Wide open District 97 draws wide open slate of candidates
Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 14, 2003
Like a river running about 120 miles across the state of Mississippi, state representative District 97 meanders through central Adams County and on to the east.
It cuts out a corner of Franklin County, crossing the topmost part of Amite County, making odd plunges into Pike County, taking in a small corner of Walthall County and then slicing the very south, perhaps 10 percent, of Lawrence County.
This was the district represented by Andrew Ketchings of Natchez, who opted to run in the Republican primary for state treasurer in the 2003 races rather than seek re-election to the Legislature.
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A wide-open race with no incumbent, the district has attracted two Amite County Democrats and two Pike County Republicans: Derrick Dahl and Chad L. Toney of Amite County, both residing near Busy Corner; Sam Mims of Pike County, a McComb native; and Randall Love of Pike County, who lives near Summit.
A way to pay back
Serving as state representative for District 97 will be a way to pay back the people of southwest Mississippi, Republican candidate Randall C. Love said.
&uot;I’ve been considering this job for eight to 10 years,&uot; Love said. &uot;I’m a recovering cancer patient. I had cancer in 1990, and the entire community in Pike and Amite counties came together for me in a way that was unbelievable.&uot;
A veteran of law enforcement, Love owns his own businesses, Southern Fire Extinguish Co. and Southern Fence Co. He started out alone and now has 14 employees.
Now that his business is stable and his family secure about his running for office, the time was right in the 2003 election year, Love said. &uot;I didn’t feel the time was right until now. And I don’t do something I don’t think I can fulfill to my best ability.&uot;
Love, who lives a couple of miles outside Summit, wants to take his experience to Jackson to help make life better for the people of southwest Mississippi. And he knows the people he wants to serve.
&uot;My wife loves to go campaigning with me,&uot; Love said. &uot;She can’t believe it, but it doesn’t matter whether it’s a $300,000 house or a camper trailer, the door opens and a hand comes out and they say, ‘Hello, Randall Love.’&uot;
People in Pike and Amite counties know him, Love said. &uot;I hope the people in Adams County will learn to know me in the same way.&uot;
The challenges of taking on a legislative post will be many, he said. &uot;One of the biggest will be gaining the seniority I’ll need to be effective. Many people like the idea of term limits, but, realistically, that’s not good for southwest Mississippi under the rules we’re playing by.&uot;
Love believes he has the negotiating skills to get appropriate legislation through the House. He knows it will take unity among all those who are representing southwest Mississippi in the Legislature.
&uot;We have some of the best people in the world living in southwest Mississippi, and we need to take advantage of all the opportunities to make it grow,&uot; he said.
With more than 54,000 businesses registered in the state, about 40,000 of those have 20 employees or fewer, &uot;about the size of my business,&uot; Love said. &uot;We need to help these types of businesses.&uot;
The Legislature should have people who are unafraid of trying something new, he said. &uot;We need people who are not afraid to step up with their ideas and not be so conscious of who gets the credit,&uot; Love said.
Love believes he is the person who can do that. &uot;I also could be the one to say let’s get together and see what we can accomplish,&uot; he said.
Certain of his priorities
Republican Sam Mims decided long before he knew who his opponents would be that he would seek the District 97 representative seat.
&uot;I made a decision last August to run for this position, and I was the first to announce for it,&uot; said Mims, a McComb native whose reasons for running include personal ones.
&uot;I have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, and I want them to be able to live in Mississippi,&uot; he said. &uot;Like so many other young people, I left Mississippi for about five years and went to Atlanta.&uot;
Mims, whose father is city manager in McComb, graduated with a marketing degree from Delta State University in 1994 and married his high school sweetheart in 1996.
&uot;Our first child was born in 1998, and we decided we didn’t want to raise our children in Atlanta,&uot; he said.
They moved back to their hometown, and Mims said it was the best decision they could have made.
&uot;I work in sales for Croft, a company that makes windows and doors,&uot; he said. &uot;They are manufactured in Magnolia and the corporate office is in McComb.&uot;
Mims said his background in marketing and sales gives him a solid basis for legislative work. &uot;I believe I can assess the district’s needs and negotiate to get what we ought to have in southwest Mississippi,&uot; he said. &uot;I want to improve our economy in all of Mississippi, but, more important, I want to help find jobs for Natchez and for southwest Mississippi.&uot;
Adams County voters are 24 percent of the constituency he wants to represent, and he has worked hard in Natchez to win those votes, he said.
He is a strong proponent of tort reform and has seen first-hand what out-of-control insurance rates for doctors and others in medical care have done to Mississippi.
&uot;In Natchez, you’re losing doctors across the bridge. In McComb, we’re losing them to other states,&uot; he said.
He cited the example of a doctor he knew in McComb whose malpractice insurance costs were rising to $125,000 a year. The doctor and his family moved to Atlanta, where he pays $14,000 for the same insurance.
&uot;Tort reform is another economic development tool,&uot; he said.
His time in Adams County has given him confidence in his ability to represent the voters well, Mims said.
&uot;I’ve spent a lot of time in Adams County, and I understand what’s going on, and I think I’m the candidate who can be the best representative for Adams County,&uot; he said.
