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House District 54 candidates answer questions

Each of the candidates participating in the Nov. 7 special election for the District 54 House Seat  were presented with the questions below and were asked to provide responses to those questions.

Joseph P. Bonelli

Education experience: A graduate of Vicksburg High School

Other political offices held: None

Joseph P. Bonelli

What do you do for a living?

I am a General Contractor and I also am a Real Estate Broker.

Why are you running for this position?

To serve the people of this District.

Why do you think you would be the best candidate for this office?

I work ten to twelve hours most days and am constantly solving problems and know who to call to get these problems solved. I work with numbers of people each day exchanging information on how to get things accomplished. I believe this knowledge would serve me well for the House seat.

What experience do you have that you think qualifies you for this office?

My business experience for over 40 years of construction, Real Estate and Development .

What are the three most pressing issues facing residents in the state’s 54th district and what would you do to solve each?

Education is number one on my list of things to help with. Things are headed in the right direction, but there is always room for improvement. It’s great to see Hinds Community College breaking ground for new facilities for training our young people for future jobs. That’s the foundation for economic development. Medicade Review is on the table now for disscusion. We need to trim the fat, manage the care and an over all review of this program. Our roads and bridges need attention. The last time there was funding for this was in 1987. MDOT is not able to maintain the roads and bridges that we have, much less build new ones. There needs to be a discussion on how to get the infrastructure financed.

Tell us about your family, if you’d like (spouse, children):

I am married toMarla Mcbeath Bonelli for 31 years. Marla has been an educator in Warren County for over 38 years in the Public School system. We have two sons, Joe Jr. and his wife Hannah Hull Bonelli and his daughter Halle Grace Bonelli and our son John Mcbeath Bonelli. All of our family works in Vicksburg.

Dr. Randy Easterling

Education experience: I graduated from Mississippi College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry and did graduate work in psychology at Jackson State University, Mississippi State University, Barry College in Miami, Florida and received a Master’s Degree in counseling psychology from the University of Southern Mississippi.  I earned an MD from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine and completed a residency in family medicine at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where I was honored to serve as chief resident my last year in training.

Other political offices held: None

Dr. Randy Easterling

What do you do for a living?

For the last 30 years, I have practiced family medicine and addiction medicine in Vicksburg and Warren County, Mississippi. 

Why are you running for this position?

I want to continue to make a positive contribution to Vicksburg and Warren County.  The citizens of Warren County have been good to me and my family.  I want to show my gratitude by giving them the representation they deserve in Jackson.  I have the right experience in helping individuals in the community as well as advocating for sound business and health care policy.  I can make an immediate difference for the people in District 54. 

Why do you think you are the best candidate for this office?

My experience solving problems, whether they be complicated medical issues or legislative concerns in Jackson.  I am widely recognized as one of the driving forces behind our state passing ground breaking Tort Reform Legislation in 2002 and 2004.  This legislation not only benefited healthcare providers, but paved the way for significant business development and job creation statewide.  I am the only candidate who has been named “Best for Business and Jobs” by the Mississippi Business Sector. 

What experience do you have that you think qualifies you for this office?

I have been active in the medical community for more than three decades through the Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians and the Mississippi State Medical Association.  I am past president of both of these organizations.  In 2002, then Lieutenant Governor Amy Tuck appointed me to serve as a consultant to the Mississippi Tort Claims Board.  I also served on Governor Haley Barbour’s Healthcare Transition Team in 2004 and was honored to Chair Governor Bryant’s Healthcare Transition Team in 2012.  Governor Barbour appointed me to 6-year term on the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure in 2006 and I was reappointed for an additional 6-year term by Governor Bryant in 2012.  Governor Bryant appointed me to his taskforce to reduce teen pregnancy.  The result was a significant decrease in teen pregnancy during Governor Bryant’s first term.  I also served on Governor Bryant’s Healthcare Solutions Committee.  The sole purpose of this committee is to promote healthcare as a job creator and economic driver.  In September 2015, the American Medical Association asked me to represent America’s doctors on a panel with two United States senators (Rob Portman of Ohio and Sidney Whitehouse of Rhode Island) to discuss the opioid epidemic in the United States.  Governor Bryant recently appointed me his vice-chair of his Opioid and Heroin Study Taskforce. 

What are the three most pressing issues of facing residents in the states 54th District and what would you do to solve them?

1) Job Creation: We need to be focused as a district on economic growth and the creation of more job opportunities for people in our region.  My efforts in bringing about Tort Reform in the past have gone a long way to creating jobs and economic growth in Warren County. 

