The Men to Beat Lott? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The Men to Beat Lott?

In a sparsely attended debate in the old Supreme Court chamber of the Capitol, with a statue of militant white supremacist Theodore Bilbo looking on, candidates in the Democratic primary to unseat Sen. Trent Lott set out their visions for change. The participants were Bill Bowlin of Hickory Flat, Erik Fleming of Jackson and James O'Keefe of Biloxi. A fourth candidate, Catherine Starr of Hattiesburg, was scheduled to attend but did not show. The Hinds County Democratic Executive Committee sponsored the debate.

In opening statements, the three candidates sought to define why they were the right challenger to beat Lott. In a quiet, occasionally bumbling introduction, Bowlin said that he stood for fair tax policy and that the Democratic party needed to "reclaim its place as protector of the little guy."

Fleming, whose seven years in the Mississippi House gave him a polished delivery missing from the other candidates, said that in the 18 years Lott has served as a senator, little has been accomplished. "Mississippi was the poorest state when Lott took office," Fleming said, "and it's still the poorest state today."

O'Keefe focused on ending free trade and rebuilding Mississippi manufacturing. "The government is supposed to be funded by tariffs, not from what it takes out of your pocketbook," he said.

The candidates then took questions from the audience.

On the Iraq War, only Bowlin was a supporter, saying that we need to stay the course. "We cannot bring our troops home until we secure victory," Bowlin said.

Fleming said Iraq should be the last time the U.S. wages a preemptive war. He endorsed Rep. John Murtha's call for drawing down and re-deploying troops.

O'Keefe was blunt: "We should declare victory and pull our troops out now." He related an anecdote from Mikhail Gorbachev on how it was impossible to win the Soviet war against Afghanistan once it degenerated into street fighting and guerilla warfare.

On health care, Fleming noted that 450,000 Mississippians have no medical insurance. "We need to go back to the original law and ban prescription ads from television. … Tort reform hasn't worked. Costs keep going up, but your rights to sue for medical malpractice are mostly gone."

O'Keefe said that we would never be able to afford to insure all Americans until tariffs bring more revenue into the government. He said he would use such money to fund many more clinics to serve those without insurance.

Bowlin said he would be creative with the tax code to solve the problem. "I don't have all the answers," he said, "but as a senator, I'll have great access to questions and answers, and I think I will be able to choose the right answer."

When an audience member asked about the No Child Left Behind Act, Bowlin said: "We're governing this nation by slogans instead of real leadership." He pointed out that the standards set by No Child Left Behind are arbitrary and unfair to Mississippi students.

Fleming said that No Child Left Behind was underfunded by $200 billion, and states have had to pick up the tab. "Every year, 16,500 children drop out of school in Mississippi. Think of what that means for our future," he said.

O'Keefe said he believed in greater autonomy for the states in how they spend money on education.

On immigration reform, Fleming said there was universal support for making the borders more secure, "but we don't need to the build the Great Wall of America to do it." He said we could not afford to deport 15 million people even if we wanted to do so.

Bowlin said he was waiting to see what law comes out of Congress. "What I want to do is critique the law that they pass," he said.

O'Keefe was the most passionate on this issue. "When government won't keep its own laws, that is the beginning of anarchy. There's an old saying: as the head goes, so goes the body." He said he did not believe that all immigrants wanted to be true Americans, and some of them would have to be deported. He was especially concerned that an amnesty would only bring in a new flood of illegal immigrants. "As I travel the state, no issue has people more fired up," O'Keefe said.

The Democratic primary takes place on June 6. The winner will face Sen. Trent Lott in November.

Previous Comments

ID
66305
Comment

A "sparsely attended debate"--where have I heard that before? Right, our debate at Ole Miss. What is the problem that people/Democrats have with getting out and getting involved in this state? Do they not realize the senator we're trying to replace this year supported those bogus Medicare changes, Iraq, and billions in cuts in student aid? Wake up people!

Author
Jesse Johnson
Date
2006-05-21T14:48:26-06:00
ID
66306
Comment

Jesse Johnson writes: What is the problem that people/Democrats have with getting out and getting involved in this state? Okay, let's flip that on its head: Why should I have attended? I have an open mind, so please, by all means, make the case. What would I have gotten out of this debate? What did I miss? Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-05-21T15:08:00-06:00
ID
66307
Comment

TH, there are 3 pretty good candidates running for the Democratic nomination against Trent Lott (I'm not including Ms. Starr because she makes no effort to campaign). They aren't cookie-cutters of one another--they differ on some issue across the board. If you attended the debate, you might have had some pre-conceived notions changed or be inspired to get active in their campaigns. At our debate last month, Representative Fleming reasoned something I've never heard ANY politician or candidate say before. The topic was on the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (A misnomer, since the tax giveaways actually piled onto the deficit), which cut 12 billion from student loans and grants. Fleming said "It's no accident this happened. It all ties into the war. Right now, troops are having to serve longer because of extended stays and 'back-door drafts.' Recruiting is down. If a kid graduating high school does not have the resources to attend college, what is his most likely alternative? The military." As far as "getting involved.": If you have kids who will need a college education, if you're getting up there in years and soon will be having to buy prescription drugs, if you plan on buying a house or a car and will pay higher interest because of the spiraling national debt, just to hit the big ones--then you have your set of candidates you should choose from. Senator Lott is voting against the interests of Mississippi and this country. It's time to send him back to Jackson County.