Sees need for his leadership
Democrat Derrick Dahl tired of seeing the same thing over and over again, more plant closings and more lost opportunities for southwest Mississippi. A veteran of the timber and trucking business for about 20 years, he decided to step up and try to make a difference in District 97.
&uot;I think this district needs someone like me in the race,&uot; he said. &uot;I’m a businessman with leadership abilities. I sit on two statewide boards, including the Mississippi Land, Water and Timber Board.&uot;
Dahl said he hopes voters in the district will compare his experience to that of the other three candidates. &uot;Natchez has an important stake in this election. There are something like 6,600 votes in Adams County, and I’ve been surprised how many people didn’t know who was running in the district,&uot; he said.
Many challenges will face the new representative of the district, he said. One of the first he hopes to address would be continued reform of the judicial system. &uot;We need to address tort reform. We need fair representation. We can’t do away with all lawsuits,&uot; Dahl said. &uot;But there is more we can do with these class-action suits and to stop bringing the whole country to Mississippi to try them.&uot;
Dahl looks for a new and different attitude in the Legislature when the next session begins. &uot;I believe there will be new people with new attitudes. I’m a business-minded, conservative man and not a tax-raising man, and I think we’ll have to work within our budget. I don’t have a rabbit in the hat or a magic formula, but I believe we can do better.&uot;
With a degree in agricultural economics from Mississippi State University &uot;and then many years in the school of hard knocks,&uot; Dahl said, he came to Amite County from his native Mississippi Delta in 1981, bringing his wife back to the place where she was born and grew up. &uot;It has suited me very well,&uot; he said. &uot;I’ve grown to love the people here. I hope I can serve them.&uot;
Dahl wants to see local governments make their communities more attractive to industries. &uot;I think tort reform will help there, too,&uot; he said.
His experience on the Land, Water and Timber Board has taught him many things about economic development, he said. &uot;We make grants and we lend money to businesses,&uot; he said. &uot;But the key is the business has to create jobs automatically right away and more in the future.&uot;
He believes his kind of conservatism is what the people of District 97 want. &uot;I’m a Democrat. But I’m not going to Washington. We have many Democrats in the state Legislature who are conservative and business-minded. The people of this district want you to stand for what they want and what they believe,&uot; he said.
Time is right for his run
For 35 years, Chad L. Toney has had his eye on the state capitol. During the more than 30 years he worked at the Mississippi Department of Transportation, he frequently spent time in the state office across the street from the capitol building.
&uot;I had enough sense to know I couldn’t beat Sen. Bob Dearing,&uot; Toney said of the veteran Natchez senator who represents Senate District 37.
So Toney waited for the right time to throw his hat into the ring for District 97 representative. Serving in that capacity, he said, will be a step toward the Senate seat he will seek when Dearing retires. &uot;He is my political idol,&uot; Toney said. &uot;When he retires, I’ll run for Senate. Meantime, I’ll be watching what he does. My votes in the House will echo his in the Senate. I’ll follow his lead.&uot;
Toney retired from MDOT in June 2000 and went right to work for Cothren Engineering, continuing to do the same kinds of surveying, inspecting and engineering assisting that he did the three decades with the state. &uot;I’ve worked on just about all the highways in southwest Mississippi,&uot; he said.
Wanting to make a difference in state and local government inspires him to run for office, Toney said. &uot;I want to help make things better for Mississippi and to get rid of the waste. I want to save taxpayers money by a better distribution of money in the state budget. I’m definitely not for raising taxes.&uot;
He has several ways he hopes to improve the state economy. One is by funding health care plans for school workers and state employees who are at retirement age. &uot;If we give them that and they know they can retire with 100 percent of their health care covered, we could replace them with three entry-level employees for the same amount of money. But I say let’s replace them with only one and put the other money aside for other uses.&uot;
A third-generation resident of Amite County, Toney said he has people skills that will help him to be a successful negotiator. &uot;In addition to working in the Transportation Department, I sold Woodmen of the World insurance for 10 years,&uot; he said. &uot;I know how to negotiate and how to read people. I can tell what people are thinking and that helps me to persuade them.&uot;
Toney is past president of the Amite County Chapter of the Mississippi Hunting Dog Association. He said he has received endorsements from the National Rifle Association and the AFL-CIO.
&uot;I’m pro-life,&uot; Toney said. &uot;I’ll promote jobs and educational opportunities as well as improvements in health and retirement benefits. I believe in the right to keep and bear arms.&uot;
A member of the Primitive Baptist faith, he considers himself a conservative person but a compassionate one. He hopes to put emphasis on aid to families with children having special needs.
&uot;Right now, some families only have one option when they can’t handle their special-needs child, and that is to call the local sheriff,&uot; he said. &uot;And the sheriff only has the option of putting that child in a jail cell. That is not right.&uot;
Getting good-paying jobs for southwest Mississippi is a must, he said. &uot;You can work 40 hours a week at minimum wage and maybe earn $10,000 a year,&uot; he said. &uot;It costs us three times as much to house an inmate at the penitentiary. That doesn’t make sense.&uot;