BY BRIAN JONES
Eight candidates took questions from constituents during a political forum at Caledonia Thursday night. Candidates for District 1 Justice Court Judge, District 1 Supervisor, Chancery Clerk and Senate District 17; a second forum, set for July 18th, with feature candidates for Representative District 39, sheriff, county prosecuting attorney and District 1 Constable.
Each candidate was given a few minutes to introduce themselves, and then took questions. Caledonia Middle School teacher Allison Barnett served as the moderator. [I’m not going to cover every question for the sake of brevity. – Ed.]
Incumbent District 1 Justice Court Judge Chris Hemphill said that he has been in office for the past 10 years.
“I live here in Caledonia,” Hemphill said. “I live about a half mile from here, just outside the city limits, and I’ve lived here for 17 years. I’ve been in Lowndes County for 26 years. I took office Dec. 1, 2008. I love that job, and I’m asking for your vote to keep it. It is a job of service, and it was a job I enjoy doing. Knowing the law is one of my strong points. I have 26 years experience as a practicing attorney. I have studied civil law, and two out of every three cases is civil law.”
Incumbent District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders likened running for office to a job interview.
“I’m interviewing for the job, and you are my boss,” he said. “I’m sure most of you have been through interviews before, and you usually tell the interviewer something about yourself. I ran Sanders Oil for 30 years. I retired at 51 – I had worked there since I was 20. I got bored and decided to run for supervisor. I’ve been supervisor for over 20 years now. I’m proud of what I’ve done as a supervisor. The roads you rode on to get here and the park where your children and grandchildren play, all those things are better than they were 20 years ago. I stand on my record and my accomplishments.”
Incumbent Senator Chuck Younger said he was a problem-solver.
“I’ve been your senator since 2014,” he said. “It was a special election. I went to Jackson to try to learn, and the next year I had to run for re-election. I’ve been proud to be your senator. They said it was a part time job, and that may have been true in the olden days, but they didn’t have an iPhone back then. I answer my phone all the time, and I try to take care of people’s problems. That’s what it’s about to me, it’s helping people with their problems more than trying to get a bill passed.”
Cindy Egger Goode is running for chancery clerk. She touted her years of experience in the office.
“I have worked with (current Chancery Clerk Lisa Neese) for 14 years,” she said. “I am currently her CFO and I handle all the day-to-day operations in the chancery clerk’s office. Combined with my experience as a paralegal and a deputy clerk, I have worked in that courthouse for 25 years. I feel like I know the importance of keeping the records and maintaining that.”
Danny Bedwell is running for Senate District 17. He promised to never vote for taxes.
“I’m retired military,” he said. “I was a Navy diver for 20 years. When I retired I moved back to Steens with my wife and started a business. We bought the old Holcim concrete plant. I think Chuck Younger is a fantastic senator. I don’t want to replace him necessarily. With that being said, I will reduce taxes at every opportunity. I will never, ever, ever vote for a tax increase, ever. I will also vote to reduce spending. Government has defined role and responsibility, and sometimes the legislature spends a lot of time doing other stuff.
“I think I have some arguments on how to do things cheaper and more efficiently,” he said. “I think we can revamp some of that stuff at the Mississippi Department of Transportation and make their budget less and make them do a better job with what they’re supposed to do.”
Jessica Lancaster Pierce is running for chancery clerk, and also has experience in the office.
“I worked for (Neese) for eight years,” she said. “I worked in all aspects of the office in that time. I love the job, and I love the idea to that I can help anyone who walks in the door. Three years ago the president of Cadence Bank offered me a job. It was a hard decision to make, but I had to to what was best for my family from a financial standpoint. My skill sets and talents have been enhanced by working at the bank. I handle amounts of money that I only thought I would see in the movies, so I know that I can handle accounts in the (clerk’s) office.”
Steve Pyle is running for District 1 Supervisor. He wants to take the county in a new direction.
“I have spent the majority of my life as a business owner and volunteer,” he said. “My second business was Alarm One, which most people know me for. In 2014 my wife and I opened Golden Glow tanning salon. I have over 20 years combined service with the Lowndes County Volunteer Fire Department in District 1 and 3. I believe being a supervisor now means being open minded and not set in our ways. One thing that is high on my priority list is providing residents of District 1 with better internet service. There are no reasons why we shouldn’t have faster internet.”
Ben Kilgore is a candidate for District 1 Justice Court Judge.
“My platform is commitment,” he said. “When I went in the Navy at 18 years old I was committed to being where I was supposed to be. When I went to the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office my commitment was to be where I was supposed to be. When I went to work for the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, I had a commitment to do the job that I was supposed to do. When I was a marshal here, I had a commitment to Caledonia. The job I will do for justice court is to be there and not be in court somewhere else representing somebody else in some unrelated case.”
