Senate District 5: Incumbent Wilemon challenged by former state employee Keith

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

J.P. Wilemon, running for a third term in the Mississippi Senate, is being challenged by Jerry Don Keith, a former state employee with the Division of Medicaid.
Both the Republican Keith, who lives near Tishomingo, and Wilemon, D-Belmont, are retired.
Wilemon, who was first elected to the Senate District 5 post in 2003, is retired from the banking industry.
Keith, worked for about six years for the Division of Medicaid out of the Alcorn County office checking on the eligibility of people applying for the state-federal health care program. Before then, he was a service manager for John Deere.
If elected, Keith said he would like to see the state put more emphasis on early childhood education, which he believes will help reduce the state’s dropout rate.
“Naturally, I am for funding education to the extent it needs to be,” he said. “I would like to make sure it is accountable. I have been involved in budgeting and marketing. I believe it needs to be accountable.”
Wilemon said he has been a consistent vote for fully funding education and will continue to be so.
Wilemon said despite the tough economic times, he believes the state is on the right path. He said he has the experience and desire to help continue that progress.
“I want to continue the work I have been doing the past eight years,” Wilemon said. “I just think the state is doing well for the recession we are going through. I want to help continue that.”
Keith said, “Basically I have been interested in politics all my life. I am interested in seeing what I could do … We need jobs. I have two grandchildren. I would hope to leave things in better shape here so maybe they would not have to move off.”
Both candidates vowed to protect the Public Employees Retirement System. Both also said in general they would be against removing the Personnel Board or civil service protection from state employees as advocated by Gov. Haley Barbour in recent years.
“I wouldn’t vote to move anything out from under the Personnel Board,” Wilemon said.
Keith also said, “I don’t think it would be a good idea” to remove Personnel Board protection, adding, “I might consider looking at some agencies to see if they needed to be taken out from under it on a temporary basis.”
Keith also said he would favor drug testing people on public assistance and said “we need to protect our state’s rights at any cost.”