By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
STARKVILLE — Candidates for Mississippi governor and lieutenant governor split mostly along party lines Wednesday night in either supporting or opposing the federal health care overhaul that became law last year.
During a student-organized forum at Mississippi State University, 7 of the 11 candidates for governor and two of the three for lieutenant governor spoke to an audience of several hundred students, faculty members and others.
The two Republican candidates for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Billy Hewes of Gulfport and state Treasurer Tate Reeves of Flowood, said they oppose the federal health law.
Republican gubernatorial candidates Dave Dennis of Pass Christian, Hudson Holliday of Poplarville and Ron Williams of Moss Point say they oppose the law because it represents too much government involvement in the health care system.
Democratic gubernatorial candidates Johnny DuPree of Hattiesburg, Bill Luckett of Clarksdale and Bill Compton Jr. of Meridian said they support the law, although not necessarily in every detail.
Guy Dale Shaw, a 74-year-old retired tax assessor from Coffeeville, vowed to run a low-budget campaign for governor and described himself as a “clodhopping country boy.” He said he doesn’t quite know what he’d do to either implement or block the federal law in Mississippi if he’s governor.
“Would you like to offer a suggestion?” Shaw asked the forum’s moderator, MSU journalist-in-residence Sid Salter.
It was one of several frank and unexpected answers from Shaw that left the audience laughing.
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican who’s running for governor, did not participate in the forum. The university said he didn’t accept an invitation.
The jobs of governor and lieutenant governor are open this year because Republican Gov. Haley Barbour is limited to two terms and can’t run again. Bryant is running for governor after one term in the state’s second-highest office. Party primaries are Aug. 2, and the general election is Nov. 8.
Dennis, 58, is a contractor from Pass Christian and has served on the Federal Reserve Board. He said the governor’s election is about job creation. He said the federal health overhaul is an expensive unfunded mandate for states.
“Health care does not move the job market forward,” Dennis said. “It moves it into a position of making the United States generally not competitive with other people.”
Holliday, 66, is a Pearl River County supervisor and retired major general of the Mississippi Army National Guard. “I don’t want the federal government in charge of anything else,” he said.
DuPree, who’s in his third term as Hattiesburg mayor, said the federal health care law is helping people with pre-existing health conditions find or change insurance coverage. He said he supports the law, but believes it might need to be tweaked.
“The plan, I think, is not the best plan in the world, but it is certainly light years from where we were before it was instituted by the federal government,” DuPree said.
Luckett, 63, an attorney and businessman, said he thinks health care coverage “is a risk, the cost of which ought to be shared by all of us in some form or fashion.”
“One catastrophic injury, one serious illness — unless you’re Bill Gates — can wipe just about any citizen out in this country,” Luckett said.
Compton, 59, is a high school history teacher in Meridian and is running his second low-budget campaign for governor. “Mississippi is the poorest state in the union,” Compton said. “We need Obamacare.”
Williams, 52, a businessman, said he opposes the federal health care law but he believes private insurance companies and providers, including hospitals, are price gougers. “We have resigned ourselves to the fact that that one particular industry has a license to steal from us,” Williams said.