Lt. governor man to beat, GOP candidate Dennis says

Published 12:07 pm Friday, January 14, 2011

Along with a need to improve the state’s economy, a primary challenge for Dave Dennis lies in defeating Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, the Republican gubernatorial candidate said in Vicksburg Thursday night.

“We’re going up against — in the Republican primary — a gentleman you all know,” Dennis told about 20 people at Shoney’s Thursday in an appearance organized by the Vicksburg Tea Party. “A career bureaucrat. I’m sorry, I’ll call it like it is. He’s never signed a check, he’s never been in the private sector, he’s never had to sweat to make certain that he could create jobs, do things and invest in the community.”

Dennis, 57, a Gulf Coast businessman and former chair of the New Orleans Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Board, and Bryant, whose name Dennis never said, have entered the Republican primary in the race to succeed fellow Republican Haley Barbour. Bryant was elected lieutenant governor in 2007 after nearly eight years as state auditor and seven as a state representative.

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Bill Luckett, a Clarksdale businessman, and Johnny DuPree, mayor of Hattiesburg, have qualified for the Democratic primary for governor. Several others who have talked up runs for governor but haven’t qualified include Pearl River County Supervisor Hudson Holliday and state employee James Bridgewater.

Qualifying ends March 1. Primaries are Aug. 2. The general election is Nov. 8.

“The problems in Tupelo aren’t a whole lot different than they are in Vicksburg, or Natchez, or Meridian or Hattiesburg, or Biloxi or Southaven,” Dennis said. “They may be a different size, a few specific ingredients that need to be changed, but the answers are fundamentally the same — and it’s sound, pure business approach.”

Dennis, an Alabama native and president of Gulfport-based Specialty Contractors & Associates, also brings a political resume to the race, including a stint as finance chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party, 4th District finance chairman for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, vice chairman of the Harrison County GOP and the Southern Republican Leadership Conference’s national finance chairman.

He paralleled his jump from contracting to public office to that of former governor and friend Kirk Fordice and framed his experience of advising such high-profile Fed chiefs as Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke as being a witness to the recession from the inside out.

“Chairman Greenspan always said, “Don’t let your annual budget deficit exceed 3 percent of GDP. Chairman Bernanke’s number was 2 percent. Whether you liked the guys or not, they were smart folks. We’re currently at about 12 percent — four or five times what they suggest.”

Dennis said he supports charter schools supported by several state House Republicans and disagrees with Barbour on eminent domain, which appears as an initiative on this year’s ballot that would ban government from taking land via court action. Barbour has said it would hurt economic development. Dennis often tempered questions from Tea Party regulars on such social issues as gun control, states rights and the future of public assistance with answers centering on the role of government.

“If the election two months ago didn’t suggest to a lot of very learned people.. .it’s that the fundamental role of government is on the table right now for discussion,” Dennis said.