BOBBY HARRISON: Bryant speaks, but often doesn't act, in black and white

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

During his successful campaign for lieutenant governor in 2007, at a stop at a Republican Party event in Laurel, Phil Bryant told the faithful his daughter was studying to be an attorney.
But Bryant, with the timing of a game-show host or day-time television talk show host, paused and said not to worry because she would be the type of attorney who defended businesses, not sued them.
It struck me at the time that Phil Bryant is a man who sees things in black and white.
If a business is being sued by a trial attorney, it has to be a frivolous lawsuit. There is no way the business should deserve to be sued, much less to have a verdict go against it.
The idea that there have been times, well documented times when businesses have committed wrongs, terrible wrongs for which they deserve to suffer consequences, never crossed Bryant’s mind.
But having covered Bryant for many years, I know that he doesn’t always act like a black-and-white thinker.
The first-term Republican governor does appear to see things in black and white, but only on his first blush. Bryant is articulate, engaging and quick-witted.
Make no mistake about it, Bryant’s default setting is a conservative – perhaps an extreme conservative as former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney described himself.
But he also can be an independent thinker. I watched him as lieutenant governor as he tried to find common ground on budget issues between the position of then-Gov. Haley Barbour and of the Democrat leadership of the House.
Sure, he is a proud partisan Republican, but he has at times looked for compromise.
So, at times his action does not match his rhetoric.
Bryant’s latest controversy surrounds remarks he made Tuesday during a Washington Post forum on education where he said the nation’s education problems began when “mom got into the workplace.”
Bryant immediately began to clarify his position to talk about the economic pressures facing families.
It should be pointed out that first lady Deborah Bryant has long worked outside the home and does to this day – at least part-time.
The Bryants, as well as countless other working parents, have raised children who have grown up to be successful adults. He knows that. He has experienced it.
My guess is that on first blush he still believes the ideal scenario is to have one parent at home full-time taking care of the children. But the governor’s actions lead one to believe that he knows that is not the only way.
Bryant, like his political mentor, former Gov. Kirk Fordice, is no stranger to controversial remarks. In 2011, Bryant made reference to Satan when talking about those opposed to a personhood initiative that a group of anti-abortion advocates placed on the election ballot, but that was overwhelmingly rejected by the same voters who elected Bryant as governor. At the time, Bryant said if a person opposes the proposal “you’re on the side of the lie. You’re on the side of taking the lives of innocent children.”
Bryant later said he was frustrated because of incorrect information provided by some about what the initiative would do.
He would later say the left’s “one mission in life is to abort children – is to kill children in the womb.”
Fordice’s controversial comments are legendary whether it be accusing all who opposed voter ID of being elected through voter fraud or to saying Mississippi would not vote for Bill Clinton for president because he was a philanderer. Those comments became controversial as more details of the former governor’s personal life emerged.
The difference is that Bryant sounds so nice and congenial as he makes often-controversial comments. On the other hand, Fordice spoke with a passion and downright anger that was both scary and intoxicating. I have often said in recent times there has not been a better gut-level politician in Mississippi than Kirk Fordice.
The key difference is that Bryant operates in a whole new media world – from the traditional media to cable television to social media.
When someone in Mississippi makes a controversial comment it makes it around the world in record time.
And people around the world may not know and appreciate the context of those comments or know how nice the governor really is.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com or call (601) 353-3119.