Zakiya Summers is a Democratic candidate for Mississippi House District 68. 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?
As the next state representative for District 68, my top priorities include:
Increasing access to quality education
Economic growth and infrastructure improvement
Expanding healthcare and voter access
Restoring justice in the criminal legal system
What are your priorities for your district?
In addition to the aforementioned priorities, I will also work toward executing a vision of excellence that transforms District 68 as the go-to community for progress and sustained improvement. That means working with all levels of government, as well as working alongside communities, churches, businesses, schools, and leaders to bring that vision to fruition. As the next state representative, I will fight to ensure that District 68 gets the resources it needs to improve our schools and our streets, that we implement innovative models to invest in our youth, that we revitalize our assets that bring good-paying jobs and economic growth so that people can work, provide for their families, and have access to all of the amenities that we deserve and need.
What are your views on public education funding?
MAEP should be funded every year. I support a funding formula that takes into account the various needs of students, especially those in critical needs areas of the state and those with special needs. I also know that in order for any formula to work, the state legislature must be held accountable for actually allocating the money necessary. With that, it's also imperative that any efforts to fully fund education in accordance with MAEP must also be accompanied by a mandate that requires the state legislature to fund according to statute. I will work alongside organizations, educators, legislative colleagues, etc. to strongly advocate for this measure. I am certain that the state has the money to fully fund education.
I also believe that we need to take a look at the 27% CAP to ensure that districts who are in need of more resources have access and receive their fair share. In addition, I believe we need to reinvest our corrections dollars into our education system and ensure that any additional revenue (game betting, lottery, etc.) is properly appropriated to education. Lastly, I will oppose any efforts to provide corporate tax credits that do not explicitly have a ROI for education.
How do you think Mississippi can solve its teacher shortage?
There are a few pieces of legislation that I will support to help address the teacher shortage crisis. First, the state must reenact the Critical Needs Scholarship Program. Without incentivizing teaching in critical needs areas of the state, districts in those areas will continue to have issues retaining and recruiting qualified teachers. Also, there must be a focus on growing our own teachers. This includes financial support for Teacher Academy Programs and the Mississippi Teacher Residency Program. Both programs support training the next generation of teachers in the state.
What are your ideas for improving healthcare coverage and access?
Our state's refusal to expand Medicaid has cost us too many losses, loss of billions of dollars in federal money, loss of job growth, loss of access to hospitals, particularly in rural areas, and loss of lives. This failed decision has put Mississippians at risk. According to a Millsaps poll, "making healthcare more accessible and affordable" was the third highest ranking priority to Mississippi voters. It's past time that we expand Medicaid to ensure that our most vulnerable have access to healthcare. We must also protect our state's immunization laws. So I will vote against any measure that attempts to weaken that.
What are your ideas on criminal justice reform?
Mississippi imprisons people at the 3rd highest rate in the country, and the majority of people behind bars are black. Our addiction to prison has damaged families and communities, and wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. I will fight for reforms that put justice back into our criminal legal system. Policy solutions I will push for include:
Strengthening cash bail reform for non-violent misdemeanors
Reducing mandatory minimum sentencing
Investing in education and college programs in state prisons
Implementing annual intercultural and interpersonal training for law enforcement officers to better understand how to serve their communities
Creating a Policing & Accountability Board to increase transparency and accountability
I'd like to add that criminal justice reform alone will not reduce the racial disparities that impact the criminal legal system. We must also get to the root of these issues, which include investing in education, providing opportunities for working families, increasing access to resources, and shifting funding to treatment programs and other social service providers.
What is your position on the six-week abortion ban the Legislature passed this year?
My position on the so-called abortion ban is the same as when I publicly spoke against it when we were awaiting the federal court's decision that ultimately stopped the ban, which is this: the government cannot deny women access to basic constitutionally protected healthcare and play politics with women's lives. Mississippi's maternal mortality rate is 1.2 times higher than the U.S. rate, and Mississippi has the highest infant mortality rate in the country. If we really care about women, children and families, we would focus on ensuring that Mississippians have access to healthcare, that families are not living in poverty, that women are receiving equal pay for equal work, that women are not disproportionately filling our prison system, and that all Mississippians are protected from discrimination.
These so-called abortion bans will not end abortions, but will make safe abortions unavailable. And that is not only unconstitutional, but it's immoral.
Do you have specific plans to address issues that disproportionately affect African Americans and other minorities?
My entire Legislative Agenda, which includes the issues and policy solutions that make-up my platform, are focused through a racial justice and racial equity lens. As a systems-thinking leader, I understand how structural racism is perpetuated. I am committed to examining and assessing the racial impacts of proposals before making key decisions to ensure we are maximizing equitable systemic impacts. Policies cannot be color-blind and replacing laws that have been put in place under the vestiges of slavery and discrimination with neutral policies will not work. We have to be intentional about restoring justice, improving access, and increasing access. I have included my Legislative Agenda as an attachment.
Why are you running?
I am running for Mississippi House of Representatives District 68 because I know that I can be a change agent that transforms this community into a place where families can live productive, happy and healthy lives. District 68 is my home. As a lifelong resident who chose to raise my family in District 68, I have served as a strong advocate in this community as well as represented the people as a Hinds County Election Commissioner. My vision for District 68 is to be the model for progress and sustained improvement. I know that in order to shift the culture, we must change the law and fight for policies that move District 68 and Mississippi forward. I will work toward policy solutions that invest in our youth and that impact education, economic growth, infrastructure, and healthcare and voter access. I will listen to your concerns and be that champion for you. District 68 deserves a leader who is authentically connected to the community, has the public policy experience, and possesses the courage and tenacity to challenge the status quo in order to create policies that improve the lives of all people. I am that leader.
What will you do to make the Legislature more transparent and accountable?
Transparency and accountability helps to ensure good and just governance. As an election commissioner, I served intentionally with transparency and accountability. I will take those same principles with me as state representative. This includes open communication with the public, ensuring the Legislature is adhering to the Open Meetings Act, protecting those measures that are already in place that secure transparency and accountability, and ensuring that information is publicly accessible. I also believe that publicly accessible data is critical to making important decisions that affect people's lives. So I will support measures that increase the use and view of data from all governmental actors.
Why are you the best candidate?
I am the best candidate for House District 68 because I am qualified for this position, and I know that no one is going to work as hard for District 68 as I am. My life's work proves that. When I am called upon, people know that they can trust me to honor my word, to do what I say I'm going to do and to do it well, and to follow-through. When Hinds County District 3 elected me to the Election Commission, I set out a vision with specific initiatives to increase voter education and engagement. I led with integrity, transparency, accountability, and a higher level of customer service, accomplishing many goals in that post. I also have the public policy experience to serve in this position, having advocated for reforms that are equitable and just, led and taught a program that teaches Mississippians how to become citizen lobbyists, researched, wrote, and lobbied for good bills and against bad bills, and executed numerous public education campaigns on public policy issues. I have the leadership, the vision, and the commitment to the community to ensure that we are working toward solutions that benefit all people. Lastly, as a communications professional, I know how important it is to work alongside those you serve and to keep them informed. District 68 constituents will know that I am their state representative because I will be accessible and responsive. I will stand up for what's right and fight for you.
Read more 2019 state political coverage here. Find more candidate questionnaires at jacksonfreepress.com/2019msleg.