Taylor, Palazzo spar in south Mississippi debate

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON — During their only debate of the campaign season, both major-party congressional candidates in south Mississippi said Friday night that they want to repeal a federal health overhaul that became law earlier this year.

Democratic incumbent Gene Taylor and Republican challenger Steven Palazzo took several verbal jabs at each other over their records in public office.

Taylor, 57, of Bay St. Louis, has been in Congress since 1989. Palazzo, 40, of Biloxi, is a certified public accountant and has been in the state House of Representatives since 2007.

The two candidates answered questions for an hour on WKFK-TV and 104.9 FM in Pascagoula, and the debate was carried on the stations’ websites.

Taylor said that Palazzo sponsored a bill that would have hurt state government retirees by reducing some of their annual benefits. Palazzo said he withdrew the bill but was trying to protect the Public Employees Retirement System.

The two candidates argued over what changes, if any, the federal government should make to help consumers who struggled with denial of insurance claims after Hurricane Katrina — a big issue in an area that was hit hard by the 2005 storm.

Taylor said he’s been pushing for years to establish federal “all perils” insurance policies by adding wind coverage to the existing federal flood insurance program. He has said that could help alleviate disputes about whether damage was caused by wind or water in hurricanes. Taylor also said Palazzo is wrong to take campaign contributions from insurance interests.

Palazzo said Taylor has talked about an all-perils insurance bill since Katrina but has been unable to pass it. Palazzo favors a “private-public model” for improving insurance coverage in high-risk areas.

Responding to a question submitted by a viewer, Taylor and Palazzo both said they’d put loyalty to the 4th Congressional District ahead of loyalty to any political party.

Taylor said Democrats are often wrong on social issues and Republicans are “dead wrong” on trade issues that he believes have sent American jobs to other countries.

“It’s not about party. It’s about our nation,” Taylor said. “I did not swear an oath of allegiance to either party. I swore an oath of allegiance to the United States of America.”

Palazzo said he’d put the interests of south Mississippi first, and he wants to fire Democrat Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House — a point he often makes in campaign appearances. Taylor, who has voted for Pelosi in the past, said he will not vote for her again. Instead, he said he’d vote for Democrat Ike Skelton of Missouri for speaker.

Palazzo said Taylor has been ineffective in Washington because he has not worked well with other members of Congress.

“You need to not sit on the fence all the time but you need to build coalitions, build friendships,” Palazzo said.

Libertarian Kenneth “Tim” Hampton and the Reform Party’s Anna Jewel Revies, both of Hattiesburg, also will be on the ballot Tuesday in the 4th District. They were not invited to participate in the debate.