• 66°

Political punches fly at Neshoba

PHILADELPHIA, Miss. — To a parched and packed crowd inFounder’s Square at the Neshoba County Fair, the congressionalpolitical season officially kicked off Thursday afternoon with adebate between congressional incumbents Chip Pickering and RonnieShows.

Pickering and Shows faced off in the first in a series ofdebates leading up to a November face-off to decide who willrepresent the state in the newly-created Third CongressionalDistrict.

The race has national significance in that its outcome coulddecide which party controls the House in 2003. The race also holdsignificance because the two congressmen are battling in thenewly-created district that was carved out of the old Fourth andThird congressional districts.

Billed to be a sparing match in the long tradition of NeshobaCounty Fair political events, but only the second face-to-facedebate in fair history, Shows came out punching. The hometownfavorite Pickering matched Shows with his own share of counterpunches, much to the delight of the crowd.

The hour-long debate saw hoots and hollers from spectatorsrooting for their favorite candidate, so much so that on at leasttwo occasions the crowd was asked to control their emotions toallow time for the debate.

The two spared on everything from abortion, to free trade, tosocial security issues, to party loyalty and the bankruptcy ofWorldCom.

“This campaign is about three things,” Shows, the Democraticnominee, told the crowd. “It is about jobs, greed and free trade… It is about who is working for the hard-working folks or who isworking for the folks in the boardrooms.”

Shows went on to criticized Pickering for his votes that allowcorporations to move companies offshore, his votes along Republicanparty lines and Pickering’s lack of compassion for WorldComemployees by refusing to give back campaign donations fromWorldCom.

“I will never support a trade bill that hurts jobs here inMississippi,” Shows said. “Rural America is in trouble and we mustwork to fix it.”

Pickering, a third-term Republican, responded by questioning theaccuracy of the voting record claimed by Shows, questioning thelegality of some campaign contributions given to Shows, andquestioning the liberal source of other contributions. Pickeringtouted his conservative Republican voting record as being the sameas Mississippi values.

“I stand with the leadership of my party, for their values areMississippi values,” Pickering said.

The two spared on education issues with Shows voicing hissupport for Presidents Bush’s education initiatives, but voicinghis opposition to school vouchers and his support of increasedgovernment involvement in schools. Pickering spoke of his supportof school vouchers but his opposition to government involvement inpublic schools.

“The government should provide resources and funding, but thestandards and curriculum should be set at the local and statelevel,” Pickering said.

Tort reform brought out the differences in philosophies of thetwo incumbents. Shows voiced his support of the current jury systemand his fear that tort reform would hurt individuals.

“Tort reform is another example of big business sticking it tothe little guy,” Shows said. “Yes, we need to have some reform, butI am not about to take the jury system away from the littleguy.”

Pickering countered with his fear of losing doctors in the statedue to the medical liability awards and its effect on healthcare.

“We need reasonable limits, not on economic damages but onpunitive damages,” Pickering said. “We need lawsuit reform. So manyof our small businesses are one lawsuit away from bankruptcy.”

The two candidates will meet in debates next week in BrookhavenMonday at 6 p.m. at Brookhaven High School and in MonticelloTuesday at 11:30 a.m. at the Lawrence County Civic Center.