By PAUL SIMS
Four of the five candidates to lead regulation of many aspects of Mississippi life – including agriculture – spelled out their qualifications for Agriculture and Commerce commissioner Wednesday.
Women for Agriculture hosted a candidates’ forum for the office on the Mississippi State University campus Wednesday as part of their three-day conference.
Four-term commissioner Lester Spell, a veterinarian, will not seek an additional term, leaving the office open for this year’s general election.
Four of the five qualified candidates appeared at Wednesday’s forum. These were: Pickens Mayor Joel Gill, D-Pickens; state Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Brookhaven; agribusiness owner, retired vocational agriculture teacher and retired banker Max Phillips, R-Taylorsville; and state Rep. Dannie Reed, R-Ackerman.
Reform Party candidate Cathy L. Toole of Biloxi was not in attendance.
Gill and Toole will be on the general election ballot, Ford said, noting Republicans will need to select a nominee to move ahead to November. Mississippi’s primary elections are set for Aug. 2. Offices for which voters did not select party nominees in the primary will go to runoffs on Aug. 23. The general election will be Nov. 8.
Gill cited his private-sector background as president of Mississippi Order Buyers, a bonded livestock dealing company, his service as mayor of Pickens and a “true desire to serve the people of Mississippi.”
He says he wants to use his experience and background “to stand up for Mississippi producers, to put a good face on it and to go forward to make Mississippi very profitable for all the producers.”
Hyde-Smith, who has served 12 years in the state senate, is the chair of the chamber’s Agriculture Committee, a role she’s held for eight years. She was the panel’s vice chair for four years. She also owns Lincoln County Livestock with her husband.
She says she’s running for the office because she believes in Mississippi and the American farmer and “I believe that it is our job to get out there and do the things that we need to do such as expand markets for them.”
Hyde-Smith said “I’m ready to work for the future of agriculture in Mississippi.”
Phillips says he’s not an elected official, adding he has sought the office before.
“Agriculture is a passion and a way of life to me,” he said, noting his experience in field. “There’s a lot of work to do and it’s going to take a lot of energy and a lot of effort to meet the challenges.”
Phillips also said: “We ought to be able to feed ourselves and export our surplus and we’re far from that today.”
He also said he wants to put to rest rumors he would remove the staff in place at the department in favor of people he would bring in to work there.
Reed started out in agricultural equipment field, then worked in the cooperative extension service for 30 years.
“We need to produce much more of our food in Mississippi to grow economically and possess a safe and secure supply, Reed said.