By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – North Mississippi’s top congressional candidates offer voters as stark a difference as do the parties they represent.
Incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo wants low taxes for everyone, federal funding cuts to non-essential programs, and a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
His opponent, Democrat Brad Morris of Oxford, demands higher taxes on the rich, sustained funding for programs aiding the middle class, and implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“They’re both good men; the issue is their political philosophies,” said Gene Barton, chairman of the Chickasaw County Democratic Committee.
Nunnelee and Morris face off in the Nov. 6 general election. Also on the ballot are Constitution Party candidate Jim R. Bourland, Libertarian Danny Bedwell and Reform Party candidate Chris Potts.
This is Morris’ first run for Congress. The 37-year-old attorney and longtime political insider previously served as chief of staff for Nunnelee’s predecessor, then-U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, D-Miss.
A lifelong Democrat, Morris believes the government should protect the middle class through preserving federal programs supporting education, home ownership, retirement and health care.
“There are policies along the way that have made a difference in my life,” Morris said, “policies that have helped build the middle class and allowed people to move up the ladder no matter where you started in life.”
Morris eschews the liberal label attached to others in his party. He supports the Second Amendment and believes marriage is between a man and a woman. He’s a Blue Dog Democrat, said Marty Wiseman, executive director Mississippi State University’s John C. Stennis Institute of Government.
Nunnelee, on the other hand, molds into his party’s conservative image.
The 54-year-old former state senator joined Congress in January 2011 and has spent the nearly two years since supporting key Republican policies.
“If we will pursue the agenda that the (GOP-led) House of Representatives has passed over the last two years that, unfortunately, has died under the Senate leadership of Harry Reid, then we can have a very bright future,” Nunnelee said. “We have positioned ourselves as a state to be primed for great growth.”
See the candidates’ positions on a number of key issues on page 5A.
Emily LeCoz 10/11/12 Lay out as columns with Brad Morris on one side and Alan Nunnelee on the other, responding to each question.
SHOULD THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FUND EDUCATION?
* Brad Morris: ABSOLUTELY
“Education must be a priority. My opponent … led the charge on $45 million in public education funding cuts in the Legislature. Now in Congress, he supports the Ryan plan to make $175 million in cuts to college aid and double student loan interest rates. There’s a pattern here for not making education a priority. Education is essential to our nation’s ability to compete in the global economy and helping people move up the economic ladder.”
* Alan Nunnelee: LET THE STATES HANDLE THE MONEY
“Education needs to be handled at the local and state level. One of the big problems with our schools is federal involvement and the bureaucracy it creates. Every federal dollar has requirements attached to it. If you free them from the paperwork they have to complete to comply with the federal mandate, they would have more time to teach students. I’m in favor of shrinking the U.S. Department of Education. Give the money to the states instead.”
SHOULD WE REDUCE DEFENSE SPENDING TO BALANCE THE BUDGET?
* Brad Morris: YES
“It makes sense that military spending goes down as we get out of Afghanistan and Iraq. I’m committed to a fiscally responsible approach to our budget, and we’ve got to look at everything. But looking at how we got into this fiscal crisis, we can’t deny we fought a two-front war the past 11 years that, for a significant amount of time, we didn’t provide any money toward.”
* Alan Nunnelee: NOT NECESSARILY
“Budgets are about priorities, and the most important priority for the federal government is defense. It’s not fair to completely exempt the Department of Defense from all cuts; like any organization it can find ways to save money. But we’ve got men and women from north Mississippi deployed around the world. In a time of war we need to make sure to continue supporting them.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO ABOUT SOCIAL SECURITY?
* Brad Morris: KEEP IT OUT OF WALL STREET’S HANDS
“Social Security is by and large solvent and stable. There’s been a depletion of the trust fund, but that’s just as more people are retiring. It’s not under threat of collapse. I reject these calls to try to privatize Social Security and hand it over to Wall Street. There have got to be some minor adjustments, because we are paying out more than the revenues coming in, but it’s not completely out of balance.”
* Alan Nunnelee: HONOR OUR COMMITMENTS
“The most important thing is to honor the commitment we’ve made to individuals currently drawing Social Security. But people are living longer, and that’s put Social Security in serious financial shape. It’s not as bad as Medicare, but we may need to revisit the retirement age. We may need to … exempt those in the upper-income limits from receiving Social Security benefits. We may need to raise the amount subject to the tax.”
WHERE DO YOU STAND ON ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION?
* Brad Morris: WE NEED IT IN MODERATION
“Like everybody, I breathe air and drink water, and I would prefer that it not kill me or my family or make us sick. We need to make sure we’re protected from pollution and danger, but we need to balance that by looking at the science and not overdoing it to the point it becomes impossible to conduct business or commerce. Calls to eliminate the EPA, though, are irresponsible.”
