3rd District candidates tackle variety of issues

Published 6:00 am Thursday, February 14, 2008

SUMMIT – Seven of the nine candidates for Mississippi’s ThirdCongressional District offered their outlooks on almost every issuefacing the state and nation Wednesday night during the first offour district-wide debates.

The answers given at the two-hour debate in the Fine ArtsAuditorium at Southwest Mississippi Community College were mostlysimilar and all conservative. But several of the candidates managedto set themselves apart from the competition by putting new spinson the age-old questions, digging out hidden positives fromnegative situations and using their wit.

The first to raise eyebrows in the room of approximately 150interested voters was John Rounsaville. The Republican fromMadison, while professing his desire to halt illegal immigrationfrom Mexico, managed to point out how legal immigration from othercountries could fill the district’s need for primary health carephysicians.

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“Healthcare is a prime issue, and there are no easy answers,”Rounsaville said. “But, we have a lot of physicians coming fromoverseas to work in rural areas.”

Billy Marcy, a Republican from Meridian, was of a differentmind. He pushed for the state to train its own medicalpersonnel.

“We need to start educating doctors, nurses and technicians,” hesaid. “We have what we need right here in front of us. Mississippican be the next Florida, and northern folks can start coming hereto retire.”

Gregg Harper, of Pearl, went in the opposite direction from thepresidential candidates on the matter of health care. Rather thannationalizing the system or simply leaving it alone, Harperadvocated less government control – while making it clear that hewas a Republican.

“If it resembles anything like Hillary-care, I don’t want it,”Harper said. “I’m opposed to anything that nationalizes one-seventhof our economy. I think we should loosen medical controls andincrease competition in our medical community.”

On the issue of abolishing the federal income tax, a conceptwidely promoted on stage, Joel Gill – the debate’s lone Democrat -looked down the table at the six Republicans and offered adifferent spin on the issue.

“The first thing we need to do about the federal income tax isget realistic,” said Gill, from Pickens. “We’re never going to getrid of it, so it’s time to deal with it.”

Gill proposed several measures to “deal with it,” such as nottaxing minimum wage or married couples that net under $24,000annually. He also denounced the idea of taxing the wealthy inhigher proportions.

“It should be fair across the board,” Gill said. “We could taxonly the wealthy 100 percent, and it still wouldn’t be enough torun the government.”

The most diverse answers of the debate came when moderator SidSalter, perspective editor for the Clarion-Ledger, posed onequestion to all the candidates. He asked how they would bringindustry to the “undiscovered country” of SouthwestMississippi?

Rounsaville said he hopes to see the forestry industry – alreadyone of the largest in the state – attract new businesses,specifically by the development of wood-based alternativefuels.

Charlie Ross, a Republican from Brandon, advocated a regionalapproach to lure industries, with counties partnering up to formcoalitions of local leadership to publicize their areas.

Fellow Republican James Broadwater, of Flowood, said the answerfor recruiting industry lies with the Almighty, and His return topublic education.

“We need to put God back in school to give our kids theknowledge they need,” he said. “The Bible says that the ‘fear ofthe Lord is the beginning of knowledge.’ It’s been provenstatistically that SAT scores have dropped since the removal of theBible and prayer from our schools.”

Republican Gregory Hatcher, of Meridian, was not in favor ofrecruiting outside industries at all.

“District Three has some of the most fabulous assets – ourpeople are hard working and willing to work,” he said. “Rather thangoing after the large industries and big contracts, we should lookto grow our own business and network between counties. I’m a strongbeliever in entrepreneurship.”

The candidates also took time to pocket their emotions anddeliver sober responses on some of the nation’s most pressingissues, issues that have persisted throughout several years andelections.

Broadwater cited more than a century of U.S. history that sawseveral skirmishes between Americans and Islamic extremists as thereason why he opposed an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

“I don’t agree with Mr. (John) McCain that we will be at war for100 years,” Broadwater said. “But we do need to stick with it – notlet them use Iraq as a training base to attack us. I’d rather fightthem over there and over here.”

One of the most comprehensive answers of the debate came fromMarcy on the issue of gun control, when he was asked aboutsupporting the Second Amendment when compared to a recent incidentin Brookhaven when a 14-year-old was shot.

“As a former law enforcement officer, I’ve been at that scene,”Marcy said. “The gun is not at fault, the person was. The problemis in the family. We must hold gun owners responsible, not punishthe public. The Second Amendment was a right granted by ourforefathers – it was made second because it was important.”

Among other topics, Ross explained the importance of tappinginto domestic oil supplies and developing alternative fuels as ananswer to constantly fluctuating fuel prices.

“We need to develop alternative fuels for the long term,” Rosssaid. “Everyone knows the petroleum supply is dwindling. Researchinto biofuels is an investment, not an expenditure.”

When asked about implementing a draft to support the stretchedresources of the military, Broadwater opposed.

“An all-volunteer military is the best way,” he said. “There’sno sense in people serving in the military who don’t want to bethere, who don’t want to do their best. Currently, our numbers arehigh enough that it is not necessary to go to a draft.”