It’s a political year and I was happy to see all the major politicians show up at the Mississippi Press Convention in Biloxi. This week, I’m highlighting the two main candidates for the Democratic primary for governor.
Jim Hood, four-time Mississippi attorney general:
“I wouldn’t have run for governor unless I thought that I would win. And it wouldn’t be any fun if you sat there and vetoed everything. I would want to accomplish some things. And I know from going over to the legislature and talking to Republicans and Democrats that there are issues that they are ready to vote on but were prevented from. A lot of Republican would ease up to me and say, ‘Me and my family are for you, but don’t tell anyone.’
“One issue is the road bill. The votes were there to pass a road bill and fully fund our efforts that we desperately need. That’s about 8,000 jobs and that’s working people swinging hammers and that’s how you boost the economy. That is something I think we can pass in the first month.
“The second issue is health care – the billion dollars a year that we’re thumbing our nose at the federal government. It would have such a huge impact. If you don’t care from the heart about those 300,000 working people that would be covered, you ought to care about your pocketbook and the economic huge impact of a billion dollars in our state. The votes may not have been there in the legislature 18 months ago, but I think they’re consolidated now. This is something we can pass in the first month. People are actually dying because of our failure to support our rural hospitals. . .We had better rural healthcare in 1950 than we have today. It’s like a third-world country.
“Louisiana is getting about $1.8 billion and the tax revenues that are generated by that money circulating through a state is about $177 million additional money tied to that expansion. Of that, $74 million was local tax revenue. So that’s an economic development issue. That’s 10,000 jobs. That’s working people building clinics in the Delta. The best jobs in a rural community like mine are in a medical clinic or a physical therapist’s office.
“Another area I think we can improve upon is early childhood education. All the studies show that just reading to a child between the ages of two and four exponentially increases their vocabulary. The impacts are huge. That is the best economic investment a state can make, bar none. The economists agree with that. If you invest in early childhood development, you have a much better trained workforce. That’s a long-term investment. It’s about $34 million to cover the 4-K group. that’s the patch for what we have in existence now. That’s doable. I brought in on average $50 million a year on drug cases.
“We’ve got to pay our teachers. We need to move them up to the southeastern average. That is public service. Teachers have actually lost money adjusted for inflation since we really took up the issue of teacher pay in the year 2000. We need to pay our teachers. We need to fund our schools. We’re not even providing the metal for students to learn to weld. When I was in high school, we had all that stuff. We had electrical wiring class, body shop repair. The trade skills are very important.
“If you want to go to community college but you can’t get a grant or scholarship, and you maintain a B average, then you should be able to go to the community college tuition free. It’s only $1,450 a semester, but it’s huge for those kids who want to go to a school and learn a trade skill. Tennessee is doing this statewide.
“No manufacturing enterprise is going to look at you unless you have a four-lane highway and a school nearby that the executives would want to send their kids to. So how do we help these rural communities grow? If we miss the technology wave, we could really set our kids and our state back for years, maybe even decades or centuries. There are probably some kids in your community that could make a million dollars off of some app. Maybe it only takes eight of them working out of an old house in Okolona. We have to have the broadband infrastructure to create those tech jobs. They’re leaving our state, going to Austin and Nashville, Atlanta, even Birmingham where they can find the financing and wherewithal to succeed.
“We’ve lost more kids in the past six years than any state in the union. Those are our best and brightest. Those are the ones, if they stayed here, would create small businesses. That’s probably the main reason I’m running for governor. I want my kids to be able to grow up here. Over 50 percent of my friends have left and the ones that have stayed, their kids are leaving, so we have to do something with the community college training effort to provide them with technology skills.
“Haley Barbour said he wasn’t going to raise anybody’s taxes but he did. It happened at the college level. Tuition at four-year universities was $4,000. That’s room, board and a meal ticket. Doesn’t count books or anything else. Now it’s $8,500, plus it’s going up in August. What that did is priced working class people from the ability to send their kids to college without debt. And when they’ve got $40,000 in debt, they can’t come back to a two-lane road like I’m from unless their parents own a business or they have a professional degree. If they have $40,000 in debt, they’re gone.
“We have to clean up our legislature. The first step in doing that is making them subject themselves to the Open Records Act. Make them list whose wining and dining them. Whose emailing them a bill to introduce. Then you can look and compare campaign contributions. Because that’s what’s driving these issues in our capital. We need to stop them from taking campaign contributions during the legislative session.”
Robert Shuler Smith has been Hinds County district attorney since 2008.
“My family was very involved in the civil rights movement and the grocery business. They saw Medgar Evers just about every single day. Every civil rights person – black, white, Jewish, you name it – who came to Jackson, Mississippi, my family either housed them or participated in helping move Mississippi forward.
“Our teachers spend more time with our students. Just about more time than any of our parents. The current state auditor, three or four months ago, came up with a figure of $10,000 to $11,000 for teacher pay raises, because the priorities from previous administrations have not been the best for our citizens. We cannot attract the best teachers if we do not have decent salaries. Teachers are working part-time jobs to make ends meet. That is absolutely absurd.
“I’m the only candidate who will address the hard issues head on.When I visit friends all across the country, they talk about the flag. Whether you agree with it or not, a lot of people are scared to death to come here because of what they believe the flag represents. We should have a flag that represents all Mississippians. In New Jersey, they just removed the flag that represents Mississippi. How are we going to draw our corporations to Mississippi? How are we going to draw more tax dollars?
“Some of our legislators have been in office for decades and they still don’t read the bills. That’s a problem. Those things have to stop.
“There needs to be parental involvement to make our students better and if our parents are neglecting their kids, they should be given a warning. After that warning, they should be required to go to a parenting class. We have to find a way to have parents engaged in their children’s lives, voluntarily of course.
“Seventy percent or more of Mississippians agree that medical marijuana should be legalized. Imagine Mississippi if our farmers could grow and sell marijuana. It will be legal all over the United States. Imagine the tax dollars we could generate. Imagine the number of people who could be employed. Imagine how our schools and roads could look. We have to find an alternative for opioids, and marijuana could be one of them.
“I would like you to judge me be by my platform, but imagine having the first African American governor in Mississippi. Imagine how many people, how many corporations, how many dollars would come to Mississippi because the perception and image would certainly change.
“These career politicians are killing us. And they are not going to change their lifestyles.
I applaud this current administration for bringing prison reform into reality. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars incarcerating non-violent people for possession of marijuana cases. We could change the law and make it legal and reallocate those funds.
“We have prison conditions that are awful. We cannot continue to send an unprecedented number of people, especially for non-violent offenses, and pack them into warehouses without addressing the problem of education, without addressing the problem of economic disparities.”