OPINION: Hewes builds war chest, possibly for lieutenant governor run

JACKSON – Naturally, Mississippi Republicans feel they are in good shape to keep the state’s two top offices in the 2011 elections since no potentially strong Democratic foes have emerged while the GOP has several known hopefuls ready to roll.
It’s a given that Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is harnessed up to run for the governorship since Haley Barbour is term-limited. The thinking was he likely would be unchallenged for the Republican nomination. However, some GOP activists now say it’s not be a sure thing Bryant will go unchallenged.
The 2011 GOP roadmap called for moving Senate President Pro Tem Billy Hewes III of Gulfport up to the lieutenant governor slot. An outside possibility had loomed that 35-year-old state Treasurer Tate Reeves, after rounding out his second term in the treasurers job, might challenge Hewes for the party nomination.
Recent events seem to have scrambled the original Republican scheme, moving Reeves up a notch as a possible challenger against Bryant rather than Hewes. It has been known for sometime that Bryant was not exactly the guy Barbour was looking for as his successor, despite the fact Bryant has loyally carried out Barbour’s legislative agenda.
Comes the news that Barbour’s two nephews, Henry and Austin Barbour, who are connected with Capitol Resources, a powerful lobbying outfit based here also with offices in Alabama and Washington, D. C., are putting their weight behind Reeves, likely for the No.1 job.
The two Barbour boys, say GOP activists, were deeply involved in a Reeves fundraiser in the Jackson metro area two weeks ago that brought in some heavy cash. Maybe Reeves was building a war chest to run against Hewes but the fundraiser, according to some Republicans invited to the event, wasn’t pegged to a lieutenant governor run and could be to make a bid for the top job.
Hewes is known to be in good shape in the money-raising department for his lieutenant governor run. Two weeks ago, Biloxi Sun-Herald political editor Geoff Pender reported that Hewes had raised $300,000 from two fundraisers on the Coast. That figure since has grown to $500,000 and another fundraiser was held for Hewes last week, making his backers optimistic that the Gulf Coast can field its first major candidate for statewide office since Jackson Countian Mike Moore 20 years ago was elected attorney general.
Even Hewes supporters admit he, a Catholic, is going to be a tough sell since he is little known statewide and can claim no major legislative accomplishments while largely working in Bryant’s shadow. Significantly, Bryant in 2007 passed over veteran Biloxi Sen. Tommy Gollott, a former Senate president pro tempore, for the pro-tem job and gave it to Hewes even after Gollott switched to the GOP.
Not widely known is that Reeves, who came straight from a Jackson bank job at age 29 to win the Treasurer’s office in 2003 has a $2 million campaign war chest socked away, left mostly from his initial race for Treasurer. That’s one reason the hierarchy in the state GOP camp consider Reeves a good horse they can ride back to the Governor’s Mansion.
For reminders, there was a parallel situation back in 2003. Amy Tuck was the Republican lieutenant governor and could have been the GOP candidate for governor. However, the Republican brass didn’t give her a second look as they brought Haley Barbour down from Washington with his money bags to mount a high-spending race and win the top job.
Reeves, though gifted with brain power as a Millsaps honor graduate, does not get high marks in state government circles for his personality or openness in the way he runs the treasurer’s job. Because of his office, Reeves serves as chairman of the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) which is the largest financial institution in the state.
The PERS trust fund market value dropped $6.4 billion in the 2-year period ending June 30 as the stock market went into the dumper, but you didn’t hear Reeves talking about that.

Bill Minor is a syndicated columnist who has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. His address is Box 1243, Jackson, MS 39215. Send e-mails to Minor through edinman@earthlink.net.

Bill Minor