Sid Salter Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 16, 2009

Sid Salter

Salter: Delta Democrat Luckett might make 2011 gubernatorial bid

Perhaps the best way to sum up Clarksdale entrepreneur William O. “Bill” Luckett Jr. is to say he’s not your average “Mississippi” Democrat — not, at least, viewed through the prism of modern day “gotcha” political ads.

Luckett confirmed this week that he is “considering making a run for governor in 2011.” There are other Democrats considering such a race as  well and a number of Republicans, too.

But there will be none with a more complex set of life experiences than the tall, straight-talking Luckett — the scion of an old and established Delta family.

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The 60-year-old Luckett — perhaps best known outside legal circles as Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman’s business partner in ventures like Madidi restaurant, Ground Zero Blues Club and a couple of airplanes — is a white attorney who is a lifetime member of the NAACP.

There are other seeming contradictions. He supports charter schools, but supports a substantial amount of so-called “tort reform” legislation.

That would seem to pit Luckett against one of the groups that delivers the most warm bodies to the polls to support Democrats (teacher unions) and one of the groups that has in recent years provided much of the campaign finance dollars (trial lawyers).

Raised by “Goldwater Republican” parents, Luckett is a longtime Democratic Party activist, donor and fundraiser who has labored in the state’s Democratic Party vineyards.

He is also the great-nephew of Semmes Luckett, who in 1954 argued in favor of segregation against Thurgood Marshall in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case that did away with the “separate but equal” doctrine.

Luckett, by contrast, took up the cause in 2001 of Dr. Clyde Glenn, a black physician who tried unsuccessfully to join the Clarksdale Country Club based on what Luckett called “obvious” racial considerations.

“Two very well-qualified members of the black race were denied membership — in my opinion and one shared by many others —  solely on the basis of their race,” Luckett told The Associated Press. Club officials said the right to be exclusive is important to any private club and that changing the groups’s bylaws “was not in the best interests of the Clarksdale Country Club.”

Luckett practices law in Clarksdale, Sumner and in Memphis, Tenn. He frequently is a defense attorney for companies as large as Wal-Mart, but has done personal injury work along with myriad other types of cases including defending large insurance companies.

Luckett is a University of  Virginia graduate who earned a law degree at Ole Miss. He served a decade in the Mississippi National Guard.

Luckett also served as the 2005 honorary co-chair for the Mississippi Heritage Trust. He has served on the executive council of the Association of Defense Trial Attorneys, the board of directors of the Mississippi Hospitality & Restaurant Association, the Clarksdale Beautification Committee, the Clarksdale-Coahoma County Planning Commission and the Clarksdale-Coahoma County Airport Board.

Perhaps most important in the nation’s new political paradigm is the fact that Luckett was an early and enthusiastic supporter of President-elect Barack Obama.

Luckett’s business success, his resources and his political connections at the national level make him no one’s sacrificial lamb even in a state that rejected Obama for Republican John McCain in 2008.

State Republicans would be well-served to keep a close watch on Luckett. He’s a savvy, non-traditional candidate who could give even GOP heavyweights like Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant fits in a general election campaign showdown.

(Contact Perspective Editor Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail Visit his blog at