Opinion: Three takeaways from GOP congressional forum 


Republican candidates running for Mississippi’s Third Congressional District attended a forum in Starkville Monday night organized by the Oktibbeha County Republican Party. Pictured, from left: Sally Doty, Perry Parker, Morgan Dunn, Michael Guest, Katherine Tate and Whit Hughes (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)
By: 
RYAN PHILLIPS
SDN EDITOR

The six candidates running on the Republican ticket for Mississippi’s Third Congressional District are already familiar with each other as the June 5 Republican Primary approaches, but voters got to know them a little bit better on Monday night. 


The Oktibbeha County Republican Party did an impressive job orchestrating the event and keeping a group of six people wrangled in without the event becoming unwieldy. 


In the A section of today’s paper, you will see my breakdown and summary of each candidate’s response to certain issues, so just to be clear in separating fact from opinion, I thought I would also provide my personal takes on how I view the race and the individual candidates. 


SOYBEANS OVER TRUMP  


When discussions rolled around about tariffs, a potential trade war with China and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), I was surprised when several candidates broke with President Donald Trump. 


Three of the six candidates: state Sen. Sally Doty, Whit Hughes and Perry Parker all cited the importance of agriculture, primarily soybean production and trade, in Mississippi as being determining factors when approaching trade policy with superpower trading partners like China. 


Morgan Dunn and Katherine “Bitzi” Tate both praised Trump and called the trade war necessary and justified. 


Michael Guest, district attorney for Madison and Rankin counties, gave the balanced answer you would expect from an attorney, saying he has standards for when a trade war is necessary, with now being the time.


Soybean is currently the top row crop and number three on the list of agricultural commodities in Mississippi behind poultry and forestry, according to the Mississippi State University Extension Service.


MSU also said the 2015 total production value for soybeans in Mississippi reached $930 million, which underscores the importance of maintaining a strong trade dynamic with major soybean importers like China. I’m glad at least three of the candidates chose to bring this into the conversation instead of going whole hog for the Trump trade war approach. 

COMING TO TERMS WITH IMMIGRATION


While I concede that an open door policy may not be the right one and there should be a common sense approach to immigration reform, I think it is equally important to address how we talk about immigration issues. 

It starts with the term “illegal.” 

I’m a believer that while an action can be illegal, a human being can not. A person can be “undocumented,” sure, but one’s existence is not against the rule of law. I’m sure some will say I’m splitting hairs here, but I think applying the moniker of “illegal” to people coming into this country results in an adversarial us-and-them relationship from the beginning.  

Katherine “Bitzi” Tate saying she wants to support the “nationalist agenda” is a puzzling candidate in her own right, but she lost me completely when she said “It’s not an inalienable right to be here in America.” 

Thomas Jefferson certainly thought different. 

We are all immigrants and in order to have meaningful immigration reform, there must be some degree of empathy on the part of taxpayers funding the effort and policymakers enacting it.  

I think all of the candidates have empathy to some degree, but if it’s amnesty you’re looking for - and you may not be - then these candidates aren’t for you. 

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a candidate who will be for tightening regulations on the flow of people coming into this country, then you really can’t miss with any of the six.

It should be a no-brainer that all six candidates support the building of a border wall, but I think it is important for us to further explore as voters how each candidate would like to go about implementing the wall and policing the border. 

These are questions you don’t need a newspaper to ask for you. Take the time to email or call these candidates and press them to elaborate on their platforms.

Sometimes common sense is what’s needed and that could be the answer to the immigration debate. 


THE EYE TEST 


I admit, the politician “eye test” has failed me more than once, especially in the 2016 presidential election, but I’ve always found it entertaining, if nothing else, to say early on who I think to be a frontrunner. 

For me, it’s a three-person race to the primary with state Sen. Sally Doty, Michael Guest and Whit Hughes. 

Here’s why: 

Doty looks the part and talks the talk. She definitely passes the eye test by the way she carries herself and the even-handed way she discusses issues. I think her policy experience in the state Legislature helps, too, but as seen in 2016, on-paper experience doesn’t always ensure appeal among voters. She aligns herself close with Trump, but is quick to claim she will put Mississippi before party politics. To me, this will be the attitude of the majority of Mississippians at the primary polls in June. 


Guest, a clean-cut attorney, passes the eye test, primarily because he talks in a way that I think is palatable to the average voter. He is also not a career politician, which I think helps in the current political climate. He speaks his mind, saying he wasn’t focused on committee assignments once he gets elected because he is presently concerned with first getting elected. I think voters appreciate that straightforward attitude. After all, it got Trump elected. Guest aligns himself close with Trump on issues, too, so giving that political red meat to voters in a deeply-conservative district could go a long way. 

Whit Hughes, who seems to have the most name-recognition of all the candidates in this part of Mississippi’s Third Congressional District, also talks a good game and carries himself in a stately manner. Again … this is just the eye test. He has his “tight-five” pitch and delivery down, he has burned up the campaign trail and he seems to have a cool-headed, tactical approach to issues that he can speak eloquently on. Agriculture was the big issue that spoke to me, and I think Hughes showed a willingness to put Mississippi farmers ahead of international trade disputes. 

BEST OF THE REST

My dark horse candidate is Perry Parker, I suppose because he seems willing to think for himself and the people he wants to represent, instead of simply siding with Trump on every issue to appeal to voters.

I think his emphasis on protecting and promoting Mississippi agriculture, along with a willingness to break with the president on multiple issues, gives him a certain conservative flare the other candidates don’t have. In a region only visited by the president after a natural disaster, someone with this stance could prove the indicator of just how well President Trump is doing in a deeply-conservative congressional district.

For the record, I do think both Morgan Dunn and Katherine “Bitzi” Tate are good people who would likely do a better job on Capitol Hill than yours truly. But I just don’t believe their talking points are what is truly on the minds of voters in Mississippi’s Third District. There is a lot of time left, though.

Anything can happen, as proven time and again in politics, and to be clear, I encourage everyone reading this to take my novice newspaperman predictions with a grain of salt and do the research for yourself. As we’ve seen, the media can easily get it wrong.

Whoever wins the race (and there are Democrats running, too) will ultimately become the voice of Mississippi’s Third Congressional District, so we must make sure the candidate elected is willing to help Mississippi grow and realize its true potential.

Ryan Phillips is the executive editor of the Starkville Daily News. The views expressed in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the newspaper, or its staff.

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