Getting specific General election candidates owe voters clear positions

Last week’s sparsely attended party primary runoffs in Mississippi set the stage for the general election campaign that should shift into high gear this week.

The gubernatorial matchup between incumbent Republican Haley Barbour and Democratic challenger John Arthur Eaves Jr., along with the lieutenant governor race that pits Republican state Auditor Phil Bryant against Democratic state Rep. Jamie Franks, are the top-of-the-ticket headliners. But down the ballot are several important statewide and regional state races sure to be competitive.

Meanwhile, more general election contests for legislative seats will be on the ballot this year than previously, with Republicans and Democrats battling for partisan advantage in a Legislature becoming more like Congress every election cycle.

Many races for county offices have been decided in the primaries, but some remain to be settled in November.

Candidates tend to speak in generalities, to find the most widely acceptable message lending itself to the least possible disagreement among voters. It is the job of the voting public and the media to press for specifics from those candidates who would rather avoid them.

For example, candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and the Legislature who pay homage to education in general should be asked whether they will commit to fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program annually; what they think should be done to keep community colleges and universities funded and tuition from spiraling ever higher; and what specific changes are needed to enhance educational performance at all levels in Mississippi.

Since tax policy has been and will continue to be a major state issue, all candidates should be asked their specific positions on the grocery/tobacco tax issue and on the state’s tax structure in general. Which taxes should be cut, if any? Which should be raised? If they advocate cutting taxes without raising others, what programs would they cut to balance the budget?

At the county level – especially in Northeast Mississippi, which is about to be hit by an unprecedented influx of Toyota-related jobs and development – candidates for supervisor should state whether or not they support countywide zoning and more cooperation among county and municipal governments to ensure orderly growth and continued economic success.

Platitudes and generalities need to be translated into specifics to have any meaning. Taking specific stands on tough issues involves hard choices and political risks, but voters are entitled to have more specifics to evaluate the candidates before casting a vote.

The candidates without enough familiarity with the issues to articulate coherent positions – or who simply want to avoid taking a stand – don’t need or deserve to be in office in the first place. Here’s hoping this post-Labor Day campaign season will bring forth real debate on the specifics of relevant issues.

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