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Fair speeches bring humor, serious messages

The Neshoba County Fair has long been a place for Mississippi politicians to engage in drama, hyperbole, and their own form of comedy as they try to win favor with potential voters. The candidates who appeared to have the most fun at the fair last week were those unburdened by competition in the party primaries.

Democrat Addie Lee Green is running for state treasurer, and she held up a couple of $2 bills and told the crowd that she wants to take care of Mississippi’s piggy bank. Green doesn’t divulge her age, but she’s been active in civil rights work and in state politics for decades. Wearing a big white hat and an American flag scarf, she demonstrated some dance moves at the end of her speech.

“I want you to go to the polls. If you can’t walk to the polls, wobble to the polls,” Green said. “If you can’t wobble, sliiiiiide to the polls and make your vote count.”

Mississippi has party primaries today for statewide, regional, legislative and county offices. If runoffs are needed, they will be Aug. 27.

Buck Clarke of Hollandale, who’s a CPA and state senator, and David McRae of Ridgeland, who’s the managing partner of a family investment firm, are competing for the Republican nomination for treasurer. The winner will face Green in the Nov. 5 general election.

In the agriculture commissioner’s race, Republican incumbent Andy Gipson of Braxton and Democratic challenger Rickey Cole of Jackson are unopposed in the primaries. Each brought plenty of energy to the Neshoba County Fair, where politicians speak on a wooden-plank stage under a bare lightbulb.

Gipson announced a “wild hog challenge,” to encourage people to kill the animals that have caused destruction in all 82 counties. He said he wants people to upload photos of the wild hogs they kill, and a prize will be awarded to the person who kills the biggest, baddest one of all.

“We don’t need to talk about it anymore,” Gipson said. “We need to kill some hogs!”

Cole, a farmer and former chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party, pledged that if he becomes ag commissioner, he will work to ensure that even tiny communities have access to fresh food. Some places have only convenience stores with limited options.

“We have towns in Mississippi where there’s a county courthouse but no grocery stores,” Cole said. “My opponent’s going to tell you he’s been to India three times to sell Mississippi chickens. There are places in Mississippi where you can’t buy Mississippi chickens.”

One Democrat who’s running a low-budget campaign for governor, Robert J. Ray of Meridian, brought a serious message to the stage. He talked about James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, the three civil rights workers who were captured and killed by Ku Klux Klansmen in Neshoba County in 1964. Their disappearance brought a massive FBI presence to the state for an investigation known as Mississippi Burning. A reputed Klan leader, Edgar Ray Killen, was convicted of manslaughter in 2005.

Ray said he knew Chaney, who was also from Meridian. Ray also said that no white person ever reached out to apologize to Chaney’s mother, and that continues to hurt Mississippi.

“So, what are you going to do?” Ray said to the mostly white audience at the fair. “Are you going to get out from under that cloud of that the law of retaliation? Because you’re still under it and it’s going to be taking its toll on your family. … The law of retaliation isn’t going to have any mercy when it comes to get you.”

Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter at EWagsterPettus.