2) Support our education system:  The higher the education attainment of our children, the greater our district will grow.  This means getting more money in the class room for our public schools and less control from the state and federal government. 

3) Access to healthcare:  Too many Mississippians are fighting healthcare battles, whether they are heart disease, diabetes, or addiction issues.  It is crucial that we have the expertise of the capitol and make a difference in the lives of our citizens.  The Affordable Care Act is collapsing around us and we need to have the expertise to fashion a healthcare system that will provide quality care for all of our citizens.        

Tell us about your family, if you would like (spouse, children):

My wife Janie and I regularly attend First Baptist Church of Vicksburg and I am a past president of the Vicksburg Rotary Club.  I have served on the Executive Committee of United Way in Warren County and have been United Way supporter for the last 30 years.  Janie and I have two wonderful children.  Matt practices family law in Madison, Mississippi, is married to the former Caylee Sullivan of Louisville, Mississippi.  They recently blessed us with our first grandchild.  Our younger child, Megan is a 3rd grade teacher.  Both attended public schools in Warren County through the 12th grade and are graduates of Warren Central High School.  Warren County has been a great place to live and raise my family.  I want to make it an even better place for all citizens of Warren County to live and raise their families. 

Kevin Ford

Education experience: Warren Central High School, Hinds Community College, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham

Other political offices held: None

Kevin Ford

What do you do for a living?

I am proud to say both of my businesses are located in District 54.  I established the Ford Insurance Agency, an independent insurance agency, which has progressed from the ground up to a well-established business. Also, I own Caffe’ Paradiso, a specialty coffee shop and bakery.

Why are you running for this position?

Approximately 14 years ago, I was in a Vicksburg-Warren County  Chamber of Commerce meeting when the status of Vicksburg’s commerce and educational system was discussed. The topics brought up at the meeting were the need for a properly trained and educated workforce, the lack of affordable housing, and the need for expansion of the Port of Vicksburg. Still today, our community leaders are discussing the same topics. I want to actively assist the constituents of District 54 as we solve these issues now, not allowing them to be just talking points.

Why do you think you would be the best candidate for this office?

To begin with, I am a businessman and not a politician. With that type of ambition, I am committed to serving and listening to the constituents of District 54. My focus is to meet the goals and concerns of our District, not my own. I am transparent, trustworthy, and will be accountable to my constituents.

What experience do you have that you think qualifies you for this office?

To create a business from the ground up, I had to be a problem solver, goal setter, and great communicator. My ability to see opportunities that others don’t, has allowed me to build a pathway to success. While understanding that the most important ingredient, in the South is to treat everyone with dignity and respect.

I have been on the ground  level in the schools for the past six years.  I have spoke with many teachers, community leaders, and school faculty. I understand the needs, concerns and issues holding us back.

What are the three most pressing issues facing residents in the state’s 54th district and what would you do to solve each?

District 54 has many pressing issues, but education, economic prosperity, and public safety are essential issues:

Quality education is pivotal to promoting our community on both local and global arenas. The Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) should be fully funded. This would provide increased resources for our schools. So many of our teacher and school staff utilize their own money, to ensure their classrooms have the tools they need so that their students may succeed.  Also, The Mississippi State Board of Education should also review the action of unfunded mandates to the public schools. Unfunded mandates to the schools divert needed resources to the students and the hiring of qualified teachers. An example of an unfunded mandate is the implementation of assessment-driven accountability necessitated administrative duties to comply with the strict protocol and security procedures associated with state testing. The resources to support these functions have not been forthcoming; districts have been forced to use existing personnel (which means less instruction time for other grades) usually school counselors, parent volunteers to manage the extensive testing processes.

For individuals and families to thrive in our community there must be an atmosphere of economic prosperity. Regulations that hinder new and established business from growing should be reconsidered. The taxes for individuals and small businesses need be reduced prior to adjusting corporation taxes. A strong emphasis should be placed on funding our Mississippi Workforce Centers which will result in increased skills for current and future jobs for the workforce in District 54.

No one can prosper, if they do not feel safe in their home and community. I will continue to protect the second amendment.  Our law enforcement and military need the resources for adequate training, officers, and equipment. I will continue to support our Drug Courts.

Tell us about your family, if you’d like (spouse, children):

My wife, Julie and I live in Vicksburg, with our three children, Kayla, Jack, and Natalie. Jack and Natalie both attend at Bovina Elementary School  in the Vicksburg-Warren School District. Kayla moved home, after college to begin her career in our District.  We are active volunteers in our community and at the children’s elementary school.