Pyle was asked what specific plans he had to better internet service.
“We have what we need to get better service in rural areas,” he said. “It’s a matter of us pushing it to make it happen. There’s a station out there (near Jack Wiggins Road) already that’s got that capacity. We have got to push because we have got to have this kind of internet for online courses, for gaming, for businesses. Sometimes we can’t do but one thing at a time on that internet, and I promise I will pursue it until we get it.”
Sanders was asked what plans he had to better the park in Caledonia.
“The park is independent from Lowndes County and is run by the Caledonia Park Board,” Sanders said. “The supervisors have appropriated $50,000 to be used between Caledonia, Artesia and Crawford. In order to get an allocation they have to have a park board. Crawford and Artesia don’t, but Caledonia does. The stipulation is that is has be used for hard assets. The money is available there to help with lighting at the soccer field. But by and large improvements have to be made by the park board. It’s a municipal park and it’s their responsibility.”
Senate candidates were asked about the most exciting piece of recent legislation, and what they look forward to in the next session.
“This past session we passed four bills for military families,” he said. “We want to keep all three of our bases here. One the bills was to let the military families have two weeks early to sign their children up for school. One of them was for spouses in military families to get community college or IHL credit for any training they receive. The other was for when families move here the spouse can get a license to work, for example if they’re a lawyer or a nurse, a lot quicker. The fourth one, I can’t remember.”
Bedwell said he was glad to see some state budgets reduced, and repeated that he would oppose taxes.
“One of the big things I liked was that the Mississippi Development Authority got their budget reduced,” he said. “I think that’s a good thing. I spent a good portion of the last year trying to overturn or defeat this restaurant tax in Lowndes County. It passed, but we’ll keep fighting. My job is to reduce taxes.”
Justice Court judge candidates were asked about their availability during off court weeks, or if they had other employment.
“The judges split their services up into three weeks,” Hemphill said. “In those weeks we have court three days. I do practice law, but during my week I’m pretty much there. If there is an issue with any judge needing to be out on a court day, the other judges have always been great about covering for that judge. Sometimes you can’t avoid doctor’s appointments. If I’m not at justice court, I’m at my law office. I’m available all hours of the night. I take phone calls from law enforcement officers needing warrants signed at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.”
“I am retired,” Kilgore said. “I am available full time and all the time.”
Senate candidates were also asked if they supported a potential gas tax to support infrastructure.
“We’re already taxed way too much on our gasoline,” Bedwell said. “It will increase the cost of production. I ship a lot. I probably bring 30 or 40 truckloads a day in Lowndes County. When those truck drivers fill up, it will cost them more money. I ship to Mexico and Canada by rail. The trains use diesel fuel. When you talk about increasing the cost of shipping, you increase the price of everything. There is sufficient money in the budget to repair bridges. It’s just being spent on other stuff, and we need to trim the fat.”
Younger said yes, he supported the gas tax.
“I”m for consumption tax,” he said. “You’re not supposed to be for taxes much if you’re a Republican, but I am in favor of a consumption tax. (Sanders) just told me a second ago that when he went in office a ton of asphalt was $27. Now it’s $95. We still have the same tax on fuel and gas we had back then. We are the third lowest state on fuel tax. (Revenue) has got to come form somewhere. I don’t disagree with (Bedwell) that money is wasted. We waste money. We’re Americans. But you’ve got to pay for it with something. A consumption tax is the fairest way to do it.”
During closing remarks, Kilgore again took aim at Hemphill having a second job. Candidates were asked for their vision for the future, should they be elected.
“My vision is to be there to help the other judges,” Kilgore said. “When a judge is on the bench, if there’s not another judge in the building and law enforcement needs to see a judge right now that judge will have to stop the trial or whatever it is to help that officer. I will be down there to back up that judge. Judge Ron Cooke comes in and backs up Judge Peggy Phillips. Peggy Phillips comes in and backs up Ron Cooke. They come in and work some when Judge Hemphill is on the bench. You need someone there as backup. This is a need for the future because Lowndes County is not getting any smaller, that I know of.”
Hemphill said that his other job has made no difference in his availability.
“The issue this time seems to be my availability,” Hemphill said. “If you know a narcotics officer or an investigator at the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office, ask them how many times I have not answered my phone at 2 or 3 in the morning. Ask other judges how many times I’m not there. I sign warrants at my law office. If the other judges are at home or out of town, I have them come by my law office and I sign them. My availability is not an issue. Just ask them.
“If you are a judge, you have a lot thrown at you quickly,” he said. “You’ve got to have the right temperament. You’re going to have people tell you things on the stand that you know isn’t true. You’ve got to be able to weed that out and you can’t get upset. Sometimes that’s hard. You’ve got to make a decision. I am going to follow the law. I may not agree with the law, but I am going to make my decision based on what the law says.”