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Party leaders spar in debate

WESSON – The leaders of Mississippi’s Democratic and Republicanparties squared off in an hour-long debate for the members of BoysState at Copiah-Lincoln Community College Thursday night.

Garnering cheers and jeers alike from their young future partymembers, Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Jamie Franks andMississippi Republican Party Chairman Brad White covered issuesdear to both parties on the state and national levels, arguing forand against everything from the state budget to abortion laws. Thealmost 300 members of Boys State were majority Republicans, butyoung Democrats were also well represented and made up for theirsmaller number with volume.

Franks turned up the heat early in his 15-minute introduction,going after the Republican leadership in the MississippiSenate.

“We have a governor in this state and a state Senate that wantsto kick people off Medicaid,” he said. “They’re up to their sameold tricks again.”

During his rebuttal, White pointed out Democrats hold a majorityin the Senate.

“(Lt. Gov.) Phil Bryant (the Senate leader) could not get onething passed without Democrat votes,” he said. “It’s not a goodthing when our welfare programs are increased. It means more peopledepend on the government and can’t stand on their own two feet.It’s nothing to be proud of.”

On the issue of stimulus funding, White pointed out that some ofthe federal money had strings attached that could harm the state inthe long run. Franks said Gov. Haley Barbour’s denial of $60million in unemployment benefits hurts the state now.

“He refused $60 million that could have went to working familiesto feed their children,” he said.

On the issue of socialized medicine, White made no allowances,opposing it outright. Franks allowed more room for change.

“Is it not worth a little bit to make sure every American, therichest country on Earth, health care should be a right andeveryone should have it,” Franks said.

When asked about abortion, Franks said he believed it is wrong,pointing out that he voted to ban abortion with no exceptions whileserving in the Legislature. He then advocated sex education, takinga shot at abstinence-only teachings and Bristol Palin, the daughterof 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin who had a child atage 16.

“At the same time, we need to be teaching children and otherssex education in this state so we don’t have to worry about it,”Franks said.

Though personally against abortion, Franks said the DemocraticParty is the “party of the big tent” and accepts the views of bothsides of the abortion issue.

Republicans? Not so much.

“I’m against it, and my party is against it,” White responded.”I think it was a low blow to bring up Bristol Palin. She isn’t thefirst and she won’t be the last.”

One of the few issues both candidates agreed upon was the SecondAmendment.

“Yes sir,” Franks said when asked if he was pro-gun. “I hatewe’re on a college campus, cause I might have to admit I got one inmy car.”

White followed suit.

“I’ve got one in my truck, and if it weren’t for my driver I’dhave one on me now,” he said.

In the end, White carried more support from the Boys Stateaudience, but Franks and the Democratic Party have nationalmomentum on their side. Franks predicted that momentum would pickup on the state level as well.

“We’re strong in Mississippi, too,” he said. “People will findthat out Tuesday when the polls close and we have Democratic mayorsin cities that have been under Republican leadership.”

At the debate’s conclusion, both chairmen also agreed thatpeople should align themselves with the party they believe in anddid not need anyone to tell them which they should join. Thechairmen urged Boys State members to visit each party’s Web site,at www.msgop.org (Republican) and www.msdemocrats.net(Democrat).