* Nunnelee: WE NEED IT IN MODERATION
“We live in a day in this country when perhaps out of ignorance or disregard, we were polluting our air and land and water. We had rivers that caught on fire. Nobody wants to go back to those days. It’s vital we preserve the environment for the next generation, but the EPA has gone crazy with regulations – regulating dust on farms or what kind of light bulb I can put in my light socket at home. That needs to stop.”
HOW WILL YOU REDUCE THE NATIONAL DEFICIT?
* Brad Morris: UNRAVEL THE MESS
“We need to look at 2000 when we ran record surpluses and see what changed since then: a two-front war without any funds to pay for it; a prescription drug plan, which is good, but didn’t provide money to pay for it; an economic collapse; the Bush tax cuts mostly tilted to the wealthy. If you reverse those things, we get on a good path toward getting back to a balanced budget.”
* Alan Nunnelee: BUDGET CUTS
“We need to continue to cut spending in areas across the federal government. I don’t think we need massive federal bureaucracy in education. I think the EPA needs to be reined in. I think there are some good programs out there we just can’t afford to fund anymore. We need to stop borrowing 42 cents for every dollar we’re spending. But we do not need to raise taxes.”
SHOULD WE PRIVATIZE MEDICARE?
* Brad Morris: NO
“Alan Nunnelee has voted twice for the Ryan plan. Every senior in north Mississippi needs a full understanding of what this does. It basically ends Medicare as we know it. Senior citizens, instead of having a Medicare card, would just get a voucher to pay for insurance in the private market. The difference in cost, retirees will pay for out of their own pocket.”
* Alan Nunnelee: PARTIALLY
“I don’t want to see it completely privatized, but if citizens want to make other decisions, I’m in favor of letting them do it. You may have somebody working a full-time job into their 70s who doesn’t want to go on Medicare. Give them the option of delaying benefits or getting partial benefits. Put patients in charge. If we do nothing, the program goes bankrupt in nine years.”
WHERE DO YOU STAND ON THE 2010 AFFORDABLE CARE ACT?
* Brad Morris: KEEP IT
“I read the bill, I was working in Congress at the time of its passage. I acknowledge that it’s not perfect, but it’s a good first step and we can continue to improve as we go. But if you repeal it, what happens to the patients’ bill of rights, to the pre-existing conditions clause, to the part that says you can’t charge women more for health care just because they’re women? There are positive aspects here. It would take 20 years to get meaningful reform passed in its place.”
* Alan Nunnelee: REPEAL IT
“One of first votes I took was a vote to repeal the Health Care Bill. The first week in office I voted to completely repeal ObamaCare. Then we need to replace it. We do need to make changes to put patients more in charge. We need to make changes to make it more flexible – if health care is tied to jobs, you have problems if you change jobs or leave it temporarily to go back to school. The final product should waive pre-existing conditions and removing lifetime caps.”
DO YOU SUPPORT THE PAUL RYAN BUDGET?
* Brad Morris: NO
“It represents a blatant preference toward extremely wealthy and high-income earning people. It’s a short-sighted and immoral approach to government that shifts the burden and cost to the backs of children, seniors, middle-class and working families. It undercuts education investments, it ends Medicare as we know it and shifts $6,000 a year on current and future retirees, all while piling on additional tax cuts for the highest earners in this country.”
* Alan Nunnelee: YES
“The Obama administration prides themselves on the number of people added to the public assistance rolls. Middle-income families want jobs and opportunities for themselves and their children, not public assistance. If we don’t make changes, our very opportunities and freedoms are in danger. The Paul Ryan budget puts our country on a path to prosperity. If someone is opposed to that budget, it’s imperative you embrace an alternative. I haven’t seen an alternative.”
WHAT SHOULD WE DO ABOUT ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION?
* Brad Morris: FOCUS ON EMPLOYERS
“It’s time for comprehensive national reform to deal with the issue. Until that happens, enforce the laws we do have. E-Verify makes a difference. I run it on every employee I hire. Also, we need continued efforts to secure the borders. But most importantly … is throwing the book at the people hiring them.”
* Alan Nunnelee: FOCUS ON EMPLOYERS
“The thing that draws people to this place illegally is jobs. We put the burden on employers in Mississippi that before you hire someone you need to verify citizenship status. If you willfully ignore it, we’re going to deal with the employer. I co-sponsored legislation to do that at the federal level.”
DO YOU SUPPORT OFFSHORE DRILLING?
