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Republicans plan forum for Third District candidates

The contest for Mississippi’s Third Congressional District seatin the U.S. House of Representatives continues next week as theLawrence County Republican Party and the City of Monticello host apolitical forum for five of the seven Republican candidates.

The forum will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28, atthe Lawrence County Civic Center in Monticello.

The five candidates committed to the event are Gregg Harper, ofPearl; John Rounsaville, of Madison; Gregory Hatcher, of Meridian;Billy Marcy, of Meridian; and James Broadwater, of Flowood.

Madison’s David Landrum and Charlie Ross, of Brandon, have priorcommitments and will not be able to attend the forum. However, thetwo absent candidates will not go unrepresented – members of eachman’s staff will sit in at the forum.

“I’m sure at this point in time, the staff members know whattheir candidates’ stances are,” said Lawrence County RepublicanParty Chairman David Penny.

The presence of the candidates’ representing staff members isnot the only quality of the Lawrence County forum that willdistinguish it from other debates, such as Mississippi StateUniversity’s ongoing Stennis Institute of Government debates, thatproceed in a strictly formal matter. The forum in Monticello willallow questions to be posed from members of the audience, a methodof debate that stems from the forum’s conception.

“We want the public to get involved,” Penny said. “We usuallyget good questions from the public.”

Before the forum was organized, Penny said the citizens ofLawrence County were regularly seeking his advice on which of theseven candidates to vote for. As party chairman, he said he did notwant to influence anyone’s vote. The forum was needed to allow thepublic to familiarize itself with the candidates.

“I told everyone that they needed to make that decision on theirown,” Penny said. “People said they really didn’t know any of thecandidates. I knew we needed to come up with a way for the publicto get to know them.”

The Lawrence County forum will not only familiarize the publicwith the candidates’ stances, but with the candidates themselves.Each candidate will be given five minutes at the beginning of thedebate to give a biography – more than twice the time allotted forintroductions during the Stennis debates.

“We want this to be real comfortable and loose for thecandidates and the audience,” Penny said. “The forum is a two-hourevent, so we feel like we can stay on track and have plenty of timeto get this in.”

After introductions, the forum will get down to the issuesfacing the Third Congressional District, the state and the nation.Each candidate will have two minutes to answer any given question,posed from either the audience or a selected panel. The forum willbe moderated by Bob Smira, president of the Lawrence CountyEconomic Development Association – an appropriate choiceconsidering the forum’s point of view.

“We’re looking at focusing this debate from a SouthwestMississippi angle, specifically from the counties of Lincoln,Lawrence and Jefferson Davis,” Penny said. “I’m hoping we have somequestions from our panelists and audience addressing the economicdevelopment issues for our area – we haven’t had a lot of economicgrowth in this area in a number of years.”

Besides economic development, Penny said he believes the twomost important issues facing the citizens of the ThirdCongressional District are immigration and the price of fuel. Hesaid the candidates need to be able to address these issues.

“It’s a very important seat up for grabs,” Penny said.”Candidates basically need to be able to go to Washington D.C. andget things done. They need to be heard and not just seen.”

Penny said he expects at least 100 people to attend the forum,considering the heightened state of politics on all levels thisyear. Not only is a seat up for grabs in the Third CongressionalDistrict, but also open is a seat in the U.S. Senate and, ofcourse, the president.

“I really think that because it a presidential election year,more people will get involved,” Penny said. “I believe this willdrive voters out for a good turnout. Four years ago we had a verygood turnout in the presidential elections, and we’re hoping tohave more of the same at the forum.”