BY LENA MITCHELL
The quest for the lieutenant governor's seat brought state Sen. Barbara Blackmon to Tupelo Tuesday to talk with the Daily Journal editorial board.
Blackmon, who has represented the Canton area - District 21 - in the state Legislature for the past 12 years and is a practicing attorney, is seeking to become the Democratic party's nominee to unseat incumbent Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck.
She points to those years in the Senate building relationships, understanding the inner workings of the body the lieutenant governor heads, as good training ground for the leadership role, especially with regard to managing the state budget.
"The governor and the Legislative Budget Committee must agree on the revenue estimates. That's the law," Blackmon said. "Only under this (Amy Tuck) administration has this not taken place."
Blackmon's authoritative voice on fiscal and budget matters derives both from her Senate experience on the Subcommittee on Appropriations and the Finance Committee and from her academic and professional background.
"In the state Senate I served after the very first year on the Legislative Budget Committee, and I was able to get that position just coming in ... because I had the (master's degree) in taxation and a (master's of business administration)," she said. "I have a unique understanding of the budgeting process within our state, not only having served on that budgeting committee but because of my credentials."
A Jackson native, Blackmon completed her undergraduate work at Jackson State University, then acquired a master's in business administration at the University of Alabama. She went on to law school at the University of Mississippi, where she was encouraged to pursue the master's in tax law at New York University.
After New York University Blackmon worked as a tax attorney for Bristol-Myers in New York before returning to practice law in Mississippi with the Banks and Nichols firm in Jackson. She and her husband Ed Blackmon, a state representative, now have a law practice together and live in Canton.
Blackmon said the business community has no need to fear her trial lawyer background because her practice probably has a 50-50 division among its plaintiff and defense (corporate) clients.
Throughout her Senate tenure Blackmon said she has worked for ways to solve some of the state's most pressing problems, including helping move Mississippi's education system forward by supporting the Adequate Education Act.
Earlier this week she offered an initiative to make prescription drugs available at lower cost through state programs, helping both low-income residents and reducing state costs for prescriptions for Medicaid, prison inmates and the Department of Human Services.
"We're in a national recession and supposedly on the brink of recovery, but (Mississippi) generally lags behind national recovery by (more than a year)," Blackmon said. "I'll be proposing certain programs to get our economy moving again so we can generate the necessary revenues for addressing the projected budget shortfall next year (of $400 million to $600 million)."
Those proposals include:
- A multistate prescription drug compact to purchase pharmaceuticals at huge discounts.
- Reviewing state contractual services for places to make reductions.
- Examining state tax exemptions, tax credits and deductions to possibly decrease them for a two-year period to achieve savings. A full examination of the tax structure would be in order to see if permanent changes in exemptions, credits and deductions should be enacted.
- Move to performance-based budgeting for state agencies, requiring departments justify all budget line items.
"In some instances where it's going to generate more funds we could justify more employees," Blackmon said. "For example, the state tax commission has had budget cuts over the past five years that have hampered their ability to audit and collect state revenues. It makes no sense to me why you would reduce the number of employees or support to that agency which could generate more dollars if (it) were operating at full capacity."
At the polls
Blackmon will face Democratic opponents Jim Roberts of Pontotoc, a former state Supreme Court justice, and Troy Brown of Itta Bena, a former Mississippi Valley State University administrator, in the Aug. 5 primary election.
Throughout her campaign Blackmon - one of several African Americans running for statewide office - said she has found voters to be more interested in who understands the issues facing the state and how to best address them than in her skin color.
"Leadership begins at the top and for the last several years it was a struggle among the speaker (of the House), lieutenant governor and governor," she said. "I believe that it will change under our leadership because I have a business background and the leader of the Senate sets the tone for what the Senate is going to do."