Politicial forum fosters election discussion

Published 10:51 am Thursday, June 11, 2015

Candidates spoke about their platforms, residents posed questions, and discussion and laughter were shared by all during what started as a political forum and ended up feeling more like fellowship.

Tuesday night’s political forum was hosted by the Bogue Chitto/Lincoln County Community Center and moderated by Bernetta Character, Lincoln County NAACP president.

Four candidates were in attendance: Lavon Boyd, Carl Brown, Steve Rushing and Michael Smith. The meeting was small, informal and casual, though real topics were discussed. The candidates briefed the audience on their platforms, with each asking for questions. Residents asked questions on topics ranging from education to crime to unsightly litter.

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Democrat Michael Smith, running for Senate District 39, addressed the room on his particular concerns and why he would be a good fit for the position, at times in reference to other candidates running for the same office. Smith has been working as a lobbyist for the past 16 years to pass legislation that meets the needs of the community, and also served as a firefighter in Lincoln County.

“We need someone like me that’s not afraid to go out and ask and beg for jobs to come here to this area, because the rest of them choose not to for some unknown reason,” Smith said. “They want to keep Brookhaven a small town with no jobs here.”

Smith said a community center or multiple centers should exist within the outlying areas of the city, like Bogue Chitto and Norfield.

“We can have a FEMA center and not a community center where our children can go to and learn and have something to do in the summertime to keep Lavon [Boyd] and other officers from locking them up for mischief,” Smith said.

One person asked “How will the Senate help with a community center in our area?”

“A senator’s job is to go out and search for jobs and grants,” Smith said. “There are all kinds of rural and minority grants that could [be applied] for to put community centers in rural areas. And Brookhaven and Bogue Chitto and other areas are rural areas. These grants are [out there]; all they need to do is go and apply.”

Smith answered a question about education funding Initiative 42 and 42-A.

“Forty-two is the Democratic version and provides fully funded education, and 42-A is the Republican version,” Smith said. “It was a way for them to backslide on education because there is a law that says the Legislature must fully fund education every year but we haven’t done it yet.

“They say they’ve funded education better this year than they ever have and that is not the truth,” Smith continued. “They’re giving them a little bit more money but when you look at inflation, it is less funded than it ever has been […] because they didn’t factor that in.”

Initiative 42 was a citizen-led effort to force the Legislature to fully fund education. The alternative 42-A was put on the ballot by the Legislature.

Smith’s opponents for the Senate seat are incumbent Sen. Sally Doty (R) and Mike Campbell (R)

Carl Brown briefly told the story of how he got where he is now, running for Justice Court Judge Post 2 for the third time.

After three and a half years in the U.S. Army, he put in an application with the Highway Patrol.

“I always see those guys driving down the road with that uniform on and I [would think] ‘I want to do that,’” Brown said.

He talked about the process of becoming a Highway Patrol officer. He said about 540 people put in applications, and only 63 were accepted into patrol school. Being one of those few, he saw that number decrease to around 37 who finished. Brown retired after 23 1/2 years with the Highway Patrol, and soon after sought another position he had been interested in.

He said he ran into Sheriff Steve Rushing one day, and Brown asked him what it took to become a bailiff. Rushing asked if he could start the next day. Brown has served as a bailiff in Chancery Court under Judge Patton for eight years now.

Brown talked about the first election that favored him until the last minute when he was out-voted, and described the experience as heartbreaking.

“I will be fair if you ever have to come before me,” Brown said. “I have a track record of being fair and I have no problem with enforcing the law — I did it for 23 1/2 years.”

“I am firm but fair,” he said.

He  said he demands respect in a respectful way. He said he believes in second chances depending on the crime and especially for youngsters. He mentioned that he would encourage people to participate in work programs for those who cannot afford to pay for their citation.

“I didn’t pick on anyone because of who they were or who their parents were,” Brown said.

“I would listen to your complaint, adopt an open-door policy, and I won’t condone someone breaking in your house.

“It’s come to my attention that there are people breaking in and stealing from other people and not going to jail for it,” he continued. “I believe that if you work hard for your property you should be able to keep that and not fear that someone is coming to take it away from you.”

One of his sisters in attendance at the meeting testified to Brown’s kind, caring and loyal spirit. She said as one of the oldest of 11 children she was often left to babysit. She said their mother told her that her siblings would take care of her when she got old, and Brown has stepped up to the task since she moved back to the area recently.

“Mother told me y’all were to take care of me when I got old, so here I am,” she said. “And he never stops. My flowers, anything I need to have done. He’s one in a million. I can’t express how nice and kind he is.”

Other candidates running for Justice Court Judge Post 2 include Roger Martin (R).

Lavon Boyd kept his talk short and simple. He said that he has been constable for Post 2 since a 1997 special election, totaling 18 years in the position. Boyd said he has dedicated his life to being a full-time constable.

“I keep all my duties in court, and I’m here to help everybody,” Boyd said. “I don’t care who it is I help everyone I can. If you have a summons I try to explain what it is and what to do with them.”

Boyd said he often gives advice to people he serves and interacts with. And sometimes, a little wiggle room when it comes to something like an eviction — within the laws, he tries to ease burdens.

“I’ll help anybody any way I can,” Boyd said. “If you’re having trouble you can call me, and I’ll try and get you an answer.”

He asked for questions, but the general response was along the lines of: “You’ve done a good job so far.” A couple of folks said they’d seen him around, and to keep up the good work.

Other candidates for Constable Post 2 are Kirby Ebbers (R), Troy Floyd (R), Alica Gill Warren (R), Randy Belcher (D), Terry Fuller (D) and James D. “Jimmy” Martin (D).

Steve Rushing, sheriff of Lincoln County, started off mentioning his wife, and three kids.

“I have three kids; one in college, one will be a senior next year, and I’ve got a fourth grader — so I’ve got a lot invested in the kids here,” Rushing said.

Rushing said he tries his best to hire within the community, and he has an open door, “If you need something, you can come and ask me.”

Rushing earned his degree in criminal justice from the University of Southern Mississippi, and has continued his education with further training and classes, including training with the National Sheriff’s Association in Colorado.

“I try to be fair to everybody. And enforce the law and try to put people in jail when they need to be in jail,” Rushing said. “Like Carl [Brown] said, at the same time though you don’t throw them away. If they need another chance, we try to help with that side of it too. [With that said,] we try to serve and protect each and every one of you here.”

Rushing started with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office in 1996 and became sheriff in 2006.

Rushing said he patrols the Norfield area in an unmarked car, after one woman in attendance asked about disturbances. He discussed work programs, “scared straight” tours of the jail and a garbage problem on Highway 51 that he said he would get on.

The discussion then turned to the recent trouble with people asking children who are walking if they need a ride. An incident with a blue truck and a white truck whose drivers tried to lure kids was talked about, and Rushing urged everyone to be aware.

He also answered a question about neighborhood watch programs, which there are several of within Lincoln County.

John Wayne Leggett (D) is also running for sheriff.

By the end of the semi-formal addresses by the candidates, discussions formed around questions, which were often answered by several candidates. Most of them took the time to brag on each other, sharing personal stories and making jokes.

Character and others said the meeting was as informative as it was enjoyable. Character provided several voter registration documents for those who came to the meeting to fill out or pass along. She said that if one does not vote, one has no room to complain. If you are not voting, you are not participating, she said said, and every vote counts.