By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Johnny DuPree and Phil Bryant, vying to be Mississippi’s next governor, have some areas of disagreement, but surprisingly may have an equal number of areas of agreement.
And many of the areas of disagreement are on issues where as governor they will have no influence over the outcome.
For instance, DuPree, the Democratic mayor of Hattiesburg, said there are areas where he disagrees with the Affordable Health Care Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama, but he also said there are parts of the law that will be good for Mississippi. He said the fact that the law requires insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions and to cover children on their parents’ policy until age 26 are positives.
Plus, he said in a recent debate that the fact more Mississippians will be insured “is a good thing,” especially since there will be no additional cost to the state when the program is fully enacted in 2014.
Bryant, on the other hand, has filed a lawsuit against the law and has said he favors its repeal. The Republican lieutenant governor has said, however, that he favors the establishment of a health care exchange for Mississippi where people could theoretically buy coverage at a cheaper rate. Mississippi is using funds from the federal health care act to establish its exchange.
At any rate, the federal law, particularly its mandate that citizens purchase health insurance, is being considered by the courts and the outcome of the governor’s race in Mississippi will have no bearing on that litigation.
Bryant, 56, and DuPree, 57, are vying to capture the Nov. 8 general election. Incumbent Gov. Haley Barbour, a two-term Republican, is constitutionally prohibited from running again.
Bryant and DuPree have run a remarkably civil and quieter-than-usual campaign. Bryant, who has spent $4.2 million for the year, according to the last campaign disclosure documents, has expended roughly seven times as much as DuPree. Much of that money was expended in the August party primary election.
Bryant’s television ads have been positive.
During the candidates’ only head-to-head debate, Bryant said, “I think we have changed the dynamics in politics for years to come … People will say those two had a reason to go after each other, but they didn’t.”
DuPree, seeking to become the state’s first black governor since the 1800s, echoed similar thoughts.
Still, there are areas of disagreement.
One distinct difference is on taxes. While DuPree has not advocated a tax increase, he has cited a legislative study that found that 103 of Mississippi’s 150 largest employers paid no state taxes. Most of those were large retailers.
Bryant has rejected any proposal that would raise taxes on anyone. DuPree has said, “I believe in tax fairness,” saying those large out-of-state retailers paying no taxes might have an unfair advantage over smaller, Mississippi-based retailers.
Bryant is a strong advocate of charter schools – or specially designated taxpayer-supported schools that are normally viewed as an alternative to traditional public schools. He has said that the competition would be good for public schools and would allow students to escape from a failing school.
DuPree has said that to move the state forward all public schools must be improved so that no student is left behind.
They both have voiced support for full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program that provides the basics of operating local school districts.
Earlier this year, Bryant said, “I stand by the position that I established four years ago – to support MAEP and fund it to the fullest extent that revenues will allow.”
But Bryant has been involved in legislative battles in recent years over the funding level for MAEP. In general, Bryant has supported Barbour’s MAEP funding position, which was an amount less than what was finally agreed to during budget negotiations with the House.
In an earlier interview, DuPree said, “MAEP will be a priority, but only one of many education-related priorities in my administration. We cannot end a legislative session with fully funding MAEP alone and think that we have succeeded in supporting our public schools.”
Both have similar positions on early childhood education.
On his website, Bryant wrote, “We must be able to measure the relative effectiveness of such programs before we commit to new spending. I know that the primary responsibility of educating children begins with parents at home.”
But at the recent debate, Bryant said he supports incentives to entice private day care operations and Head Start centers to enhance their curriculum to “build the very best early childhood system in America.”
DuPree has advocated a similar method to enhance early childhood education instead of the approach of establishing a prekindergarten program as part of the public school system.
On the three citizen-sponsored initiatives that also will be on the Nov. 8 ballot, both said they support the proposals that define life as beginning at fertilization and that prohibit the government from taking private property for the use of another private entity.
Bryant also said he supports the proposal to require people to display a photo ID before voting. DuPree has described voter ID as “a solution in search of a problem.” He said the real problem with voter fraud occurs in absentee voting.
But as the federal courts and federal Congress will resolve issues surrounding the national health care law regardless of who is governor of Mississippi, the voters – not the next governor of Mississippi – will decide on the three initiatives.