So far, each of the candidates Senate District 28 special election scheduled for Feb. 5 wants full funding for public education, opposes charter schools, supports Medicaid expansion and sees continued development along the Highway 80 corridor as key to job growth.
Whoever fills the seat that became vacant with the death of Sen. Alice Harden in December will have missed a third of this year's legislative session by the time he or she takes the oath early next month. Already, the constituents in the 28th District have missed out on having their voices heard on the controversial charter-school proposal, which the Senate passed last week.
Last week, we profiled four women who are seeking the seat (see "Meet the Candidates," R.L. Nave, Jan. 22). Here are the remaining candidates:
Marshand Crisler, college administrator
Marshand Crisler, director of adult education at Hinds Community College, is already well known to a lot of Jacksonians as a former Jackson City Council president who ran for mayor in 2009. He believes his experience holding public office will enable him to hit the ground running.
Fully funding public education according to Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula could help lower Mississippi's 1-to-27 teacher-student ratio (the national average is 1-to-16), and help pay the state's teachers more inviting wages, he said.
"I certainly think that none of us could do any of the things we do without teachers," Crisler said. "I know we say that all the time, but the way we compensate them says something differently."
In terms of economic development, he's excited that the city is breathing new life into Metrocenter Mall by moving some offices there, but would like to see more retailers in the mall, which would contribute to Jackson's tax base. Crisler likes the idea of a local option sales tax, a temporary levy that would let cities fund certain capital improvement projects if a majority of the citizens approve the tax.
Improving Jackson's crumbling roads and water system would help attract new businesses to Jackson and encourage businesses already operating in the city to hang around. He posits: "Who would leave a city that has great infrastructure, that's safe and is well-educated? Nobody."
Sollie Norwood, real estate broker
Former Jackson Public Schools board member Sollie Norwood wants to spend his time in the Senate encouraging parental involvement by fining parents who miss parent-teacher conferences.
"We should hold parents accountable and not let them lackadaisically not go (to conferences)," Norwood said.
Norwood said he would not have voted for the Senate charter-school bill. "You're going to further diminish the public schools because everyone isn't going to be fortunate enough to go to a charter school," he said. "We have many successful students that have come from public schools."
Gov. Phil Bryant's plan to introduce a merit pay system to give teachers raises based how well their students perform on tests "leaves too much room for subjectivity," Norwood said. He would not back the plan.
Norwood would fight Bryant's attempt to halt expansion of Medicaid, and said the state could shift spending priorities to accommodate adding 330,00 more people to the rolls. Budget experts predict that expanding Medicaid would create up to 9,000 jobs.
Calling expanded health-care coverage a sanctity-of-life issue, Norwood said: "We have people who are literally dying every day because of lack of health care. A person shouldn't have to worry about whether they've got food (or health insurance). This is America. I don't think that's something we should have to worry about."
James Stewart, funeral home owner
Charter schools are public enemy No. 1 for James Stewart.
"My main emphasis is trying to stop this charter-school bill from becoming law," he said, adding that even though he has thoughts on how to hold up the bill that the Senate passed but is being held on a motion to reconsider, he doesn't want to tip his hand. "It's strategy, and I don't really need the public to know about it."
Charter schools do not provide equal access to quality education because only a small segment of the school population could attend them, Stewart told the Jackson Free Press.
"What you're doing is taking from the public-school system and creating another school system. I don't see how that is going to make school kids, the citizens of tomorrow, into a productive society," he said.
Not only does he want to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, he believes the Legislature should put more money into MAEP than even the baseline calls for, because our children will compete in a global workforce.
Stewart, whose family is in the funeral-home business, wants to be a voice for Jackson State University and the Jackson Zoo, which lie within the district, and work with the city to improve vacant lots and abandoned property in west-central Jackson.
Promoting the zoo would mean an infusion in economic activity, he said. Revitalizing U.S. Highway 80 is an area of especial interest, but he wouldn't say why because he doesn't want other candidates to steal his ideas.
"I would like to bring economic development there, and I have specific ideas on how to do that which I really don't want to get (into) in this conversation," he said.
Tommy Wallace II, lobbyist
Tommy Wallace wants to take Jackson on a roller coaster ride of sorts. Wallace, the son of former state Rep. Tom Wallace, D-Jackson, said he would like the state to relocate the zoo from west Jackson closer to the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science and Mississippi Children's Museum, and then add a few rides.
"Now, you have yourself a theme park," he said. "That would make Jackson a destination and not just a pass-through city. We have a lot of traffic coming through our city. We have to make them stay and make them stop."
Wallace, who works as a lobbyist with his father and sells real estate, also believes he has strong enough relationships with state senators to hit the ground running. In addition to his zoo idea, Wallace would like to compel the state to compensate the city of Jackson for taking up real estate and using the city's infrastructure through a system called payment in lieu of taxes.
As a Realtor, Wallace has a unique perspective on how Medicaid expansion can help Jackson.
"One of the main things that keeps people from being able to obtain wealth and being able to have home ownership is hospital bills," he said. Insuring more people through the state's Medicaid program could help curb some of these bills, which would enable more people to buy homes in Jackson, adding to the city and state's tax bases.
Although he would not have voted for the Senate charter-school bill, Wallace would like to see some of the elements of the charter-school legislation, such as reduced student-teacher ratios, implemented in traditional public schools. Wallace added he would also vote against any measure to further restrict abortion access in Mississippi, including two bills--a fetal heartbeat bill and a constitutional amendment defining life as beginning at conception--now under consideration at the Capitol.
"That's something the government should let a woman decide on," he said.
Antonio Porter, professional campaigner
"I thought it was nice for the city to take up some of the space at Metrocenter, but we need businesses to come to Metrocenter. And we need to have residents patronize whatever businesses come there," said Antonio Porter, who lives near the mall in the Wingfield neighborhood. Porter is a former counselor who said his focus is on the Senate race. If he is unsuccessful in his bid, he said he could go back to working in the medical field.
Part of the solution to attracting new business to the west-central Jackson Senate district is to demonstrate the area is safe, he said. Porter said Ward 6 Councilman Tony Yarber and other officials ignore crime in the area. In 2009, Porter faced off against Yarber for the Ward 6 seat, but lost. Porter also ran unsuccessfully for circuit clerk in 2007 and 2011.
A gun owner, Porter said he has a problem gun control efforts, such as those President Obama recently proposed that would ban some styles of weapons and large-capacity magazines. "I think we need to make sure we're not hurting the law-abiding citizens who want to stockpile (weapons)," he said.
When asked if he supported Gov. Phil Bryant's proposal to defy federal gun enforcement regulations, Porter said he would reserve commenting until he read the full bill.
If elected to the state Senate, Porter said he wants to fully fund MAEP and expand Medicaid because he does not want people to have to "choose between eating, paying their bills and paying for their medicine."
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