By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Look for Mississippi’s two major party gubernatorial candidates – Republican Phil Bryant and Democrat Johnny DuPree – to further define their positions on the issues in the coming weeks before the Nov. 8 general election.
Labor Day is often viewed as the a kind of unofficial kickoff of a general election campaign – when the voting public begins to pay closer attention to the candidates.
In recent days, much of the focus has been on the fact that DuPree, who captured the nomination in an Aug. 23 party runoff, is the first black major party nominee for governor in Mississippi.
But both Bryant, the incumbent lieutenant governor, and DuPree, the third-term mayor of Hattiesburg, have made it clear that they believe the campaign will be one of issues. Both are downplaying DuPree’s race.
“We want to talk about things that make life better for Mississippians,” DuPree said.
Of the upcoming election, DuPree said in a recent interview, “I think the turnout will be great. I think people will turn out because it will be about issues that concern them.”
Bryant said there will be opportunities in the coming weeks to differentiate between the two candidates.
“We will look at a number of debates,” said Bryant recently. “… I think both of us are certainly willing to debate on a number of occasions.”
Their positions already have been staked out to a certain extent during a grueling party primary process.
For instance, three initiatives will be on the ballot in November. Both say they support a proposal that would prohibit the government from taking private property for the use of another private entity.
Bryant, a fiscal and social conservative, has been a supporter of the anti-abortion personhood amendment that defines life as beginning at fertilization. DuPree, who also is against abortion, says he supports the initiative.
Bryant also has been an advocate of a third initiative – requiring people to have government-issued identification to vote. DuPree has said voter ID is not needed and has described voter ID as “a solution in search of a problem,” but said as the state’s chief executive officer he would enforce the voter ID initiative if it passes as expected.
Both say education and jobs creation will be priorities. Some Bryant critics argue that while he has said he supports full funding of education, his actions as lieutenant governor have not always matched that rhetoric. DuPree said full funding should be only the start of the priority that needs to be placed on education, though his critics would argue that as mayor he has not had to deal with the tough budget choices that have made full funding by the state more difficult.
Bryant supports a strong charter school law as a way to reform the public school system. DuPree does not, saying efforts should be made to lift all of the state’s schools since all children cannot attend a charter school.
In the area of taxes, Bryant has been an outspoken opponent of tax increases, though he did support increases in the cigarette tax and on hospitals during the past term. He also touts the fact he supported some targeted tax breaks during the past term, such as a tax credit for furniture manufacturers that hire cut and sew employees.
DuPree has said he has not raised taxes during his tenure as Hattiesburg mayor, but he does call for closing loopholes that he says allow major retail companies in the state not to pay taxes.
He cites a study by a legislative oversight committee that said 80 percent of the state’s 150 largest companies do not pay any state taxes. He said closing those loopholes would be fair to smaller, local companies, many of them retailers.
Bryant also has been an advocate of tougher enforcement by the state of laws against illegal immigration. DuPree has said that fighting illegal immigration is a federal issue.
On other federal issues, they also do not see eye-to-eye. For instance, DuPree has said some changes need to be made to the federal health care overhaul, but said the law does some important things such as making sure people with pre-existing conditions have health care coverage and allowing young adults to stay on the insurance policies of their parents.
Bryant has been an opponent of the legislation and has sued to try to block it.