Democratic state Rep. Jay Hughes of Oxford and Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann of Jackson, who are both attorneys, debated Thursday night at the WJTV-TV studio in Jackson.
The winner of the Nov. 5 election will succeed Republican Tate Reeves, who has been lieutenant governor two terms and is now running for governor.
Hosemann said he has fulfilled promises during his three terms as secretary of state, and he believes that prepares him to be lieutenant governor.
Hughes said his life experiences will influence how he handles public policy. He said he was born into a poor family and worked in a variety of jobs, including as a truck driver and an oyster shucker, before he worked his way into hiring other people.
“While others were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, I was born with a plastic spoon in mine,” Hughes said, repeating a line he uses often while campaigning.
In response, Hosemann deadpanned: “I think if he was born with a plastic spoon in his mouth, that was probably difficult for his mother.”
Hosemann said he came from a house on a gravel road south of Vicksburg, and he and his wife “started with nothing” and worked hard.
Both candidates said Mississippi needs to improve the condition of highways and bridges. Hosemann said he would support giving counties the option to have a local increase on the tax on gasoline and diesel.
“Mississippi’s run in the counties. It’s not run in the Capitol,” Hosemann said.
Hughes said the state should give counties the sales tax money that’s collected from purchases people make online.
“Let the supervisors there deal with the bridges and infrastructure,” Hughes said.
Hosemann and Hughes were asked whether Mississippi should remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag. Both said if the flag design is reconsidered, it should be done by a statewide vote and not by the Legislature. People who voted in a 2001 election chose to keep the Confederate emblem.
“Mississippians will ask when they want to change their state flag,” Hosemann said. “I don’t think, really, the Legislature needs to be doing that.”
Hughes said he thinks the flag hurts Mississippi’s ability to attract jobs, but he said legislators should focus on issues like trying to alleviate poverty, improve schools and reduce the infant mortality rate.
As for the flag design, Hughes said: “It’s not up to me, personally, to make that change. That’s going to have to be by the people, or it will not be accepted by the people.”
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