Different backgrounds, interests competing for Congress Tuesday
So. Many. Choices.
When Lincoln County voters head to their precincts Tuesday to weigh in on the makeup of the federal government, they will mark on a ballot that contains only two races, but those races are being fought over by 19 candidates. A total of nine candidates are running to represent Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District in a race left wide open due to current U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper’s decision not to seek reelection. U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker is attempting to defend his incumbency against nine other challengers.
Wicker — with an incumbency, big backing and only one lesser-known party challenger — is expected to sail through the June 5 primary to represent the Republican Party in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 6, where he’ll face one of six Democratic challengers, a Libertarian and a Reform Party candidate.
For Southwest Mississippi, the most political action will take place in the congressional race, where six Republicans and two Democrats are competing for the right to represent the snaking 24-county area that includes Brookhaven, Meridian, Natchez and Starkville.
Voters who choose a Republican ballot will decide among Brookhaven state senator and attorney Sally Doty, healthcare executive Morgan Dunn, Madison and Rankin counties’ district attorney Michael Guest, former Baptist Healthcare Foundation chief and political planner Whit Hughes, former trader and Wall Street businessman Perry Parker and education consultant Katherine Tate. Voters who choose the Democratic ballot will pick between Kevin Michael Aycox, a police investigator and the state’s first openly gay candidate, and state representative Michael Ted Evans.
Reform Party candidate Matthew Holland will appear as a third choice on the general election ballot.
The congressional candidates come from the populous heart of the district in the Jackson metro area and from the country fringes. Some have raised close to a half-million dollars in campaign contributions, some haven’t collected a dime. All of them want to win Tuesday, and here’s why.
Sally Doty, Republican
“A lot of folks here in Southwest Mississippi feel like we’ve been left out a little bit, and I think it’s important to have someone from this area who has the knowledge and experience to really be an effective legislator,” Doty said. “Because that’s what this job is — a legislator. If you don’t get your legislation passed, don’t get your language in the bill, your constituents lose out.”
Brookhaven’s own candidate, Doty, 51, is the only experienced lawmaker on the Republican side of the race. She serves as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and has been a senator since 2012. She promotes herself as an NRA-approved, anti-abortion conservative with the know-how needed to draft and push legislation. Outside of politics, she’s a practicing attorney at Brookhaven Law Office and once held a director’s position at the Mississippi College of Law.
“I think it really puts me ahead, several years ahead, and will make me more effective from day one,” Doty said. “A couple of candidates in this race have said we need to run government like a business. Well, a business hires someone with experience. We can try to run government like a business, but essentially it’s not. In a business you get to make all the decisions, but I’ve learned in government is you have people with a lot of different agendas — even here, within the Republican Party — and you’ve got to be able to work through all of that.”
Michael Guest, Republican
“For the past 22 years, I’ve dedicated my life to fighting crime and making our communities safer so they can be great places to live, worship and raise a family. I want to use that proven record of fighting for our conservative values to now fight for Mississippi’s values in the U.S. Congress,” Guest said. “As a lifelong conservative Republican and a prosecutor, I’ve taken on complex cases with many moving parts, and that experience has taught me to be prepared and to stand up for what’s right.”
Guest, 48, of Brandon, has been the Republican district attorney for Madison and Rankin counties for a decade, and his political focus is tinted with criminal justice — he identified border security and drug trafficking out of Mexico as his major concern if elected to Congress. He’s a heavy-hitter in Republican circles, as his $396,411 in campaign contributions ranks second in the race.
“My experience will help me tackle the complex issues we face in Congress, and to make sure that our Constitutional rights are protected now, and for future generations,” Guest said. “If elected, I will always work to make the people of Mississippi proud, to leave a better future for our children and grandchildren, and that we will always be one nation under God.”
Whit Hughes, Republican
“I have spent my career fighting for better quality jobs, better-paying jobs and economic growth in Mississippi,” Hughes said. “I have a real understanding of how much retaining one dozen existing jobs means to a rural town, just as locating 1,000 new jobs would be significant to an entire region of our state. While the challenges we face may be complex, the solutions are simple — better jobs and a stronger economy.”