* Brad Morris: YES
“I’m for us using and tapping into every available energy resource in the country to get us off our dependence on foreign energy. It’s got to be done in the right way. There are investigations going on into Deepwater Horizon. There are many oil rigs out there that are not exploding.”
* Alan Nunnelee: YES
“The Deepwater Horizon explosion was a very serious problem, and all the responsible parties need to pay for the mess they caused and make sure it doesn’t happen again. But right now the price of gas is bumping $4 a gallon. We need to continue to drill in the Gulf of Mexico.”
DO CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAWS NEED CHANGING?
* Brad Morris: YES
“One of the cornerstones of my campaign has been the need for real political reform, and I would support efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling. That has opened the door to unlimited corporate contributions where a handful of extremely wealthy people can influence our elections without limits on spending. One of the first bills I’d introduce would be a permanent ban on members of Congress becoming paid lobbyists when they leave office.”
* Alan Nunnelee: NO
“The courts have decided that political spending is protected free speech. I support full disclosure and letting the American people see who is financing campaigns but not restricting their ability to express their views. Obviously corporations are not individuals but in the eyes of the laws, corporations are given the same rights as individuals. I have great confidence in the American people and their ability to discern fluff from substance.”
SHOULD WE STOP FUNDING PBS?
* Brad Morris: NO
“I think it’s a valuable public resource. It’s not just for the programming, but after Hurricane Katrina, public radio and public broadcasting was one of the only avenues still available to disseminate information.”
* Alan Nunnelee: YES
“PBS has very valuable programming. I love watching Sesame Street with my grandchildren. But we have hundreds of channels. It’s not vital that one of those hundreds be supported by taxpayers. I think PBS can stand on its own.”
DO YOU SUPPORT GUN RESTRICTIONS?
* Brad Morris: “I support the Second Amendment.”
* Alan Nunnelee: NO
“I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.”
SHOULD GAY COUPLES BE ALLOWED TO MARRY?
Brad Morris: LET STATES DECIDE
“I believe marriage is one man, one woman. Marriage is an issue that has always been handled at the state level. I feel relatively confident Mississippi won’t redefine marriage here, but as a lawyer, I don’t have a clear answer on whether gay marriage recognized in one state should be recognized in Mississippi. As a civil society, as a free society, I don’t advocate targeting any group of people for mistreatment.”
* Alan Nunnelee: LET STATES DECIDE
“When I was in the state Senate, I led efforts to put a ban on same-sex marriage in the constitution, and the people of Mississippi overwhelmingly supported it. The one area of the constitution that we could deal with is the full faith and credit laws, where marriage in one state is recognized in another state. I don’t think Mississippi should be required to recognize a same-sex marriage occurring in a different state.”
DO YOU SUPPORT ROE V. WADE?
Brad Morris: YES
“It’s the law. I would personally have deep, conflicted moral issues being a party to an abortion at whatever level, but there are situations where it may be necessary: a woman who has been raped, ectopic pregnancy where her life is in danger. The legal problem is … if you take all exceptions off the table and implement a complete ban or even if you carve room for very specific exceptions, who regulates that?”
* Alan Nunnelee: NO
“For 16 years I’ve defended the right of life. As part of my work in the Legislature, my effort was to significantly reduce the number of abortions, and we did that. I would love to see Roe V. Wade reversed and those decisions go to the states. The voters are smart enough to decide what’s right for them and their state.”
HOW WILL YOU IMPROVE THE ECONOMY?
Brad Morris: STABILIZE TAXES
“If the last 10 years taught us anything, it’s that just cutting taxes doesn’t make the economy boom. If it did, we’d be doing great right now. I would set a tax rate that will endure at least three to five years so businesses can plan for the future. Good businesses and entrepreneurs can make money regardless of the economy if they follow the rules.”
* Alan Nunnelee: SET CLEAR RULES
“I’m convinced that a lot of the recession we’re in is driven by fear. People have the capital to hire and expand but are afraid of what’s coming out of Washington next. If we can continue to give businesses assurances they need that Washington is going to quit acting stupid and quit putting burdens on them … people will begin to hire.”
WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON INCOME TAXES?
Brad Morris: NO HIKES FOR MIDDLE INCOME
“Don’t raise rates on those making $250,000 and under. Let the Bush tax cuts expire for those making $1 million and above. It doesn’t solve all the problems, but it’s a step to bringing revenue back.”
Alan Nunnelee: NO HIKES, BUT TAX OTHERS
“I don’t think we need to raise taxes on anybody. The government is spending too much. But we almost have more people not paying federal income tax than are paying federal income tax. We need to broaden the tax base so that more people are paying into it.”