Tuck uses her charm to full effect
By By Terry R. Cassreino / assistant managing editor
May 26, 2002
What Amy Tuck lacks in specifics when discussing such pressing issues as tort reform or higher education, the first-term lieutenant governor makes up for with charm.
It's a traditional, down-home, country charm that has always played an essential role in Mississippi politics. It won't always save a politician, but it sure helps them weather rough times.
That happened last week with The Meridian Star editorial board, when Tuck declined to say what she thought about tort reform. She said she didn't want to taint a legislative committee recently appointed to study the issue.
Tuck also had trouble explaining how lawmakers are financially committed to higher education despite giving state universities progressively less money the last four years.
Yet, despite a barrage of tough questions, she remained calm just like she has throughout a state political career that began in 1990 when she first joined the Mississippi Senate.
While in the Senate, Tuck served as County Affairs Committee chairman. She forged strong relationships with some of the most effective local politicians in the state, from county supervisors to circuit and chancery clerks.
After losing her first try at state office a close 1995 race for secretary of state Tuck won the lieutenant governor's office in 1999. And because her term hasn't been totally smooth, Tuck often has relied on her political skills and charm to rescue her.
One of her biggest problems has been her loss of control in the Senate, never more evident than on the last day of the 2002 Legislature when the Senate adjourned without solving a critical Medicaid budget problem.
Even her choices for Senate committee chairmen, the most important responsibility of any lieutenant governor, raised serious questions among some political observers. Committee chairmen decide which legislative proposals reach the floor of the state Senate for debate.
Two of Tuck's top lieutenants had similar roles under previous lieutenant governors. Jack Gordon, D-Okolona, chaired the budget-writing Appropriations Committee under Lt. Gov. Brad Dye; Bill Minor, D-Holly Springs, chaired the tax-writing Finance Committee under Lt. Gov. Eddie Briggs.
But, perhaps, Tuck's biggest political problem came early in her term when she unexpectedly spurned longtime Sen. Tommy Gollott, D-Biloxi, and ousted him as Senate president pro-tem.
Gollott was a major supporter of Tuck in 1999, helping her campaign and raising money on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. On election night that November, Gollott joined Tuck at the podium during her victory speech.
Weeks later, Gollott learned he was out a move that upset him, other lawmakers and residents of a region in the state that for years has felt out-of-the-loop in a Legislature dominated by Delta and North Mississippi politicians.
But four years is an eternity in politics. So when Tuck runs for re-election next year, one of her big challenges will be to win back the critical Coast support she may have lost with the Gollott incident.
And with her strength in campaigning one-on-one, that shouldn't be a problem. Tuck has a knack at connecting with people, talking about issues, making people feel good about themselves and the state.
More importantly, perhaps, she never forgets a place, never forgets a face, never forgets a name and that's a quality few people in state government have these days.