By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
Mississippians shouldn’t wait for slick TV ads or glossy brochures from some of the 11 men running for governor this year. A forum at Mississippi State University this past week gave three of the low-budget candidates a chance to connect directly with a few hundred potential voters.
Democrat Guy Dale Shaw of Coffeeville, a 74-year-old retired tax assessor, was a hit with students and drew frequent applause and laughter with his decidedly unpolished statements.
Shaw introduced himself as a “clod-hopping country boy” and called the state budget a “wooly booger.” He said he was 2 when his daddy was elected Yalobusha County tax assessor. He talked about winning the assessor’s office himself when his daddy retired, then serving for 36 years until 2000. Shaw left some folks laughing, but scratching their heads wondering exactly what he meant, as he talked about farming with his dad.
“You haven’t lived ‘til you sharecropped with a tax assessor,” Shaw said with a grin.
Shaw said he won’t buy any campaign signs because “signs don’t vote.” He said if he’s governor, he’ll hire bright young people to help him run the state. He pledged to reduce car tag prices and get half-price gasoline for Mississippi residents. His idea? Revamp the tax rolls, make it easier for companies to drill for oil (or, as he said, “ahwwwwl”). He claimed this would increase state revenues, and that he’d make sure residents get a price break on the Mississippi oil that’s refined into gasoline.
A Republican gubernatorial candidate, 52-year-old businessman Ron Williams of Moss Point, said he won’t accept campaign contributions because he believes money corrupts politics.
“For the last eight years in our state we’ve had a situation to where we’ve had an elite group of special interests who have basically controlled the state,” Williams told The Associated Press before the forum. “The working men and women of our state have been ignored and denied. Small businesses in our state have been ignored and denied.”
The governor for nearly the past eight years, of course, is Republican Haley Barbour, who’s term-limited in Mississippi’s top job but is preparing for a possible a 2012 presidential run. It’s rare for Republicans, especially statewide candidates, to criticize Barbour.
On stage at MSU, Williams said he has been in business 22 years and he’s tired of Jackson bureaucrats complicating people’s lives.
“I’m not mad,” an intense Williams told the audience. “I just talk fast. I’m nervous.”
Democrat Bill Compton, a 59-year-old Meridian High School history teacher, ran a low-budget campaign for governor in 2007 and said he’s running again to fight corruption. He vowed to fully fund education and improve health care.
Without citing any source for his numbers, Compton claimed Medicaid cuts during the Barbour administration have caused 3,000 babies a year to be born dead in Mississippi. Over eight years, Compton said that was 24,000 dead babies.
Speaking of Barbour, Compton said: “I just hope when he goes to the great maker in the sky, those 24,000 dead babies are standing there full-grown angels saying, ‘Why didn’t you give me a chance, just give me a chance?’”
The audience sat in silence.
A fact check: An April 2010 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed Mississippi has long had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation. The state had 10.64 still births per 1,000 live births in 2000, before Barbour took office, and 10.53 still births per 1,000 live births in 2006, Barbour’s third year as governor. The national average was 6.89 in 2000 and 6.68 in 2006. The 2006 statistics were the most recent available. The CDC report did not mention Medicaid spending.