Ag candidates have cordial debate

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The two major candidates for the post of commissioner of agriculture and commerce stressed their credentials and the importance of agriculture to the state’s economy during a joint appearance Monday.
State Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven, the Republican nominee, and Pickens Mayor Joel Gill, the Democratic candidate, appeared together during a lunch meeting of the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute/Capitol press corps where they talked in detail about the state’s farming industry.
The candidates were cordial to each other and at no time did the joint appearance become contentious.
Hyde-Smith, whose family owns a stock yard in Lincoln County, said of agriculture, “This is my life. This is what I do.”
She said that private sector experience, in addition to her legislative qualifications, make her uniquely qualified to head the $9 million state agency. She is in her second term as chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee and also handles the agency’s budget for the Senate Appropriations Committee.
But Gill also has credentials. His family has a livestock business that sells cattle over six-state area. He said he has worked to ensure Mississippi cattle farmers get a fair price for their product. Plus, he said he has both legislative experience as a former alderman in Pickens and executive experience as the current mayor of the town of about 1,400 in Holmes County.
The Democrat said he would fight many federal regulations but said he supports proposals to ensure livestock growers have some protections from the manufacturers of livestock products.
Gill said, “I am willing to stand up to the EPA.”
He also said he would work to upgrade the state fairgrounds in Jackson. Hyde-Smith said some of those upgrades, such as to the coliseum, might be accomplished by selling naming rights to a private company.
Both said they support the Nov. 8 ballot initiative that would prohibit the taking of private land by the government for the use of another private entity.
The Department of Agriculture and Commerce not only promotes the state’s agricultural products but also serves a regulatory function, such as inspecting gas pumps and scales in grocery stores and stock yards.
Current Commissioner Lester Spell, a Republican, was elected to the post in 1995 and is not seeking re-election.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com