Depending on where one is in the Second Congressional District depends on what issue or issues heads a list of concerns by potential voters for the June 6 primary.
But some issues are clear.
The district has lost thousands of manufacturing and agricultural jobs; test scores are down in many of the school districts; 192,000 residents out of the district’s total population of around 711,000 live in poverty; and unemployment across the district averages 10% with 168,000 living and working without healthcare.
Against this backdrop Democratic incumbent Bennie G. Thompson has his most serious challenge to date for a primary campaign with state Rep. Chuck Espy of Clarksdale doing what he can to unseat the 12-year reign of Thompson.
Waiting in the wings for the November general election is Tchula Mayor Yvonne Brown, the Republican challenger, who will face the Democratic nominee.
But one thing is clear. Business and economic development is on the minds of the candidates as well as many voters who want more than talk.
Tackling the issues
Chuck Espy recently unveiled what he titled a “Putting People First” program, which is also a “Roadmap To Recovery.”
Thompson has unveiled no new business or economic development programs or initiatives in the campaign.
Brown instead focuses on some programs already available for economic development, but are underutilized.
Espy said “Bennie Thompson has never brought forward a plan of his own to revitalize the district leaving the district susceptible to job loss. The district has lost over 10,000 jobs over the past five years and we have no coordinated plan to address that loss.”
“With the loss of jobs is also the loss of tax revenue and the ability of many in the district to further afford healthcare leaving many — especially our senior citizens — quite vulnerable to pay the rising cost of prescription drugs and out-of-control hospital costs. That is a concern and there is no plan to address those issues in the district,” Espy said.
“The number one business issue is definitely education. So many of our schools in the district are Level 1 and 2 and several in the Delta have even been taken over by the state.
“Without quality education for our children and adults trying to better themselves, we’re in trouble. We have seen what has happened over the past few years in the district because we don’t have a plan to address our education deficiencies,” said Espy.
With his “Putting People First” as a backdrop, the plan calls for some focused economic development activity.
Espy said he would create a “strong economic development council that would come to the table with a business plan for the district” showing “how we can all work together using the resources of the state, the district, our people and current business and industry, along with available federal help, to bring needed jobs and industry to the district.”
The plan also calls for reclaiming the seat on the House Agricultural Committee, which Thompson held at one time. He left that committee “leaving Mississippi out in the cold when it comes t protecting our people and farmers,” said Espy.
“That was crazy with our district being so rural and agriculture as our main industry,” he added.
During a recent interview in Greenville at the Pyramid Barbershop, Espy was also concerned about the plight of small businesses.
“They are the backbone of our economy. I would like to see a plan to help them out and give them some breaks like with taxes and other regulations. They need help not headaches.
“I will do what I can as a congressman to help make small businesses flourish in the district. Many small businesses can do so much more for an economy than one or two major plants,” said Espy.
“We also have to do something about stabilizing the workforce and keeping a skilled workforce here. That’s a major thing new companies look at before they even consider coming to an area to look around. That issue needs to be addressed and one way is through better education and workforce training,” Espy said.
From the Web
Neither Thompson, his staff in Washington, nor the Mound Bayou legislative office responded to phone calls or e-mails sent requesting direct comments for this story.
However, Thompson’s campaign Web site does provide some answers to where the congressman stands on some business or economic development issues.
“Thompson is committed to improving the economic growth and sustainability of Mississippi, particularly the Mississippi Delta,” states the www.benniegthompson.com Web site. “Regularly touted as the poorest region in the country, the Delta remains largely agrarian, but has reaped some benefits from the onset of the gaming industry.”
Thompson also “believes that education paves the way for economic development and wealth-building.”
With that in mind, the Web site states that Thompson “advocates increases that will move the average annual pay of Mississippi teachers to equal and exceed the Southeastern average.”
While agriculture is still the district’s major industry — with the Mississippi Delta leading the way — economic issues facing agriculture are of major concern.
Brown’s key issue: job creation
As a mayor, Brown has had to know what is available for business and economic development in order to help her community. The knowledge she has gained in the mayor’s post,
“I would like to share with the district and other mayors so that we can all benefit,” said Brown.
“The key issue is job creation,” said Brown. “Jobs help bring about other things that are important such as equality economic empowerment, affordable health care, and alternative fuel.”
“Job creation and equality economic empowerment spin off of each other. One program that would be so beneficial is the BRAVO program (Bringing Rural America Venture Opportunity), which is a USDA program, which I think, is underutilized.
“It helps to establish and utilize partnerships in rural communities through places like educational institutions, tribal councils, business organizations and things like that. There would be a number of opportunities for businesses and corporations to partner with a rural entity,” Brown said.
“It has also been a challenge for small municipalities to bridge the digital divide and provide the infrastructure needed to bridge that divide and create and retain jobs. We need to address that issue, too,” she said.
At a recent meeting of Republicans at the Greenville Golf and Country Club, Brown also addressed the small business issue.
“There’s such a burden on small business — especially when it comes to affordable healthcare,” said Brown. “In order to be viable and successful, small businesses need help. We have to have the political will to come to the table to discuss employees and the business.”
“It goes back to leadership and political will such as with technology and economic development. We need to use agricultural technology, which is one business in the Delta that has been a hallmark of the region. What they do at Stoneville is one of the best-kept secrets in the Delta.
“We need to capitalize on that technology for ventures such as biodiesel fuels, biomass, alternative fuels and industries with value-added benefit,” said Brown.
Contact MBJ contributing writer David Lush at firstname.lastname@example.org.