he told reporters after the speech, adding that he resisted going to the office Tuesday to work on his legislative agenda.

Bryant climbed from a House member in 1992 to state auditor in 1996 to lieutenant governor in 2008. He easily defeated Democratic nominee and Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree in November, and now has to get used to the idea of being in charge.

“It is a surreal moment, but I realize that, being governor, you must step up to these challenges,” he told reporters.

Lawmakers, judges, military veterans and other dignitaries crammed the House floor to watch Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. swear in Bryant while his wife, Deborah Bryant, held a well-worn family Bible.

The ceremony was moved inside the state Capitol because of the threat of rain, and Bryant’s extended family filled the small galleries in the chamber. Hundreds more watched on televisions in the Capitol rotunda.

Those crowds quickly dispersed Tuesday, though the inaugural parade, postponed until Jan. 21, will provide one more flourish.

Bryant outlined what he saw as the four main priorities in his 18-minute inaugural address:

— An economic development strategy led by the expansion of the energy sector and health care;

— Improvements to education, including a focus on dropout prevention, better reading instruction in early grades and technical education;

— A statewide effort to reduce teenage pregnancy, with participation not only from doctors and schools but also churches and businesses;

— State budget reforms aimed at making sure “precious tax dollars” are safeguarded and agencies prove that spending produces results.

Bryant, a longtime advocate of such performance-based budgeting, said he believed he could push his plan through the Legislature, even if lawmakers might prefer the current way of doing things.

“It will never be easy to change things in a legislative body,” Bryant said. “I just believe it’s got to be done.”

House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, the Republicans now leading the Legislature, have expressed support for many of Bryant’s priorities. And many Democrats continue to sound diplomatic notes.

“I think we’ve got a chance to work together, with Tate being lieutenant governor and Phil being governor of the state,” said Sen. Kelvin Butler, D-McComb. “It gives us the opportunity to do things differently.”

The olive branches extended by the minority party played into Bryant’s inaugural theme of “rising together.”

“It would be timid and insincere to believe all our problems are solved or our shared potential exhausted,” Bryant said in his speech. “We must dedicate ourselves to the belief that we may fall separately, but we will surely rise together.”

Bryant said that the state’s past troubles should provide inspiration that it can overcome the challenges of the present, recalling 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and last spring’s Mississippi River floods.

“My fellow Mississippians, it is true that in years past our troubles have risen around us like the rising water,” he said. “But we have persevered, and each time we have climbed to the new perspective of that higher ground.”