January 6, 2012 11:56:00 AM
By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
JACKSON -- Seven of Mississippi's eight statewide elected officials began their four-year terms Thursday, and Republican Gov.-elect Phil Bryant is preparing to take his oath on Tuesday.
New Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves of Flowood said in a brief inaugural speech that he wants to strengthen schools, cut government spending and encourage businesspeople to create jobs.
"We will start by improving the education attainment level of our students. We have to make sure that we're providing access to a quality education for all of our people -- black, white, rich and poor," said Reeves, who just completed two terms as treasurer. "We have to improve the early education curriculum to get children off to the best start possible. We have to put college within reach of every child who needs it."
The new slate of officials, elected Nov. 8, includes a rarity for Mississippi -- two women holding statewide office at once. Lynn Fitch of Madison begins her first term as treasurer, and Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven begins her first term as agriculture commissioner.
The last time Mississippi had two women in elected office at once was 1968-72, when Democrat Evelyn Gandy of Hattiesburg was in her second term as treasurer and Julia H. Kendrick was clerk of the state Supreme Court. The clerk's job has since been switched from elected to appointed.
The state House chamber Thursday was standing-room-only for the swearing in of Reeves, Fitch, Hyde-Smith, Attorney General Jim Hood, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Auditor Stacey Pickering and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney.
Hood, starting his third term, is the only Democrat holding statewide office.
Hosemann, Pickering and Chaney are beginning second terms.
Bryant's single term as lieutenant governor ended when Reeves took the oath of office.
"I understand I will be unemployed for about four days," Bryant deadpanned Thursday while speaking to state business leaders. "I considered going hunting."
Instead, Bryant said he'll stay in the Jackson area and continue working on his transition.
Reeves was accompanied Thursday by his wife, Elee, and their two young daughters. He also announced that he and Elee are expecting a third daughter on Feb. 29.
Two-term Republican Gov. Haley Barbour sat among lawmakers on the House floor during the ceremony.
At a pre-inaugural prayer meeting at Galloway United Methodist Church near the Capitol in downtown Jackson, ministers from several faiths called on the officials to show strength and unity.
"My prayer for you is that you will work together even when it is difficult ... even when the temptation is to go it alone," said the Rev. Mike O'Brien of Saint Richard Catholic Church in Jackson.
The prayer meeting was hosted by the Federation of Republican Women. Statewide elected officials and their families attended, except for Reeves who had an earlier prayer breakfast and Bryant who was at the Capitol.
The ministers urged officials to pray together, work together and build the future of Mississippi together.
"My promise is to pray for you often and in earnest ... as you lead our state,'" said Randy Turner, pastor of First Baptist Church in Laurel.
Jim Genesse, senior pastor at Madison United Methodist Church, urged officials to be unified in their goals and deeds.
"You are all united in serving the people of Mississippi. What unites you will be stronger than those things that tend to divide you," he said.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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