SID SALTER: Underestimating Bryant an oft–repeated mistake

By Sid Salter

STARKVILLE – Barring a political miracle, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant will be getting a promotion within the next week to the Mississippi governor’s office. On the Moorhead native’s path to the Governor’s Mansion, more political operatives have made the mistake of underestimating Bryant’s ability, intellect, resolve and survival skills than would care to admit that mistake.
That’s apparently OK with Bryant. Like the former Hinds County sheriff’s deputy he is, Bryant handles such misjudgments of his personal and political skills the way he handled burly drunks back when he was standing behind a badge with only 160 pounds, his wits and a service revolver to back his play.
Almost a decade ago, I asked Bryant about how he handled confrontation – noting his propensity to handle trouble in those days as state auditor like a good-natured cop walking a tipsy driver to the squad car.
He admitted that his law enforcement background influenced his interpersonal skills and the manner in which he approaches confrontation.
“It’s a lot easier and lot more productive to treat people the way you’d want to be treated – even if the person you’re dealing with has made a mistake or is in trouble – than it is to get in a verbal or physical confrontation,” said Bryant.
Bryant faced tough challenges inside the GOP when seeking the nomination for lieutenant governor and governor. Bryant’s battle with former state Sen. Charlie Ross – a fellow Rankin County Republican – was one of the epic battles in Mississippi politics over the last 25 years.
The 2007 Bryant-Ross race for lieutenant governor is a textbook study in why Bryant has been successful in state politics. First and foremost, Bryant understands how to win GOP primaries both from an organizational and issue standpoint. Second, he’s a good speaker and a formidable one-on-one campaigner. Third, in taking on Ross in 2007 and Dave Dennis in 2011 in the GOP gubernatorial primary, Bryant has superior name recognition against lesser known candidates.
Now, Bryant is poised to become governor. There is evidence that Mississippi may well shift to the old paradigms of a strong lieutenant governor and a strong House speaker and a more “traditional” governor more in keeping with the scant powers afforded a governor by the 1890 Constitution.
But people in the political arena have lost several crops underestimating Phil Bryant over the last two decades. Does Bryant possess Haley Barbour’s “force of nature” political persona? No. But he didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, either, and he will be a formidable force in his own right as governor.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or sidsalter@sidsalter.com.