Hughes, 42, of Madison, is the race’s economic developer. A Republican, he served as former Gov. Haley Barbour’s finance chairman during his 2003 campaign, and later as a deputy director of the Mississippi Development Authority. Most recently, he was a high-ranking director in Baptist Health Systems.
In his college days, Hughes was a star basketball player for Mississippi State — he calls his manifesto “Whit’s Game Plan.” He’s also a prolific fundraiser, and leads all candidates with $430,577 in donations.
“I am proud of my team and the fact that I have grassroots-level organization in all 24 counties, and I have received financial contributions from all 24 counties,” he said.
Perry Parker, Republican
“I believe Mississippi can grow faster. Our people and our resources are undervalued — what we need to do is add investment dollars to the mix, and we will see gains,” Parker said. “I believe I can help do that. This is a powerful office and I will use it to promote investment in this district and across the state. I’ve been promoting Mississippi myself for 30 years, and, frankly, we need large-scale investment in this district and across this state.”
Parker, 52, of Seminary, is the Republican Party’s Wall Street man in Mississippi. He grew up in the cattle business and went to Chicago to trade cattle futures for Goldman Sachs, then directed global efforts for Deutsche Bank before founding his own firm, Sanford Investment. He founded The First bank in Hattiesburg.
Parker wants to use the district’s seat in Congress to continue making deals.
“Lumber is begging for investment in mills and plants to process all the timber we have in Southwest Mississippi. It’s crying out for investment now, but there’s not enough investment due to regulation, and it just hasn’t been promoted or recognized by investors across the country,” he said. “A congressional seat is a powerful office — everyone will take a congressman’s call. With my contracts, I can help point out those opportunities.”
Katherine Tate, Republican
“As a former school auditor, I’d just like to do a comprehensive audit of the executive branch, these thousands of bureaus started with good intentions that have gotten out of control,” Tate said. “Congress is supposed to have oversight into the executive branch, and I’d like to exercise that oversight to review and audit the executive branch.”
Tate, a Jackson Republican, is a Tupelo native who has worked in education — and training — for 40 years. She left college to work for the U.S. Department of Defense, taught in Jackson Public Schools, served as the state arts supervisor and worked with the late Dr. Jim Barnett to create the Mississippi School of the Arts. She went on to work for McGraw-Hill to develop teacher training curriculum and helped with industry training at the Nissan plant in Canton.
Tate has reported no campaign contributions — she’s the only Republican without donations — and claims to have spent around $2,000 of her own money on the campaign. She is currently a doctoral student at Regent University researching the origins of public education, and she wants to use the congressional seat to upend the U.S. Department of Education and restore Christian-based principles in education.
Tate said her platform is radical, and although she believes she’d make a good congressman, she admits she’s not sure how many voters want to “hitch up” to her ideas.
“I have nothing to gain from going to Washington, D.C. I have nothing to lose,” she said. “The other candidates are young and ambitions, and ambition colors your thinking — I was young and ambitious one time. But I have the level-headedness of having nothing to gain, nothing to lose, just the love for my country, wisdom, experience and maturity.”
Michael Ted Evans, Democrat
“Rural Mississippi ain’t really had a voice, and I wanted to run to represent those rural areas, the ‘ole country folks who need a voice in Washington on some of the issues that affect us,” Evans said. “We don’t have broadband internet, we ride on old slag roads, we have infrastructure problems, our little rural hospitals are suffering. I decided to run to be a voice for all the district, but especially for the folks from rural Mississippi.”
Evans, 42, of Preston, has some similarities to Doty — he’s also been in the Legislature since 2012, when he was elected to the House, and is the only Democratic candidate with legislative experience. He’s not an attorney — he was a firefighter in Philadelphia for 23 years.
“I’m a Blue Dog Democrat, right here in the middle,” he said. “I’m going to Washington to do what’s right, not for the party, not for the big money people. I don’t care about Republican or Democrat. If you’re willing to work for the people, I’m ready to work with you.”
Dunn and Aycox did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story. Holland could not be reached.
Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday and voting ends at 7 p.m. With so many Republicans in the race, the top two finishers from Tuesday are likely headed to a runoff election on June 26.