Most Republicans in Mississippi's statewide elections can be easily confused with one another in terms of their platforms. All call for lowering taxes and promoting business development. Some demand a blanket shrinking of state government with little respect for the correlating shrinkage in government services such as public education. There are some differences between them, however, that could prove to be determiners when the polls open.
The list of Republican candidates facing one another in the upcoming August primary include campaign finance front-runner Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant of Rankin County, followed by Gulf Coast businessmen Dave Dennis and Ron Williams. Two personalities also lining up in the race include wetlands trust-fund manager Hudson Holliday and Byram businessman and minister James Broadwater.
Although Bryant and Dennis have the money for the most television ads this campaign season, Williams has been rising in popularity apparently through the might of his criticism of state government. "The question is, are the people paying for all of this fed up enough to vote on August 2," Williams said. "Win or lose, I can wake up August 3 and say, 'By golly, I tried.'"
Williams, who runs a hazardous material handling service in Pascagoula, is the loudest critic in the Republican team about what he claims to be state agencies' preferential treatment of contractors who donate heavily to politicians' campaign coffers.
"We've been dealing with this problem for years," Williams said. "My wife and I built this business on faith and sweat, not political ties. But nowadays, if you don't have the right political connections (or) political ties, or you haven't hooked up with the right lobbyist, it's very hard to pursue your economic dream. "
While the campaign-finance front-runner Bryant added more than $2 million to his war chest so far, Williams is not accepting donations because he does not want to be in the position of being beholden to any particular company or interest group.
Williams said he wants to improve education in Mississippi by concentrating resources on classroom activities instead of construction. In fact, Williams said he wants to consolidate schools in some areas and remove some administrative positions to pay more teachers. He also said he wants to steer money to charter schools.
Charter schools differ from traditional public schools in that their study materials are independent from the Mississippi Department of Education guidelines. Most charter schools can weed out problem students through expulsion—an option less available to public schools, which must follow up upon a mandatory government enrollment policy for school-age children.
Like Bryant, Dennis and Holiday, Williams is pushing public schools to focus on vocational education for some students. "We've got to push for dual education," Williams said. "Sometimes, four-year college attendance to be a doctor or lawyer isn't for everybody. It wasn't for me."
Dennis said he would like to press for full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, but said the state has "to be realistic" regarding whether it can fully fund the program every year. "You've got to be careful in terms of not cutting other groups short," he said.
Holliday had no specific suggestions on improving state schools, aside from promising to gather experts to work out the answers after the election. Holliday warned at a June debate that charter schools could not be the answer for everybody, particularly in rural areas. He said saving the public-school system was the only effective option for improving public education.
Bryant, who is also an advocate for charter schools, is on record as lieutenant governor for advocating cutting funding for K-12 education as recently as the 2011 legislative session.
All Republican candidates have adopted a stance on keeping undocumented immigrants out of Mississippi—an effort aimed primarily at Latino immigrants who comprise less than 3 percent of the state population, according to the 2010 Census.
Bryant whole-heartedly embraces the idea of enacting an Arizona-style law in Mississippi, which would force city, county and state police to ask suspects about their residency status. The law he supported in the Senate this year allowed residents to sue local governments whose police were not doing their part to round up undocumented immigrants. The federal government is challenging the Arizona law in court, arguing that immigration enforcement is the exclusive duty of the federal government, not the states. Latino-advocacy groups say the law leaves open the possibility of police targeting Hispanics because they "look like immigrants."
Broadwater, who has a Filipino wife, intends to take the issue a step further than Bryant. "I love legal immigrants—I married one," Broadwater says on his website. "But if elected, I will enforce all of our laws, and that includes using all the means at my disposal to stop illegal aliens from coming in and to force the ones who are here to leave, including use of the Mississippi Army and Air National Guard, SWAT teams, snipers, K-9 units, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, airplane and helicopter recon, and the Civil Air Patrol." Broadwater did not immediately return calls.
Holliday revealed no outward support for the Arizona law, although Dennis said last month that he stood behind any legal means to discourage illegal immigration. Dennis joins Holliday and Williams in their desire to take the immigration fight to businesses that employ undocumented workers, rather than the police force. Holliday said undocumented workers come to Mississippi to work, not to vacation, and that increasing penalties upon negligent employers will be more effective than targeting local law enforcement with potential lawsuits for not pulling over Latino-looking residents. Holliday is a Pearl River County supervisor who is sensitive to the prospect of county government suffering lawsuits resulting from an Arizona-style law.
Williams and Dennis both say businesses derive an unfair financial advantage in contract bids when they use undocumented workers. Dennis said a new state law forcing employers to use E-verify to confirm a prospective employee's residency status gets the job done, and that the state should "enhance" penalties for companies that disregard an E-Verify alert.
Williams, however, suggests the state make it illegal to apply for employment in Mississippi with falsified documents. "E-Verify is a joke. It's just lip service from politicians," Williams said. "But if you see a suspicious document, and you can notify local authorities of suspicious documents, the police can apprehend you, and then they have the jurisdiction to give you a background check and establish your citizenship status."
All Republican candidates oppose statewide tax increases to drum up faltering revenue, although some candidates make more of a show of it than others. At a recent debate, Holliday and Dennis said they would not sign a pledge not to raise taxes under any circumstances. Although both say they have no intention of raising taxes and would cut government first, Dennis said a businessman such as himself cannot move forward with unrealistic restraints.
Holliday said he planned to uncover significant waste before resorting to tax increases, but said that adamantly sticking to a no-new-taxes policy under Gov. Haley Barbour had pressured municipalities and counties to raise property taxes to cover shortfalls.
Bryant said he signed the no-new tax pledge and planned to stick to it, even in the face of drastic statewide cuts. Bryant advocated for the cuts last month, saying the best way to shrink government was to "starve" government of funding.
Williams said he plans to reduce personal income taxes by requiring tax laws to "be obeyed and applied fairly and effectively, with no tax-exempt special status groups, aside from non- profits, churches and charities." Williams added that state residents would have lower income taxes if "big business and corporations were in full compliance with tax codes."
Both Williams and Broadwater support a "Mississippi Fair Tax" law that would jettison all forms of taxes, except sales tax. Critics have attacked Fair Tax proposals across the nation, arguing that limiting tax to sales is regressive, enabling the nation's wealthy to spend far less money on taxes, proportionally, than the poor or middle-class. People in higher income brackets tend to spend a smaller portion of their income on necessary purchases such as food and gasoline.
Family: wife, Paulette Kirkland Holliday, three children, two grandchildren
Education: Pearl River Community College, University of Southern Mississippi, U.S. Army War College.
Jobs Held: soldier, farming, construction
Currently: Pearl River County Supervisor
Family: wife, Deborah, two children
Education: Undergraduate degrees, Hinds Community College, University of Southern Mississippi; master's from Mississippi College
Jobs Held: state auditor of Mississippi
Currently: Republican Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi since January 2008
Residence: Pascagoula, Mississippi
Hometown: Mosspoint, Mississippi
Family: wife, Towana
Education: Mississippi State University
Jobs Held: Hazmat Services, Inc.
Courtesy Ron Williams Campaign
Residence: Pass Christen
Hometown: Atmore, Ala.
Family: Wife, Jane, children, Kate and Padrick
Education: Auburn University
Jobs Held: New Orleans Federal Reserve Board Chairman
Currently: President, Specialty Contractors and Associates
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