OXFORD — Candidates in a North Mississippi congressional debate last night presented competing visions of “government the despoiler” versus “government the helper.”
Republican first-term incumbent Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo and Democratic challenger Brad Morris of Oxford debated for an hour at the University of Mississippi. Nunnelee, the leading fundraiser, continues to focus on what he sees as the danger of government debt and regulation. He said the election poses a fundamental choice.
“One view says bigger government, higher taxes, more debt, less freedom, creating a society where people are dependent on Washington,” said Nunnelee, 54. “My vision relies on the independence of the American spirit.”
Morris, though, said Nunnelee’s vision leaves out lunch-bucket voters in Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District, which runs from the Memphis suburbs through Tupelo to Columbus.
“On a fair playing field, we don’t expect the government or elected officials to guarantee the outcome, but we don’t expect them to rig the outcome against us,” said Morris, 37. “I see a system rigged against working class, middle class folks.”
The pair is joined on the Nov. 6 ballot by the Constitution Party’s Jim Bourland of Columbus, Libertarian Danny Bedwell of Columbus and the Reform Party’s Chris Potts. All three were left out of the debate, though Bedwell attended.
Government regulation, particularly around President Barack Obama’s health care reform law, is crippling business investment with uncertainty, Nunnelee said.
“They’re afraid of what the rules are,” Nunnelee said. “They’re afraid of what the future holds.
Nunnelee also said he talks to business owners who tell him they have trouble hiring because job applicants don’t follow through, preferring to stay at home and collect government benefits.
Morris, though, said House Republican obstructionism is to blame for uncertainty on a wide range of issues, including delays in approving an increase in the federal debt ceiling and delays in approving a highway bill.
“I got into this race to remove that cloud of uncertainty,” said Morris, an attorney and businessman. “Quite frankly, it’s the current Congress that’s created a mountain of it.”
Morris defended the health care law, saying that despite flaws, it’s “the only real effort toward health care reform in my lifetime.” Nunnelee touted the many House Republican votes attacking the law, saying he’d replace it with a system “driven by patients making decisions with their doctors.”
Nunnelee, who was in the insurance business and was a longtime state senator before being elected to Congress, warned that the European debt crisis should serve as a warning to Americans. But when asked what he would cut, Nunnelee named only the subsidy to public broadcasting and the subsidy for air service to small cities. Both of those are relatively small parts of the federal budget.
Morris said deficit reduction should include tax increases at least on those making more than $1 million a year. He also said House Republicans back a budget that would cut support for education and poor people while giving tax breaks to the rich.
“Get out of Iraq and Afghanistan and let those Bush tax cuts expire,” Morris said.
Nunnelee said: “Washington spends too much and I don’t trust Washington with more money.”
Morris and Nunnelee found common ground on immigration, where both said that current laws need to be enforced and employers need to face penalties for hiring illegal immigrants. Morris said he favors a comprehensive immigration reform, while Nunnelee said he opposes legalizing anyone who had entered the United States illegally.
Nunnelee unseated one-term Democrat Travis Childers two years ago in a campaign in which he said getting rid of Childers would help get rid of California Democrat Nancy Pelosi as House speaker. Morris was Childers’ chief of staff.