On July 1, 2013, Alphonso Hunter filled the Hinds County Board of Supervisors seat vacated by the death of longtime District 2 representative Doug Anderson. "I'm here to serve with no intent to run," Hunter said at a meeting, at which fellow board members confirmed his nomination.
Yet, Hunter did decide to run as an independent in the November 2013 general election. When asked about his change of heart, Hunter told the Jackson Free Press: "I have a passion for the county I live in, and the people want me to run. They asked me to run. With that, and I have the experience and the expertise and the background and a lot of the things that county does, I do on a daily basis. I think I can do the job well." Hunter lost that election to current District 2 Supervisor Darrel McQuirter. This year, Hunter, 56, is making another bid for the seat. He recently sat down with the JFP to talk about his vision for the county.
Tell me a little about the experience that prepares you for this role.
My experience has mostly been in construction work, construction contracts and running a small business. In your day-to-day operations, you're dealing with management—managing people, working with people. You've got road crews out doing construction-type work: repairing roads, drainage work. Maintenance is cutting grass. You're out building ditches.
I'm a licensed general contractor, certified by the State of Mississippi. We do commercial foundation, concrete, streets, work on bridges. Just a whole array of the construction industry in general.
How does your experience as a contractor relate to the responsibilities of a supervisor?
The two tie together—Hinds County spends lots of money in contracts. They buy and purchase equipment. You're always in negotiation on pricing materials, labor, getting the best price for the dollar. That's an ongoing day-to-day operation. Say, for example, if in Hinds County, someone comes in with a blueprint and wants to negotiate the (constructing) of a building. With my experience, I can take that blueprint and have a clear understanding of (its) specifications, and in the negotiation, I'll know all of the language. I bring a set of expertise that I think the board somewhat lacks.
I would like to think that if you had the ability to really understand the details and the specifications—of knowing exactly what you are buying—you can make better decisions. Somebody might come in and say, "We can build this street. We are going to put you down 10 inches of asphalt." Well, you look at the (specifications), the weight limit on the road—do you really need 10 inches? Somebody's trying to sell you something you don't need, when you can do just fine with eight inches. What the builders understand is it brings them a plus for the county because they don't have to pay to bring in someone to make that sort of assessment of the project.
How long have you been in construction?
Well, I've been in construction since—I started out as a kid following my dad as I grew up.
Your dad was a construction worker?
My dad was a construction worker. You know how your father puts you in his truck at age 9 or 10 years old? So I've been around it for something like 35 years.
What is your vision for District 2 of Hinds County should you be elected?
My vision is for Hinds County to become the county that it once was, that made it home to the state capital. For it to become a prosperous county where people want to move back, and do business.
What are Hinds County's best qualities?
One of the things I always say about Hinds County is (it) is good country living with big-city advantages. We've got lots of land, open space. You've got your major facilities, like your major medical facilities; you've got your major educational institutions like Jackson State (University) and other educational facilities; you've got some of your major businesses, but we've just somewhere lost the image. We find ourselves being more negative than positive.
We have some issues: some crime issues, some educational issues. ... The community has a vested interest to come together and try to curb some of those problems we're having with crime. ... We're going to have to get back on track ... with a real legitimate rehabilitation system to try and help some of the state's convicts to get back on their feet.
The absence of good family leadership is very important to the growth of the county as a whole even when it comes to economic development and education; those are the driving engines. You've got to have this good, solid male leadership.
It has to be male leadership?
Right now, we are suffering from male leadership. We have to have good leadership as a whole, but I think we have a problem with a lot of the absence and a lot of the people who have been incarcerated who are struggling to get back into the mainstream. And we don't want to continue to talk about the pipeline of education to prison; we need to plug that pipe.
How would you go about getting the formerly incarcerated reincorporated into the community?
One of the things, you would have to have a real, legitimate conversation about it. You'd have to go in to district attorneys. Find those that are already on the books. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel. You just want to go into it, get deeply involved in it, and take advantage of what's there. Put money into it, and make it available to the people. Make it known to the people that you can have your record cleared up. Get some help once you've gone through these programs.
You've got to help the people who want to help themselves. Just because you are trying to create a mission to rehab does not mean that you can take a soft stand on crime, but you know that you have to have a connection because it is important.
It also creates an environment where if someone probably fell through the crack after having been in the criminal-justice system you might have someone out there thinking about doing something, and they can tell him, "Hey, man. Don't do this. This is what I did, but I've got my life on track, and now I can take care of my family. Now I can build my community."
In Hinds County it's very special. It's where I have lived all of my life. It's where my home and everything I own is. Where all my siblings grew up. And I enjoy it. I have no problem with it, but I think we have the opportunity to be just as good as any other county in the state of Mississippi.
Comment and read more candidate interviews at jfp.ms/2015elections.