Ermea "EJ" Russell is a Democratic candidate for Mississippi Senate District 22. The answers below are the candidates' verbatim responses, with no edits whatsoever. Find more state legislative candidate questionnaires here. Read more 2019 state political coverage here.
What are your top priorities, if elected?
Based on my conversations with voters throughout the district Education, Economic Opportunity, Healthcare Access, Infrastructure & Investment, Criminal Justice Reform, Shelter, Food Security, and Seniors. These are not in an order of importance because they are each a priority. Each area works interchangeably with the other, similar to spokes in a wheel, to build a successful community with an enhanced quality of life.
What are your priorities for your district?
Education, Economic Opportunity, Healthcare Access, Infrastructure & Investment, Criminal Justice Reform, Shelter, Food Security, and Seniors.
What are your views on public education funding?
The state's funding formula for education is in need of an overhaul. The Mississippi Adequate Education Program is a great plan in theory. In practice it has failed. It was implemented in 1997 after two years of study and drafting. Here we are twenty plus years later and it has only been fully funded TWICE. The last time was in 2008...more than twenty years ago. It is evident that doing the same thing year after year has not netted a different outcome. We must begin to look at a different methodology for funding that will result in real funding that provides a more level playing field for all schools. The legislature needs to review the granting of school vouchers to private schools to determine if they meet needs that are not available in the public schools. Schools that were established for the sole purpose to avoid integration should not be eligible for vouchers.
How do you think Mississippi can solve its teacher shortage?
Increase incentives in areas (locations and subjects) where teacher shortages are critical. Incentives may include but not be limited to signing bonuses, housing stipends, student loan repayment and a critical teacher pay supplement included with each pay cycle. Increase use of available technology for distance learning initiatives where no teacher in subject matter is available.
What are your ideas for improving healthcare coverage and access?
First, expand Medicaid eligibility. This singular act would cover an additional 300,000 Mississippians. In rural areas, transportation must be a consideration. Encourage and seek physicians to provide medical services one day per week/month in specific locations to have some level of health care access.
What are your ideas on criminal justice reform?
At the top of my list is a re-entry program for offenders who have been incarcerated for a period of three (3) years. Mississippi ranks #3 in the country for the number of individuals incarcerated. A successful reentry program will give former offenders opportunities to support themselves through legitimate and productive work, reducing recidivism and improving public safety. Once an individual reenters society, their likelihood of becoming a contributing member of their community is dependent on whether they can secure meaningful employment, find a place to live, and have the education and skills necessary to advance in life. We spend less than $10,000 to educate each child but over 34,000 per year to incarcerate an individual.
What is your position on the six-week abortion ban the Legislature passed this year?
I strongly oppose the six-week abortion ban. This is a position of individuals who are pro-birth not necessarily pro-life. No consideration is given to the life of the mother and the impact, both physical and mental, of being forced to give birth. Little if any, consideration is given by the proponents of this legislation to the health care, food and shelter security, or education for the child. Simply look at the policies in these areas supported and passed in the Mississippi Legislature that create obstacles to receiving assistance for the basic needs of life.
This legislation will force a rape victim to raise a child that each day will remind her of the brutality under which that child was conceived. Women should be free to make their own choices about their own bodies.
Do you have specific plans to address issues that disproportionately affect African Americans and other minorities?
I do have some ideas to address a number of issues holistically because issues of education, economic opportunities, health care access, food security, housing are all intertwined. It's hard to get a job without a skill, and without a job it's difficult to have access to quality health care, healthy food choices, decent housing or save for retirement. The criminal justice system is swallowing our community bit by bit and creating an underclass of individuals who are basically barred from full participation in society. There is so much that I want to do in this area and I know that it won't be an easy task. But I am willing to try. When it is understood, by opponents, that many of the issues I have outlined, if left unchecked, will have a monumental effect on the overall population, they may be willing to act.
Why are you running?
I want to serve. I have been involved in politics for as long as I can remember. I ran my first campaign before I could even vote. To use a sports analogy, it's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but much more difficult to get on the field and make the plays. I understand the legislative process and I know that we don't need to continue to do the same thing, make the same plays that result in failed policies. I believe I can make a difference and I am passionate about that opportunity.
What will you do to make the Legislature more transparent and accountable?
The public does not have an understanding of the legislative process. Many don't fully understand that the Mississippi State Capitol is the People's house and they are welcome. Perhaps there could be some county/district/in school educational sessions on "How a Bill Becomes a Law." I will work to increase out of session committee hearings at various areas of the state so the public who does not make it to the capitol can observe and learn. Host town hall meetings so that constituents are able to ask questions and be made aware of what's going on during the session.
Why are you the best candidate?
Much of my life's work has brought me to the 2019 campaign for Senate District 22. As a retired Army Colonel, working wife and mom, judge, former Senate Administrator, senate bill drafter, and counsel for the President of the Senate, I am no stranger to hard work and I will work hard every day to push for a better Mississippi. I am prepared with the knowledge and skills to tackle the tough issues to find solutions that are key to an improved quality of life in Senate District 22 and Mississippi as a whole.
Proverbs 31:8-9 lays out the traits of a good leader as one who will speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; be an advocate for the desolate, and minister justice fairly to protect the poor and needy. I want to be that leader.
Read more 2019 state political coverage here. Find more candidate questionnaires at jacksonfreepress.com/2019msleg.