Presley, other statewide candidates engage crowd at NAACP forum

Published 4:14 pm Monday, October 23, 2023

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NATCHEZ — For the first time in recent memory, the Natchez Branch of the NAACP forum included discussions with candidates for statewide office.

Mostly Democrats showed up, though Natchez NAACP officials took great pains to make certain every candidate running was invited, said President Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis.

Democratic candidate for governor, Brandon Presley, started off the evening’s conversation, telling about 150 people gathered in the Natchez Middle School auditorium that his priorities when elected would be expanding Medicaid, creating a strong ethics commission to tamp down corruption in state government and fully funding public education.

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“We have serious issues in Mississippi right now. Issues you don’t even hear Gov. Reeves mention,” Presley said. “We have a health care crisis in this state. Thirty-four of our hospitals are on the brink of closure. Five of them have ended in-patient care, which means after 24 hours you have to go to another hospital.

“We have an ethics problem in Mississippi. Many of y’all have seen over the last couple of years where Brett Favre got $5 million for a volleyball court. Tate Reeves got $1.3 million dollars for his personal trainer. And these are issues he will not speak up and say one word about in this campaign. And you notice he is not here tonight. He was invited but he decided to not show up. And it’s not just this debate he didn’t show up at…,” Presley said.

Reeves did make an appearance Friday night in Natchez at the 38th annual Natchez Balloon Festival. Presley has pushed throughout the campaign to meet Reeves in a debate, but Reeves has refused.

“It’s because he’s running from his record as governor for the past four years and if I had his record, I would be running from it, too,” Presley said.

He said if elected he would begin work to expand Medicaid “as soon as I take my hand off the Bible.

“When we see 230,000 working folks who don’t have health insurance and there is an answer squarely looking at us in the eye and that is Medicaid expansion, this has to be one of the dumbest decisions the state of Mississippi has made in a long, long time. We are losing $1 billion a year — a grand total of $16 billion since the program has been out there — that could be going to our hospitals. And let me make it clear who benefits, working people,” Presley said.

“To be part of Medicaid expansion, you’ve got to work. You may work for an employer who can’t afford to give you health insurance, and I don’t beat up on those employers. I understand small businesses who struggle to keep the doors open and who have been able to just keep employees, and we want them to keep working, so they are not at fault. But the truth is, we have a solution staring us in the face and but for petty, cheap, partisan politics, we would expand Medicaid in Mississippi.

“Forty states have done it. And it’s not a Democrat or a Republican thing. The State of Oklahoma — Donald Trump carried every single county in the State of Oklahoma — Oklahoma expanded Medicaid. South Dakota hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president in decades. South Dakota voters expanded Medicaid. This is not about partisanship. This is about doing the right thing for Mississippi,” he said.

Corruption in government must end, Presley said.

“We have a system in Jackson, Mississippi, that is bought and paid for by the highest bidder. You and I don’t have a chance. The average citizen in Mississippi doesn’t have a chance. And it’s a system in which lobbyists control every single thing that happens. And I want to make sure we clean that up with historic ethics reforms,” he said.

Education is an opportunity maker for Mississippi and the state should fully fund public education, he said.

“We should fully fund public schools in the state of Mississippi every year as the beginning thing that happens in the appropriations process. Either we put our money where our mouth is, with our children, or let’s just be honest and say we’ve given up on them,” Presley said. “Public schools are the pathway for children. Gov. William Winter said, ‘The road out of the poor house runs by the school house.’ That’s just as true today as when he said it 30 or 40 years ago.”

Also at the forum Thursday were Democratic candidate for Secretary of State Ty Pinkins; Democratic candidate for Attorney General Greta Kemp Martin; Democratic candidate for State Auditor Larry Bradford; Democratic candidate for State Treasurer Addie L. Green; Democratic candidate for Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Robert “Brad” Bradford Sr.

Candidates for representative and senate for districts of which Natchez is a part included State Senate 39 candidates, Democrat Gary Brumfield and independents, incumbent Kelvin E. Butler, and Willye R. Powell and State House District 97 candidate Ben Thompson.