Election 2007: Longtime incumbents fall

State Auditor Phil Bryant, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, tells voters his conservatism is what separates him from his Democratic opponent, state Rep. Jamie Franks.

But a day after winning the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor, Bryant was hard-pressed to elaborate on the differences the two have when it comes to campaign issues.

At a news conference on Wednesday at the Mississippi Republican Party headquarters, Bryant hesitated when asked to explain how he and Franks differed on issues beyond conservatism.

"I would imagine tort reform is something that Jamie is not as strongly in favor of. I know that he did put his name on a tort reform bill," Bryant said. " ... We're going to talk about illegal immigration. I'm not sure what his position is on it."

Bryant was joined at the news conference with Gov. Haley Barbour, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and state Sen. Charlie Ross, who lost to Bryant in Tuesday's Republican primary. All reiterated that Bryant is the only conservative candidate for lieutenant governor.

Franks, in a separate interview, rebuffed that claim, saying his voting record is proof he supports Mississippi values.

"I voted to ban partial birth abortions. I voted to ban same-sex marriage. I voted to put our national motto, 'In God We Trust,' in every classroom," said Franks of Mooreville.

Franks also said he voted in 2002 for tort reform legislation that capped damages that could be awarded in some lawsuits. He said he authored another tort reform bill in 2004.

Franks, who has been in the Mississippi House since 1996, said he's offered amendments that would penalize Mississippi employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Bryant of Brandon, who was first elected state auditor in 1995, was among several candidates who were on the ballot for Tuesday's primary elections. Franks was unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Franks and Bryant will face each other in the Nov. 6 general election. They are among several matchups that emerged after election day.

Others on the November ballot include Democratic former fiscal officer Gary Anderson and Republican state Sen. Mike Chaney, who won their party's nomination for insurance commissioner.

Anderson, in one of the biggest upsets on election day, defeated incumbent Insurance Commissioner George Dale, who was first elected to the office in 1975.

Some incumbent legislators also lost their re-election bids, including Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Robertson, R-Moss Point, who was defeated by Michael Watson, an attorney from Pascagoula.

The lieutenant governorship is one of the most powerful positions in state government. The job is open this year because Tuck is limited to two terms and couldn't run again.

The lieutenant governor presides over the 52-member state Senate, appoints committee chairmen and assigns bills to committees.

One of the issues the clearly separates Bryant and Franks is a proposal to cut the state's grocery tax, while raising the cigarette excise tax.

For the past two legislative sessions, lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried to pass a bill that would reduce Mississippi's 7 percent grocery tax, which is one of the highest in the nation. At 18 cents a pack, the state's cigarette excise tax is one of the lowest in the country.

Franks said he supports the tax swap legislation.

"I'm fighting to cut the highest sales tax on groceries in the union," Franks said.

Bryant on Wednesday initially said a proposed cigarette tax cut would be off the table in his administration. He later said, "we're going to let other senators have opportunities to introduce bills and we will see what that brings."