Gray to face incumbent state representative

Published 12:02 am Thursday, July 28, 2011

NATCHEZ — The incumbent for District 94 representative, Robert Johnson, has been defending his status as a Natchez resident lately in response to questions from challenger and current Natchez Alderman James “Rickey” Gray.

Gray said he is running because he does not feel District 94 has a local representative because Johnson lives in Jackson, but Johnson said he has owned a house in Natchez since 1993 and practices law out of Natchez, although he has a house in Raymond as well.

“I’m a firm believer that government is for the people and by the people,” Gray said. “So if you don’t have (a representative) that lives in the district they have no way of knowing what the issues are with the people.”

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Gray said his 11 years serving Natchez as an alderman and his involvement with the Mississippi Municipal League qualify him for the position.

Through the municipal league organization and training, Gray has gained knowledge about policies and legislation he can use in as representative, he said.

“I went through each classification, and it really helped me out,” Gray said.

Gray said his ties to the community make him the best candidate.

“I’m already in the trenches working with people,” Gray said.

Gray said he is a mentor at Robert Lewis Middle School, a volunteer coach at Robert Lewis and Cathedral Junior High and a member of the PTA and PTO.

“I have a vested interest in District 94,” he said.

Gray is more qualified, he said, because he actually dwells in Natchez, whereas he said Johnson does not.

Johnson said his law practice, four acres and his house are in Natchez, but he has also had a house in Raymond.

“That’s been the case since I’ve been elected,” Johnson said of his living situation.

Johnson said it would be more expensive to rent an apartment or pay for hotel rooms during legislative sessions, which can last up to five months out of the year.

Johnson said his wife got a better job offer in Jackson in recent years, as well, which the family could not pass up.

Johnson said he is vying for re-election because he sees an opportunity to continue to serve Southwest Mississippi by creating a better economic environment with improved levels of education and prosperity.

“And I don’t say that lightly because after the time I’ve spent in the state legislature, my seniority has developed,” Johnson said.

Between his work at the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, his law practice and the timing of new leadership in both houses, Johnson said, his experience will better allow him to get things done for his district.

Johnson said he has shown in the last four years he can accomplish goals for Southwest Mississippi, including legislation for the railroad authority and Elevance Renewable Sciences incentive package.

“Just because of my knowledge and training I can go and get things done quickly and efficiently,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he was born and raised in Natchez and went school in St. Louis and Illinois.

“But I wanted to come back home where my law practice and family is,” he said. “This the community I care about, and I want to make things happen.”

Both candidates said education was a top issue in the state legislature.

Johnson said there is always an argument for which issue facilitates the other — job creation or better schools.

“But creating jobs in this area is paramount,” Johnson said.

Gray said once education is improved the county workforce will follow.