St. Paul hosts political forum ahead of primaries

Published 2:31 pm Tuesday, July 18, 2023

BROOKHAVEN — St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church held a political forum Monday evening with Patrick Hardy serving as the moderator. He opened and closed the forum with scripture and a prayer as he urged people and politicians to vote for what is best for the area. 

Hardy said it is the church’s first time to host a political forum. Primaries in Lincoln County will be held August 8. 

“I don’t believe in political parties, but I believe in letting God guide us,” Hardy said. 

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District 3 supervisor candidate Jason McDonald took to the podium and described his vision for Lincoln County. He said while he understands the job deals with roads and infrastructure, he believes more could be done. 

McDonald and his husband worked to stop the opt out by Lincoln County supervisors. The board of supervisors voted to opt out of Mississippi’s medical cannabis program despite overwhelming support by voters. In the end, voters took to the polls in a special election and stopped the opt. McDonald said he would focus his efforts on the economy and improving the quality of life in the county. 

“Why can’t we empower people with jobs and economic districts in Bogue Chitto and other communities? When they feel invested the crime rates will drop,” McDonald said. “I would like to set up business districts outside of the main area. We would look into increasing the minimum wage. One of the best things we can do to bring in more business is to have a look at quality of life. Still being a dry county looks backwards to businesses. They want to make sure the quality of life is greater. If we stay as Mayberry, corporations aren’t coming.” 

District 4 Supervisor candidate Eli Ferguson said he would do everything he can to take care of the people in Lincoln County. Ferguson, a real estate agent, has been present at every Lincoln County Board of Supervisors meeting for several months. 

“I want to do the best I can for everyone. I get up, go to work and will do the best I can for this community,” Ferguson said. 

Calvin Kees, also running for District 4 Supervisor, said he is a logger and knows about the road infrastructure of Lincoln County. He plans to improve the roads in his district but went a step further to say he wanted to get vocational training in the schools. 

“I want to see if we could do a program with the county so these kids can learn how to work,” Kees said. “Some of these kids may not have anyone to look up to but maybe we could mentor them.”

Working with the youth was another topic of concern for candidates running for district attorney and sheriff. Crime rates are on the rise, each candidate said and they were unified in believing youth intervention before they commit crimes was one way to fix things. 

DARE was another topic of discussion. Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office has gone through four different DARE officers in the last 10 years. The program was the crux of several platforms. 

Brendon Adams, a candidate for district attorney, works as a prosecutor. He said Lincoln County has a growing crime problem with violent, drug and property crimes being the greatest offenses “The problem is how can we fix those problems. We must work with the community to educate our youth,” Adams said. “Our youth have to understand a split second decision could cost them life in a penitentiary or their life. We have programs to prevent that and we need to utilize every program out there.” 

Joey Norton, also running for district attorney, said he has broad experience handling law and cases. Some of his cases have gone to the state supreme court and federal district courts. Those experiences have equipped him for the job, he said. 

Adams said he believed people who break the law should be held accountable and Norton agreed. He pointed to better enforcement of laws and utilizing existing laws to punish habitual offenders and gang related crimes. 

At the same time, Norton sees youth as the key to crime prevention. Part of his job has required him to work with kids in youth court. 

“I’ve represented a lot of children there and one thing I’ve seen is kids want membership,” Norton said. “It’s not just about building a gym and handing them a basketball and saying ‘go have fun.’ I’m talking about real mentorship programs. Hope Academy came here last year and it will likely return this year. Twelve kids from youth court went through Hope Academy. We have to work with kids to prevent them from becoming involved in crime.”

Sheriff candidate Leslie Falvey echoed the points about children and youth being the key to the community. He said he would love to hand pick someone to serve with the DARE program. 

“We need to find someone who loves this community and our children,” Falvey said. “It is a mentor program and will build rapport. We must bridge the gaps between county and city.”

Former dare instructor Troy Floyd currently serves with the Mississippi Department of Corrections. He is running for sheriff and wants to tackle drugs through DARE and enforcement. I-55 and US 84 are two corridors allowing drugs to move through the community, he said. 

“There is a criminal underworld here and we will wreck it,” Floyd said. 

He shared a personal story from campaigning several years ago. While canvassing in a neighborhood he stopped on each door and knocked. At one house, he knocked three times before a man came to the door. 

Floyd said he felt compelled to pray for the man but did not want to mix God with politics. He asked the man if he needed prayer and the man said yes and wept in the front yard. Floyd prayed for comfort and encouragement for him. 

“Politicians, you are coming across broken-hearted people who need to hear the love of God,” Floyd said.

Willie Gayten served as a game warden for Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks before retiring from the position in 2021. He said he prayed about how God wanted him to serve and settled on running for sheriff. 

“We have to get our kids back. Our youth is our future and we have to get them back,” Gayten said. His wife serves as the principal at Brookhaven Elementary School. 

Kelly Porter said he was grateful to see people come out to watch the forum. About 20 members of the audience were voters listening to the candidates speak. He is running for sheriff. 

“We have a passion to serve the community and it takes a lot of heart to seek office. They are here because they care,” Porter said. 

He said reaching the children and utilizing a neighborhood watch program would be crucial to staying in touch with the community. 

Gene Simmons, running for sheriff, said he took an oath 37 years ago to protect the community from enemies foreign and domestic and has not put his hand down yet. He still serves with the military. He said the sheriff department needed to be proactive in fighting against crime. 

Current sheriff Steve Rushing started as sheriff in 2006 and has served since then. He said there are several challenges facing the department such as finding officers due to the political climate and the hundreds of miles of roads criss-crossing Lincoln County that his team of 25 deputies have to cover. 

“We are doing the best we can to keep you safe. I have given 27 years to law enforcement and could retire but I feel I still have more to give. I would love to continue to serve as your sheriff,” Rushing said.