Chris Bell | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Chris Bell

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Chris Bell.

Why does your district need you right now?

After 21 years of representation, the incumbent has decided to seek another position within state government. There are so many issues we will face in next year’s legislative session: fully funding education, expanding Medicaid, passing a comprehensive infrastructure package, making a commitment to growing our economy and creating good jobs and last but not least, fighting to change our state flag. My priority is to tackle these and many more issues with vigor and tenacity.

Editor's note: Rep. Mary Coleman, the House 65, incumbent is running for the Central District position on the Mississippi Transportation Commission.

I feel I am the most qualified candidate to work on these issues facing District 65 and our state. I have learned much during my participation with the Hinds (County) Democratic Executive Committee and Mississippi Black Leadership Institute. I look forward to being able to put those tools into action from inside the Capitol. As a resident of District 65, I am invested in our success. I will listen to the needs of my constituency while bringing new ideas for growth and revitalization.

Provide one or two examples of when you have been an advocate for your district in your personal or professional life. What was the result?

Over the past year, I have been traveling around the state assisting people with (Affordable Care Act) enrollment. Folks are struggling all over. The positive impact happens when I’m able to help people who have never had health insurance receive medical coverage for the first time. But the negative side of the story is it’s painful to sit with someone who is working hard to provide for their family but still unable to afford health insurance. I have and will continue to advocate for Medicaid expansion, which will benefit District 65 and our state with an increase in access to healthcare and jobs.

On a personal level, I’m involved with programs that provide activities and mentoring for young people in Jackson, as a board member of Operation Shoestring and through service at my church, Anderson United Methodist. As much as legislation is needed to ensure our youth have quality education and other needs met, it is just as important for those young people to have positive interactions with caring adults. I advocate for all who are able to get involved with programs that support and encourage our youth.

In the past year or so, what was the most important vote taken for your district? How would you have voted and why? What is the most pressing issue for your district?

The most pressing issue for the state of Mississippi is full funding of MAEP. Jackson Public Schools missed out on $1.1 million that could have been used to hire 316 teachers. Imagine the difference that would make for our students.

With nearly 54,000 students with special needs in our public schools, we must ensure they receive all the resources they need to succeed. I was supportive of HB 814, or the Special Education Improvement Act of 2015, which would have made special education funding a separate line item and established the Children with Special Needs Fund. At the very least, HB 649, which would have created the Office of Special Needs Counsel would have been a better alternative to the voucher bill. I pledge to support full funding of special education services in public schools.

If you could propose one piece of legislation that would greatly improve the quality of life for people in your district what would it be?

I would propose a Capital Complex plan. First, we should allow certain streets in and around downtown Jackson to be under the purview of the state area capital complex system. This will not in and of itself fix the problem but it puts more responsibility on the Mississippi Department of Transportation to get it done. West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Montana, and Texas each has a capital complex that lies within their capital cities, houses a majority of the state buildings and is maintained by each respective state. There has been a narrative that the city of Jackson is where it is because of mismanagement of funds. The problem with the city of Jackson’s infrastructure has been in existence for quite some time. Only recently has it reached a point where it can no longer be ignored. Allowing the state to take responsibility for certain streets within the city kills that narrative. The incentive for the state to accept this responsibility is that it is also taking control over productivity and efficiency of operations conducted within state buildings. It also puts pressure on the state to preserve an area that hosts several historic government buildings and areas.

If you are unsuccessful in winning your race, how specifically will you continue working on behalf of your district?

I have been an advocate for my community and state since college and neither victory nor defeat will stop me from continuing the same. I serve with several organizations that actively work on finding solutions to challenges in Jackson. I am working on a project, currently in the planning stages, with local organizations which will provide jobs in our community and also provide healthcare to one of our most underserved communities within our state. I will work not only on behalf of District 65, but for all in the city of Jackson as we continue moving Mississippi forward.

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