OPINION: Two political novices seem poised for 2011

JACKSON – In capturing the Governor’s Mansion in 1991, Daniel Kirkwood Fordice did what few in Mississippi have done in recent history – win the state’s top elected office as a political novice.
Four years earlier, a Tupelo businessman, the amicable Jack Reed Sr., came close to doing the same thing.
It appears that in 2011, two Mississippians will be vying to do what so few – other than Fordice – have been able to do. Dave Dennis, a Gulf Coast businessman, and Bill Luckett, a Clarksdale attorney, are both sounding like gubernatorial candidates.
Dennis, a Republican, and Luckett, a Democrat, have formed political action committees and are putting in place what appear to be campaign staffs. Every year we have candidates who run for political office, it appears, just for the sake of having their names on the ballot. They have no chance of winning or even getting close.
If Luckett and Dennis run, they will be serious candidates. They are proven successes and leaders in their respective communities.
But they will be fighting an uphill battle.
In a statewide race, name recognition is so important. Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, both viewed as potential gubernatorial candidates, have that all-important name recognition from running past races. Both, as well as others, have built up numerous contacts in communities throughout the state – contacts who can make a difference in getting supporters to the polls.
Dennis and Luckett, like Fordice before them, have been involved in the periphery of politics – serving in various capacities on the state or local level in their respective political parties. But their lives have been firmly centered in the private sector.
What other Mississippi governor can be described that way?
Current Gov. Haley Barbour had never held an elected post before he captured the governor’s office in 2003, but his whole adult life has been consumed with politics – whether it was running against John Stennis for the United States Senate in 1982, serving as former President Ronald Reagan’s top political adviser, serving as chair of the Republican National Committee or working as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.. Politics is at the core of who Barbour is.
The same can be said for other governors. Ronnie Musgrove served as a state senator and as lieutenant governor before running for governor.
Ray Mabus was on the staff of former Gov. William Winter and was elected auditor before running for governor.
Bill Allain had a long career in the attorney general’s office and then was elected to that post before capturing the Governor’s Mansion.
Winter served in numerous elected offices before being elected governor in 1979.
The list goes on and on.
It could be argued that Fordice is the exception that proves the rule.
Whether Luckett or Dennis can be that exception remains to be seen.
People always like to complain about politicians. And in today’s environment, there seems to be an inordinate amount of complaining about politicians.
Still, when elections come around, we seem to most often vote for the politician – the proven commodity regardless of what we say about that commodity when it is not election season.
But an important question here might be who and what makes a politician?
Fordice used to always snap at the news media that he was not a politician, but a citizen who ran for office to help make his state better.
But when does a citizen become a politician?
I know that the Internet site Wikipedia is not a reliable source, but I thought it was interesting that the first sentence on the entry on Fordice describes him as a “politician.”
The late governor, who was known for his blunt manner and often-quick temper, probably would not like that description.
Are Luckett and Dennis ready to be known first and foremost as politicians?
Because I guess when a person puts his name on the ballot, he or she becomes a politician.

Contact Capitol Bureau Chief Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or at bharrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal