By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
REPUBLICAN CONGRESSIONAL PRIMARY
Estes touts regular guy credentials
Ross claims he’s the true conservative
TUPELO – Alan Nunnelee spent nearly two decades preparing for the job he now holds and must defend.
The incumbent congressional candidate took federal office in January 2011 but had served Mississippi in the state Senate since winning a special election in 1994.
During that time, the Tupelo businessman built an impressive list of contacts and established a solid, conservative voting record. He even landed the chairmanship of the powerful Appropriations Committee.
And in doing so, Nunnelee, 53, earned his place as a key player in the state’s Republican Party. That party, in turn, poured both resources and support into his 2010 campaign for Congress and buoyed him to a win over incumbent Democrat Travis Childers.
Nunnelee hasn’t veered off course since then. He uses the same strategy on Capitol Hill that propelled him in Jackson: He sticks with the party and forms bonds with its leadership while nurturing his roots back home.
Opponents have called that style weak and predictable; Nunnelee defends it as smart and prudent, and he touts a host of the GOP’s achievements this term.
Representatives adopted a new schedule allowing more time with constituents, adopted the Budget Control Act, and cut discretionary spending two years in a row.
“We were elected to do a job, to change the way Washington works,” Nunnelee said, “and I think we’ve done that.”
Born in Tupelo and raised in Clinton, Nunnelee attended Mississippi State University in the late 1970s when he lost most of his sight to a degenerative eye disease.
The tragedy didn’t prevent him from continuing his education, though. Nunnelee persevered, going to classes and doing his work even though he could barely see.
A cornea transplant later restored his vision.
Nunnelee eventually earned his bachelor’s degree in 1980 and went to work for Amory-based American Funeral Assurance Co., which also had employed his father since 1977.
Father and son moved up the ranks of the company together. Nunnelee eventually became vice president of sales and marketing; his father rose to president and CEO of the multimillion-dollar group in 1992.
Two years later, Nunnelee won Roger Wicker’s old state Senate seat in a special election runoff against Claude Hartley. And four years after that, he and his father opened their own pre-need funeral insurance firms in Tupelo, Allied Funeral Associates Inc. and Allied Funeral Associates Insurance Co.
When Nunnelee won the congressional race in 2010, he again filled Wicker’s old seat. And the two remain close friends and colleagues both at home and in Washington.
During his time in the U.S. House of Representatives, Nunnelee has held nearly two dozen town hall meetings and prides himself on his accessibility to constituents.
“We’ve met with thousands of people around north Mississippi,” he said. “I’ve been in and around the community whether it’s civic clubs, ball games, the grocery store, church.”
But his absence at recent candidate forums has prompted public criticisms from the Tupelo Tea Party, some Lee County Republicans and GOP congressional challenger Henry Ross.
Nunnelee said his packed calendar keeps him in Washington or at other previously scheduled functions.
The voters know him anyway, he said, and they also know where he stands on the key issues: He wants to reduce the federal debt, repeal the national health care plan, lower corporate taxes, promote more off-shore drilling and nuclear energy and advance the platform of the Republican Party.
Nunnelee is married to the former Tori Bedells and the couple have three children, Reed, Emily and Nathan, and two grandchildren.