By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Voters seeking a defining issue on which to compare District 6 state Senate race candidates won’t find it in this race.
At least not based on the answers they gave Tuesday at the first political forum held during the brief campaign cycle preceding the Jan. 11 special election.
Organized by the Tupelo Tea Party, the one-hour event allowed candidates an introduction before responding to a series of questions posed by moderator and constitutional attorney Steve Crampton.
Five of the six office-seekers participated. South Pontotoc High School teacher Stacy Scott had to work and could not attend.
Candidates shared similar views on many pressing issues facing Mississippi – job creation, budget cuts, education, teen pregnancy, health care and immigration – but their backgrounds and speaking styles set them apart.
Melony Armstrong, a 43-year-old small business owner and mother of four, is one of two women and the only minority in the race. After successfully lobbying the Legislature to lift restrictions on the hairbraiding industry in 2005, she got a taste for politics.
Mississippi’s current economic and cultural woes stem from an “absence of morality and righteous leadership,” she said.
“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people mourn,” she said, quoting a phrase attributed to King Solomon.
All political hopefuls said they are pro-life and believe sex education should be taught at home rather than school. All also oppose the federal Health Care Reform Bill, any legislation requiring gun registration and any attempt to raise income taxes.
If Armstrong had to cut one state program to save money, she said it’d be the welfare system. The government allows too many people to take advantage of what should be temporary aid, she said, instead of empowering them to become self-reliant.
And like the other candidates, Armstrong chose education – and specifically teachers’ salaries – as one portion of the state budget she’d avoid cutting.
Doug Wright, the 43-year-old attorney, business owner and father of three from Saltillo, also favored sparing educational cuts but said the system could use a reform.
“If you look at the MAEP formula,” he said, referring to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, “it doesn’t drive down enough dollars directly to the classrooms. Look at the entire educational system from top to down, and we are bloated administratively.”
Wright, who runs several health care-related businesses, also lambasted the federal Health Care Reform Bill and said too many state residents rely on Medicaid. He recommended its recipients submit to the same drug tests that do many companies’ employees, including his own.
As for illegal immigration, Wright, like his political peers, said the state has a right to protect its borders using whatever legal methods it sees fit. He then added a tongue-in-cheek solution to at least one part of the illegal immigration problem – health care costs.
“As a medical provider, if we have a citizen from Louisiana eligible for Medicaid, we don’t bill Mississippi. We’ll bill Louisiana,” he said. “Maybe that’s what we should start doing with Mexico.”
Ward 6 Tupelo City Councilman and insurance salesman Mike Bryan, 47, said he’d like the Legislature to slap more requirements on Medicaid recipients in an effort to shrink the coverage pool. The money saved on that program could go toward raising teachers’ salaries and providing better tools to law enforcement agencies, he said.
Bryan, who is the father of three children, shared the same pro-life, pro-business and anti-illegal immigration views as his opponents. On the topic of job creation, he said that while the government doesn’t have a direct role in it, it can offer incentives to produce a more business-friendly environment which ultimately leads to jobs.
He also said parents should teach sex education at home but that schools can take a limited role in providing some knowledge – if given strict guidelines on how to teach it.
As a registered nurse and medical director of the Parkgate Pregnancy Clinic, candidate Nancy Adams Collins had the most passionate views on sex ed. She said teens “do not need to have any information about contraception. They need to know about abstinence.”
Collins lamented Mississippi’s rank as the No. 1 state for teen pregnancy and added that it’s also at the top for gonorrhea and second nationwide for chlamydia and STDs.
The 63-year-old Tupelo mother and grandmother said she has the time and energy to serve in the Senate since she already raised her family and accomplished her career goals, which included founding the Sanctuary Hospice House.
“I am a diplomat,” she said. “But I’m a bulldog in persistence and resilience.”
Like Collins, candidate Jonny Davis also talked about the state’s ranking on national charts. He said he’s “tired of Mississippi being on the bottom of every good list and the top of every bad list.”
A longtime education advocate and current Ward 5 Tupelo councilman, Davis said the greatest issue in the state is education and that it should be the last place to suffer budget cuts.
“I think it’s the most viable source we have for our future,” he said.
The 45-year-old father of two also said the government can boost the economy by incentivizing job creation at home instead of abroad.
Like his peers, Davis said the state must curb illegal immigration, crack down on Medicaid and welfare abuse, and avoid property tax hikes.
District 6 covers much of north Lee County and a small portion of northeast Pontotoc County.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet the candidates
– Melony Armstrong, 43, of Tupelo, owner of Naturally Speaking hairbraiding salon
– Mike Bryan, 47, of Tupelo, insurance salesman and Ward 6 city councilman
– Nancy Adams Collins, 63, of Tupelo, registered nurse, speech therapist, welfare social worker, founding president of Sanctuary Hospice House
– Jonny Davis, 46, of Tupelo, education activist, property manager, Ward 5 city councilman
– Stacy D. Scott, 44, of Sherman, longtime educator, South Pontotoc High School teacher and former Sherman alderman
– Doug Wright, 43, of Saltillo, attorney and owner of Community Eldercare Services, Community Living Centers, CLC of Bruce, LTC Pharmacy Solutions and Synchronous Medical Supply.