Brad Dye, who died this week, might have been Mississippi’s last lieutenant governor who was not eying the Governor’s Mansion while serving as the presiding officer of the Senate.
Dye, whose funeral is set for Thursday, died Sunday morning at age 84 while in hospice care in Ridgeland.
“He was satisfied where he was” as lieutenant governor, said Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, who served in the state Senate when Dye was the presiding officer. “I don’t remember a conversation where he talked about running for governor.”
State Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, who served two terms in the Senate while Dye was lieutenant governor, said he could not say with certainty that Dye never envisioned being governor, but “he certainly did not spend his time running for governor.”
It could be argued that every lieutenant governor since Dye had envisioned eventually running for governor. Two – Ronnie Musgrove and Phil Bryant – did and won while another, Eddie Briggs, ran for governor four years after losing re-election to the post of lieutenant governor.
Tate Reeves, the incumbent lieutenant, is considered the Republican front-runner for governor in 2019. That leaves only Amy Tuck, who — after serving two terms as lieutenant governor — was viewed at one point as a strong possibility to be Mississippi’s first female governor, but for various reasons the timing never was right for her to run.
There were certainly multiple instances where lieutenant governors had run for governor prior to Dye, but some noticeable changes occurred either during or right after Dye’s tenure as lieutenant governor that made it more likely that the office would be used as a stepping stone.
Primary among those were changes that limited the lieutenant governor to two consecutive terms and allowed the governor to serve two consecutive terms. Prior to those changes, political observers believed the facts that there was no limit on the terms of lieutenant governor and that governors could not serve consecutive terms gave the lieutenant governor more power than the governor.
In addition, because of other factors it was perceived that the position of governor in Mississippi was inherently weak compared to the influence of the Legislature. Court cases and other factors, such as the emergence of partisan politics, have resulted in more power for the governor in recent years.
Dye, a conservative Democrat, served three 4-year terms before he was upset by the Republican Briggs, in 1991. During that election and during a contentious Democratic primary, Dye was painted as a Jackson politician craving and taking advantage of power. A cushy, oversized chair on the lieutenant governor’s podium became the symbol of that alleged abuse of power in television commercials.
Both Bryan and Hall said Dye was powerful and did exert that power, but also appointed committee chairs and gave them broad leeway.
“He looked for consensus,” Bryan said.
Hall said when he was first elected to the Senate in 1987 after three terms in the House, Dye created a new Environmental Committee and, because of Hall’s experience, made him chair despite the fact he was one of only four Republicans in the chamber. But when Hall said he complained because he also was appointed to the Education Committee where he did not want to serve, Dye told him he needed him there and to stop complaining, after all — he was a freshman being awarded a committee chair.
“He was as good a guy as I ever served with, and I think he was a great leader.” Hall said.
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, a Tupelo Republican, whose stint in the state Senate coincided in part with Dye’s tenure as lieutenant governor, said, “Brad Dye is one of the finest public servants I have ever known. He made a tremendous contribution to infrastructure, government reform, health care and education. He was also a wonderful husband to Donna and a great father. I am honored to be have been counted as his friend.”
Bradford Johnson Dye Jr., who served from 1980 until 1992, was the longest serving lieutenant governor in the state’s history. He presided during some historic events in the Senate, including passage of the landmark 1987 four-lane Highway Bill over the veto of then-Gov. Bill Allain and the passage in 1982 of then-Gov. William Winter’s watershed Education Reform Act.
And through circumstances, Dye was the subject of an important lawsuit spelling out the powers of the office of lieutenant governor. A lawsuit was filed in the late 1980s saying the office of lieutenant governor was a violation of the separate of powers clause of the state Constitution because the post had powers and duties in both the executive and legislative branches of governor.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution gave the lieutenant governor limited powers, but that it was appropriate, should it see fit, for the Legislature to bestow additional powers on the office. Those additional powers traditionally given to the lieutenant governor include naming Senate committees and assigning bills – both greatly expanded the powers of the office.
Bryan, who was not seen as a key ally of Dye, led an effort of a group of senators who intervened in the lawsuit, claiming that historic precedent gave the Senate the authority to give those powers to the lieutenant governor. Bryan said the Senate right after the current Constitution was adopted in the 1890s gave the lieutenant governor those powers and that it made sense to have a statewide elected official with such power instead of a single senator elected from one district and given that authority by the other members of the Senate.
“When I got here and observed the Senate, I had very little to complain about” in terms of how the rules were being enforced, Bryan said.
Dye also served as state treasurer and in the 1960s was a protégé of powerful U.S. Sen. James Eastland and Gov. John Bell Williams. During that era Dye acknowledged later in life he supported segregationist efforts of the state’s political leaders.
As lieutenant governor in the 1980s, he was recognized for hiring African Americans as part of his staff at a time when it still was not common in Mississippi.