Author
Jesse Johnson
Date
2006-05-21T15:52:48-06:00
ID
66308
Comment

Has Fleming apologised for backing Lyndon Larouche yet? Call me back when he does.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-05-21T16:46:42-06:00
ID
66309
Comment

Jesse, I think your enthusiasm is exactly what the party needs and I wish you the best. I will say that a dear mutual friend of both myself and Rep. Fleming has talked me into at least showing up to vote for the good representative this November, but the fact remains that I'll be forced to choose between Trent Lott and an abstinence educator who wants to ban abortion--and who dissed Ali Greggs for arguing with him on the point, no less. I would consider voting for Fleming in the primary if only because he is by far the best of the batch of four, but the truth is that he's so head-and-shoulders above the rest of them in terms of his resumé and platform that the primary vote will resemble Bambi vs. Godzilla. If he can't win that primary, he has no business taking on Trent Lott--not that it'll become an issue, because he'll win the primary. I have said all along, even when I was at my most vociferously pro-Fleming mood, that I think Trent Lott will win. I don't think Trent Lott should win; I just think he will. He was practically unbeatable even before Hurricane Katrina, and now that he's lost a house from the storm and can cite his seniority at a time when the state is heading to the trough for pork, I don't see how he can lose. I wish he would, but I don't see how he can. So what I would be supporting by getting active in this primary contest would be, in effect, the process of choosing among protest candidates who aren't even protesting most of the Republican Party platform. Besides, I'm not much of a political animal to begin with, and to the extent that I am, I have strong feminist commitments that would make it very difficult for me to become involved in the campaign of a candidate who is not at least marginally pro-choice. Your mileage may vary. That's certainly your right. You only get one life; it's not my place to tell you how you should spend it. If you enjoy this sort of thing, if it feels meaningful to you, then that's great. Ironghost, Rep. Fleming described his endorsement of LaRouche as "the greatest mistake of all" (I'm not quite sure what that phrase means), but I'm not sure he has actually apologized. I wouldn't be surprised if he had. I have good reason to believe that Rep. Fleming, whatever his flaws may be, is no antisemite, and I can't imagine that he would actually endorse LaRouche's paranoid conspiracy theories. What I'd really like to see from Rep. Fleming is not an apology, but an explanation of what it was he saw in Lyndon LaRouche to begin with. Did he think there was any real chance that the man would actually win the nomination and the presidency? If so, had he completely realized what that would mean for this country? If not, what was he trying to accomplish? But I've already interrogated Rep. Fleming enough on other issues, so if I were him I would ignore this particular line of questioning and focus on less cranky constituents. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-05-21T18:02:27-06:00
ID
66310
Comment

He shouldn't ignore the constituency that wants answers good, pointed questions. I'd like to hear his apology and commentary on the whole Larouche episode, as would a sizeable portion of the "blogosphere". It makes no sense to me why he would in the first place. Larouche's antisemitism is self-evident.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-05-21T18:59:15-06:00
ID
66311
Comment

Well, yeah, Katrina happened. But so did Iraq, Medicare part D(isaster), and the comment of "We wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years" regarding Strom Thurmond. Lott hasn't been challenged seriously in 12 years. I'm not even mentioning a Trent Lott victory in November. I'm tired of the "race horse" mentality that people get with politicians--that they won't get active in a campaign unless a candidate has a good chance of winning. I know the woman's right to choose issue always gets people--but right now, that battle is being fought at the state level and in the federal courts. Would the various MS senate candidates have supported Roberts and Alito? Maybe not, for reasons such as being afraid of their corporate involvement or favoring of excessive executive power. That would do the pro-choice movement a huge favor, but what worries me is that they don't recognize this. Besides, Lott's position on the issue you mentioned is a lot more extreme than the alternative. To the guy with the Lyndon Larouche comment, man, that's a dead horse. I didn't even know who that was until I looked him up. The majority of people don't even know who that is and besides, that has no relevance with today's issues.

Author
Jesse Johnson
Date
2006-05-21T19:10:05-06:00
ID
66312
Comment

Actually, I would be the first to agree that LaRouche isn't relevant to today's issues--which is why Rep. Fleming's decision to endorse him over John Kerry, Howard Dean, Joe Lieberman, et. al. for the 2004 presidential nomination makes no sense to me. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-05-21T21:40:25-06:00
ID
66313
Comment

As per your request, Ironghost: http://www.mississippipolitics.com/archives/002474.php

Author
Rep. Erik Fleming
Date
2006-05-31T07:43:46-06:00
ID
66314
Comment

Interesting, Erik, but I'm missing something there. Lott got blasted for making a mere joke about Strom Thurmond. Do you think you deserve less for actively doing more for LaRouche? Mississippi has had enough of bigots, I think.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-05-31T14:59:51-06:00
ID
66315
Comment

(after my computer loaded the entire article...) We're still in the same boat, I think. I feel sure you can understand my concern over your association with LaRouche. However, it's a assocation you made at one point. None of us in Mississippi get a break on this. Lord knows the grief I've gotten for being white and from Mississippi.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-05-31T15:26:29-06:00

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