Phil Bryant was elected governor of Mississippi in the November 2011 Republican landslide. In that historic election, Republicans won all statewide offices, except for attorney general, and won majorities in both houses of the Mississippi Legislature. Bryant defeated the Democrat candidate, Mayor Johnny Dupree of Hattiesburg, by a 61- to 39-percent majority. Dupree was the first African American candidate in Mississippi history to win a major-party nomination for governor. Bryant campaigned as a populist conservative, promising job creation and lower taxes while opposing abortion, gay rights, illegal immigration, and gun restrictions.
Although his 2011 campaign was his first run for governor, Bryant had successfully conducted three previous statewide races, two for state auditor and one for lieutenant governor. In his 2003 state auditor re-election campaign he had carried 81 of Mississippi’s 82 counties.
Bryant was born on December 9, 1954, in Moorhead, a small Sunflower County community in the Mississippi Delta. His varied educational background includes an associate degree from Hinds Community College, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Southern Mississippi, and a master’s degree in political science from Mississippi College. He has been honored as a distinguished alumni by all three institutions and has served as adjunct professor of government at Mississippi College.
He was elected to the House of Representatives from Rankin County in 1991 and re-elected in 1992 under the new redistricting plan. As a member of the House, he served as vice chairman of the Insurance Committee and authored the Capital Gains Tax Cut Act of 1994. In 1995 he was re-elected to the House and served until Gov. Kirk Fordice appointed him state auditor in 1996.
In 1999 Bryant was elected state auditor and re-elected in 2003. During his tenure as state auditor, Phil Bryant recovered more than $12 million in state funds that had been embezzled, or otherwise misused. He was elected lieutenant governor with 59 percent of the votes in November 2007, defeating Democrat candidate Jamie Franks Jr.
Among his many awards and honors is the 2004 Statesman of the Year Award by American Family Radio. He has been a longtime member of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action and is the recipient of the Kirk Fordice Freedom Award presented by the Central Mississippi chapter of the NRA.
As governor, Bryant’s economic development efforts and large financial incentives landed a few high profile successes, such as Yokohama Tire Corporation, but jobs production remained difficult as the state struggled to recover from the 2009 recession. In 2014 he announced Opportunity Mississippi, a program designed to bring “performance-based budgeting” to agencies in state government. Educational efforts included support for charter schools and literacy programs.
Bryant embraced his reputation as “the nation’s first tea party governor” by spending considerable energy opposing Pres. Barack Obama’s policies, such as refusing to expand Medicaid in Mississippi due to its integral role in the Affordable Care Act. He also joined dozens of other states suing to overturn deferment of immigration law enforcement by executive order and publicly vowed to block resettlement of any Syrian civil war refugees in the state. Bryant led the opposition that defeated a state constitutional amendment regarding public school funding, Initiative 42, in a statewide referendum and has opposed efforts to remove Confederate symbols from the state flag.
In 2015 he easily won a second term with 66 percent of the vote against Democrat Robert Gray, a surprise nominee and truck driver who ran a low-budget campaign. He continues to campaign for new industry and takes note of the decline in Mississippi unemployment from 9.2 percent when he took office in 2012 to 4.5 percent in 2018. He signed into law the nation’s most restrictive law against abortion and signed and supports House Bill 1523, the Religious Liberty Accommodations Act, also known as the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act. Supporters of that act see it as offering support for deep religious convictions; opponents believe it allows discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the state. In his second term as governor, Bryant has taken a broader role in national politics, first endorsing presidential candidate Ted Cruz and then supporting the successful candidacy of Donald Trump, who won 58 percent of the state’s votes in the 2016 presidential election. In 2018 he named Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith to be the state’s first woman US senator.
- Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (2014, 2016–20)
- Governor Phil Bryant website, www.governorbryant.com