SID SALTER: Reeves – Is legislative experience necessary for lieutenant governor?

By Sid Salter

While history is on the one hand kind when it comes to state Treasurer Tate Reeves’ chances to make the leap from his current post to the lieutenant governor’s office, it is a cautionary tale on the other.
Reeves, 35, has yet to announce his 2011 campaign for lieutenant governor, but that announcement is expected by the end of the month. In addition to swollen campaign coffers, Reeves has some other tangible reasons to be confident.
Sullivan’s legacy
Three former state treasurers – the late Evelyn Gandy, William Winter and Brad Dye – have done what Reeves is trying to do in terms of winning the state’s No. 2 executive branch post from the treasurer’s post. For Reeves, that’s the good news.
The bad news? Not since 1968 have Mississippi voters entrusted the leadership of the state Senate to a candidate who – like Reeves – had no prior legislative experience.
Looking back, it seems Mississippi voters favor candidates with some legislative service under their belts.
Current Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant? Five years service in the state House prior to taking office. Amy Tuck? Two terms in the state Senate. Ronnie Musgrove? Two terms in the Senate.
Eddie Briggs? Two terms in the Senate. Dye? Served in the House and Senate. Gandy? Served in the House. Winter? Two House terms.
But in the 1967 election, voters elected Clarksdale attorney and Mississippi National Guard commander Charlie Sullivan as lieutenant governor with no prior legislative experience.
Of course, the white-haired Sullivan had flown missions in World War II, the Korean Conflict and in the Vietnam War and was a former district attorney at the time of his election. Sullivan was later killed in a tragic 1979 plane crash.
Reeves’ challenge
State Sen. Billy Hewes, R-Gulfport, went up with his first TV ads in his announced bid for lieutenant governor this week – and the spots caused the biggest stir in state politics since Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s “Eggbert, Englebert” ads four years ago.
Hewes, a Senate veteran and the current president pro tempore, is expected to hang his hat on his legislative experience in the GOP primary battle with Reeves. That race is expected to be a bare-knuckle affair and one that pits Reeves’ youth and resources against Hewes’ legislative experience in a race that will answer some intriguing questions about GOP primary politics.
For many observers, the GOP primary for lieutenant governor will be the most closely watched single race in the 2011 elections. With Reeves based in Republican vote-rich Rankin County and Hewes launching his campaign from a Gulf Coast political base that’s still shaken from Hurricane Katrina’s redistribution of population, the obvious battleground becomes populous GOP stronghold DeSoto County.
For Republicans, the Coast candidate versus Rankin County candidate theme also carries over into the GOP primary for governor between Bryant and businessman Dave Dennis. Both races will prove illuminating about the modern era of GOP politics in this state.
Contact syndicated columnist Sid Salter, editor of Perspective in the Clarion-Ledger, at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com.