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Candidates discuss issues at forum

Questions about guns in the courthouse, open carry laws, the Mississippi flag, and violent and youth crime, dominated the questions for candidates at Thursday’s candidate forum for local and state offices.

A total of 11 candidates representing circuit and county court, Warren County constable, state appeals court and state District 85 representative participated in the forum at the Warren County Courthouse sponsored by the Vicksburg Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Blacks in Government and the Vicksburg Branch of the NAACP.

Attending were District 2 Appeals Court candidates Eric Charles Hawkins and Deborah McDonald; District 85 candidates JoAnn Collins-Smith, Jeffery Harness and Tyler K. Doss, county court judge candidates Richard “Ricky” Johnson and Marcie Southerland; circuit court candidates Angela Carpenter and Toni Terrett; and constable candidates Mario Grady and Troy Kimble.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson delivered a brief address before leaving for an event in Greenville, outlining his accomplishments and listing the issues affecting the state and the 2nd Congressional  District.

The question and answer period followed comments by the candidates.

The candidates dealt with two questions about the state’s gun laws — one dealing with guns in the courthouse that was addressed to the judicial candidates, while a second question about the state’s open carry law was addressed to all candidates.

The judicial candidates said they would follow the law allowing firearms in public buildings, which has been upheld by the state Supreme Court. All of them, however, said they would not allow weapons in the courthouse.

“The law says you can bring a gun, a weapon, into the courthouse in Warren County, Mississippi, and across this state,” Southerland said. “The judges have the right to enter orders that do not allow you to bring guns into the courtroom. That is the law, and that is what I’d do.”

Later, while answering the question on open carry, Carpenter gave the same message.

Saying because of the potential for emotion and drama during  courtroom hearing, “I believe that weapons, unless they are carried by law enforcement, should not be inside the courtrooms; it’s just too emotional.”

Concerning the question of open carry, the judicial candidates, citing legal issues that prevented them from expressing a personal opinion, said they would follow the law.

District 85 candidates Harness and Doss said they supported open carry, but added they would like to see stricter regulations in the law.

Grady said he would follow the law. Citing the recent cases where police officers were shot, Kimble said he preferred open carry because he can see the weapon. He added he supported the law.

Officials were asked their opinion on the state flag, specifically the “Confederate Battle Flag” emblem featured on the flag.

The judicial candidates and the constable candidates declined to comment, saying they would follow the law.

Both Harness and Tyler supported removing the flag and putting it in a museum.

Harness, who said Americans need to be united, called the state flag’s confederate emblem divisive.

“When I see the flag, I think of slavery, I think of division,” he said. “I believe we live in the United States of America and we should be united.”

Smith said the flag was a minor issue.

“What I want to talk about is education,” she said, adding the flag issue  was not a priority for her. “ I want to talk about the fact that we have not had a majority of our students make a 36 on the ACT.

”These are things we need to focus on. That flag, whether you place it in a museum or fly it so high. It doesn’t matter.”

On violent crime, Johnson said the challenge of dealing with crime is greater in the youth court than the adult court.

“I think the judge in the youth court system, his attitude can create an atmosphere that’s either going to be productive and helpful to  the child, or it’s going to be abusive and not helpful,” Johnson said.

He said he plans to create an atmosphere in the court that will be “helpful to the child and everyone involved for the betterment of our society.”

Terrett said a state law to reduce prison overcrowding has put pressure on judges and parole officers to find ways to put offenders back into society. She said judges can find alternatives for non-violent offenders.

Southerland said youth and parents and the community have to be accountable for a child’s misbehavior.

“In youth court, putting a band-aid on the problem will not stop the violence in the street,” when a child in trouble becomes an adult.

“What has been happening has not been working,” she said. “My plan is an adolescent drug court program. I promise it will make a difference in our youth. Some of those children will be saved and will not transition to the circuit court system.”

In other issues:

  • Concerning representing the portion of Warren County in District 85, Doss and Harness said they would develop relationships with the county’s other representatives and city and county officials. Harness said he would also hold quarterly meetings in the district to meet constituents. Smith said she would also hold meetings with constituents to get their concerns.
  • Grady and Kimble addressed two questions about the role of constable, saying they would communicate with the public, and explaining the need for constables, both as law enforcement officers and explaining the process services they perform free up law enforcement officers for other tasks. Kimble pointed out that the office of constable is a fee paid office.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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