TUPELO • Around 70 people gathered to listen to candidates running for local office at the Link Centre on Monday night, where candidates addressed issues such as criminal justice reform and diversity in local government offices.
The most notable exchanges at the event came from candidates running for state legislative seats in Northeast Mississippi, who discussed ethics reform, rural healthcare and public education.
For the Mississippi House of Representatives District 16 race, Democratic candidate Rickey Thompson and Independent candidate Steve Holland both agreed that the state Legislature should be more transparent, but had different views on if Holland had been transparent while serving in the Legislature.
Holland, the incumbent, said he thought that Mississippi politicians have the same problem as federal politicians, that they are “bought out” by large donors.
“I think my record reflects that I have been one of the most transparent legislators in history,” Holland said. “I supported every campaign finance reform that came along. I’ll also go so far as to say that I wish we had state-funded campaign financing so the playing field will be level.”
Thompson said he thought it was “time for a change” in the race and said the citizens should elect someone new after 36 years and insinuated that Holland’s campaign as an Independent candidate this election cycle instead of a Democratic candidate leaves questions open about his campaign.
“We definitely need more transparency,” Thompson said. “Any time you have somebody change parties or anything like that, we need more transparency to see where the money’s coming from.”
After the forum, Holland told the Daily Journal he thought Thompson’s insinuation about him switching political parties was not true.
“Do you think I’m going to be a Republican?” Holland asked. “Hell, no. I’m one of the most independent legislators.”
For the Mississippi State Senate’s District 8 race, Republican candidate Benjamin Suber and Democratic candidate Kegan Coleman had similar views on healthcare and both thought the state should do its best to prevent rural hospitals from closing.
“Our rural hospitals are closing each and every day,” Coleman said. “You see a situation where $1.5 billion is being left on the table for our rural hospitals. Money that our folks need.”
Coleman also said he thought the state should make should policy proposals to help rural hospitals from closing by looking at the financial aspects of hospitals.
“My proposal is we’ve got to do more for these local hospitals,” Suber said. “I know here in Lee County we are fortunate. We have access to healthcare. But, a lot of these rural areas we are going to be representing, like Chickasaw County, don’t have an emergency room anymore. That’s unacceptable to me.”
Suber said he was not opposed to expanding healthcare in the state.
For the House District 17 race, Democratic candidate Cathy Grace used much of her allowed time to advocate for expanding early public childhood education in the state and agreed it was one of the most important investments the state should make.
Grace said she thought it was “ridiculous” that the state only paid $170,000 toward pre-kindergarten education.
“We also have excellent outcome scores for children who have attended that program, and it’s not a pipe dream,” Grace said. “There is a way to pay for that program, but it is also going to require us to look at some tax legislation that was passed a couple of years ago.”
Grace also criticized her Republican opponent, state Rep. Shane Aguirre, for not tackling tough issues in the Legislature this past legislative session.
Aguirre did not participate in the forum.
Other candidates who were in attendance and addressed citizens were: Cecilia Griffin, the Democratic candidate for circuit clerk; Joey Grist, the Democratic candidate for Northern District Transportation Commissioner; Randy Ellis, the Democratic candidate for District 2 constable; Tom Henry “Punnie” Lyles, the Democratic candidate for District 4 constable; Charles Heard, the Democratic candidate for District 5 supervisor; Gloria Holliday, the Democratic candidate for tax assessor; Jermandy Jackson, the Democratic candidate for sheriff; Richard Cotton, the Democratic candidate for District 2 supervisor; Eric Hampton and Marilyn Reed, the candidates for justice court judge District 2; and Phyllis Dye and Johnny "Chris" Sadler, the candidates for justice court judge District 3