Republicans step up for forum

Published 11:44 am Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In a night marked by short introductions and candidate absences, Republicans in state and local races declared themselves ready for the final two weeks of the primary campaign and beyond during a forum Monday at Vicksburg Auditorium.

Two of the five candidates in the GOP primary to succeed Gov. Haley Barbour appeared at the event organized by the Warren County Republican Executive Committee. Missing were Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Gulfport businessman Dave Dennis, who’ve garnered the most campaign cash of the crowded primary field. State Treasurer Tate Reeves was there to make his case to become the next lieutenant governor, while his opponent in the Aug. 2 primary, state Sen. Billy Hewes, R-Gulfport, was a no-show. Runoffs, if necessary, will be Aug. 23, and the general election will be Nov. 8.

State Rep. Alex Monsour and state Sen. Briggs Hopson III were chosen to co-emcee the forum because both are unopposed this year. The string of 5-minute speeches from 21 state, district and local candidates stretched the program to nearly three hours. Those who did appear clung to conservative mantras and verbal tributes to Barbour in their appeals to about 70 people.

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“We have an image problem that keeps people from wanting to come here, bring their businesses here,” said gubernatorial candidate Hudson Holliday, a Pearl River County supervisor and retired general with the Mississippi National Guard, touting his public and private sector experience. “We’ve got to stop being Republicans and Democrats and start being Americans and Mississippians. The ox is in the ditch and we all got to get down in the ditch and get that ox out.”

James Broadwater, another candidate for governor and a former state Department of Revenue employee, said he would outlaw abortion, privatize the school system and do away with the graduated income tax.

“We need to put more money in people’s pockets to decide what they want to do with it,” he said.

Jeppie Barbour, the governor’s older brother and a GOP stalwart, appeared for Dennis, saying the former Federal Reserve board member “understands business and he understands money.”

Barbour criticized Bryant’s recent comments about trying to lure the Miss America pageant to Mississippi with money paid by BP to promote tourism in the state after last year’s oil spill.

“I could say if we could bring Miss America, it would be good — if it lasted three or four months. But, in two weeks, the girls have gone home, their parents have gone home, the TV has gone home. I don’t think it’s a practical idea…. we don’t need a ribbon-cutter, we don’t need a back-slapper.”

Staffer Iris Thompson spoke for gubernatorial candidate Ron Williams, a Moss Point businessman. She talked up Williams’ decision to shun all campaign contributions. The winner faces one of four Democrats in the race — Clarksdale businessman Bill Luckett, Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, Meridian teacher William Compton and former Yalobusha County tax assessor Guy Dale Shaw.

Two Reform Party candidates, Shawn O’Hara and Bobby A. Kearan, and an independent, William D. Oatis, round out the general election ballot for governor.

Reeves said education and job creation are linked.

Either Reeves or Hewes will face two Reform Party candidates in the general election, Tracella Lou O’Hara Hill of Hattiesburg and Lisa Barfield-McCarty of Pearl.

Two of three running to succeed Reeves as treasurer appealed for lean government through lower taxes. One, state Sen. Lee Yancey, R-Brandon, used his nay vote on a popular sin tax as an example.

“I don’t like cigarettes, but I like taxes even less,” Yancey said, referring to the state’s 2009 hike on tobacco products. “It doesn’t solve the problem. All raising taxes does is increase the size of government. If you vote for the cigarette tax, you oughtta vote for a potato chip tax, a soft drink tax and where do you stop?”

Lynn Fitch, head of the state personnel board, touted her management of the state’s human resources arm. Bill Smith, father of attorney and former state budget adviser Lucien Smith, of Jackson, told the gathering his son was “hand-chosen” and “trained” by the outgoing governor.

“Many friends have told me, ‘I wish we could have Haley serve again.’ And I agree. But, we can’t. But, you can get a little slice of Haley if you elect Lucien Smith.”

Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, seeking a fourth term, advocated investment in infrastructure. His primary challenger, Tim Johnson, a Madison County supervisor, said the state needs to speed the development of highway projects.

“I don’t think we can afford to wait 35 years to do road projects,” Johnson said.

Two of three in the race for state agriculture and commerce commissioner, state Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Brookhaven, and state Rep. Dannie Reed, R-Ackerman, appeared and played up their experience — Hyde-Smith around cattle farms and Reed as a former county agent. Macon Phillips, son of candidate Max Phillips, spoke of the need to expand development of biofuels.

Central District Public Service Commissioner Lynn Posey, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Commissioner of Insurance Mike Chaney each spoke briefly. Hosemann urged progress on redistricting, and Chaney advocated a health insurance exchange before a 2014 deadline. Posey is unopposed in the primary and faces two Democrats in November, Addie Green of Bolton and Bruce Burton of Jackson. Hosemann faces Gulfport City Council member Ricky Dombrowski in the primary; Chaney is unopposed and faces Democrat Louis Fondren of Jackson and two Reform Party candidates in the general election.

Republican Sam Smith credited former President Ronald Reagan for inspiring his challenge of longtime state Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, and was critical of “failed liberal policies” in education that he said have hurt the economic climate in Vicksburg.

“Competition drives improvement in any sector,” Smith said. “Education should not be any different.”

District 1 Supervisor David McDonald, challenged by two fellow Republicans to represent northeast Warren County, said he still enjoys the job and the area “has a lot of good things here with the river and the interstate.”

“As the mayor said in the article in the paper, we’re in a pivotal position here,” McDonald said.

John Arnold, a real estate broker making his second bid for the office, told the crowd he intends to “become the leader of the supervisors, to lead Warren County into the future.”

“I believe the people of Warren County have been forgotten about,” Arnold said. The final Republican candidate for the District 1 spot, Joe Channell, did not attend.

The GOP’s chancery clerk candidates, Donna Farris Hardy and Doug Whittington, praised outgoing clerk Dot McGee, who is retiring this year. Both pledged to expand technology in the office.

“I’ve done tracking systems for records management and merit-based evaluation systems,” said Hardy, a retired health care industry administrator. “It takes someone who has the ability to multitask.”

“I’m not a politician, I’m an accountant,” said Whittington, who heads up accounting for the City of Vicksburg. “I want to bring (the office) into the 21st century.”

Republican Dawn Cain Barnes did not attend. The winner faces City Clerk Walter Osborne, the only Democrat in the race, and independents Alecia Ashley and Gene Thompson.

Three lone Republicans in their respective races — District 2 supervisor candidate Trey Smith, tax assessor candidate Mike Caruthers and circuit clerk candidate David Sharp, played up their political inexperience as a plus, to varying degrees.

“I want to make sure that I can assist you in any way possible as circuit clerk,” said Sharp, a teacher.

“When the bridge closed, I kept losing business,” said Caruthers, who operates Caruthers Marine on Washington Street. “And my taxes kept going up.”

He was referring to the railroad bridge on Washington Street at Clark Street, which had to be demolished, leaving much of Washington closed to traffic for more than two years. It is expected to be opened this year.

“I don’t want to get in the mudslinging of politics,” said Smith, a Culkin volunteer firefighter. “That’s not my form, that’s not my thing… I’m running to bring industry back.”

Smith faces the winner in the Democratic race between incumbent William Banks and city zoning board member Tommie Rawlings, and independent De Reul.

Sharp faces the winner of the Democratic primary between incumbent Shelly Ashley-Palmertree and Preston Balthrop and independents Jan Hyland Daigre and Robert Terry.

Caruthers faces the winner of Democratic primary between Angela Brown and Gary Lick and independents Ben Luckett and Doug Tanner.