By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
Pundits say the debates have changed the complexion of the presidential race between GOP challenger Mitt Romney and Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama, but local supporters remain focused on their candidate’s chances and are working feverishly to get voters out, despite what mainstream press pundits say.
It’s 24 days left to Nov. 6 and what many are calling the most important election in the country’s history.
The two candidates offer two entirely different, and distinct ways, of addressing the problems the country faces.
And the heads of the Democratic and Republican parties in Pearl River County, in interviews with the Item, reveal just how different a vision each party holds for America’s future. They are diametrically opposing viewpoints and visions for America’s future.
While the national race can get “plum silly sometimes,” say political activists in Pearl River County — like this week’s big debate over “Big Bird” — local supporters of each candidate are taking the race deadly serious.
Says Pearl River County Democratic Executive Committee Chairman Agnes Dalton of Poplarville, “We Democrats and those who support President Obama see government completely different than, say, the way Republicans would view government. We feel the role of government is there to provide a safety net for citizens, and you just can’t depend on private charities alone for help.”
She also said that turning over the delivery of health care to states, as Romney has proposed, is not the solution, and will result in citizens receiving less care.
“Mississippi is one of the strictest Medicaid providers in the U.S., and I know how tough it is, because my husband had to get help from them for dialysis treatments,” she said.
She said once you get above the age of 40 in Mississippi, you can’t get help from Medicaid unless you are disabled or have a catastrophic illness.
“You are pretty much on your own after 40,” she said. “I know because I experienced it. Other states are different. Louisiana is different. In Louisiana they have charity hospitals that work with Medicaid. We don’t have that in Mississippi. You go to the emergency room and hope to get in.
“I disagree the way medical programs will be handled if we leave it up to the states. I just believe that the system Obama will put in place will be fairer than what Republicans offer,” Dalton said. “That’s what Obamacare is all about.”
“I think Obama has done a good job. He had to put a floor under the free-fall we were in. And I believe he kept us from going over the edge and entering a second Great Depression,” said Dalton.
“Are we where we want to be? No! But we are a lot better off than if the right-wing Republicans had control,” said Dalton.
“Bush left us in a mess, and Obama inherited the mess, so he gets blamed for it,” she said. “But he put a floor under the fall, and if he had not, we would all be in soup kitchens right now.”
“You can call what he did for GM and Chrysler socialism, if you want to, but he saved millions of jobs, not only directly in the companies, but in the businesses who sold parts to the companies. It would have been a disaster if those two companies had gone under, and it might have pushed us over the edge,” said Dalton.
She said Obama needs four more years to complete his plan and bring us back and blamed Republicans in Congress for blocking his efforts and working toward making his policies and initiatives fail. “This country was built on compromise, but you don’t see any on the Republican side,” she said.
Dalton said county Democrats are getting their signs out, have been registering voters, and reminded voters that they don’t have to have a picture ID to vote this time on Nov. 6. However, she said voters who were registered by canvassers and not at the courthouse have to produce some sort of ID to vote. She also reminded voters if at anytime, if they are denied their vote, they can request to vote under an affidavit ballot and the poll workers have to let a voter denied a ballot to vote under protest. Such votes will be adjudicated later as to validity.
Since Dalton took over leadership of the Pearl River County Democratic Party, party membership has grown from 5 to 75 in one year. She said anyone who wants to join the county Democratic Party can call her at 601-746-6020. She said anyone who joins can get active in the party or even put himself or herself in position to run for a county office by working with the party.
Dalton and Democratic county leaders have a huge task before them of breathing new life into the local Democratic Party. In the 1960s and early 1970s, the Democratic Party controlled county offices. However, in the 2011 November election, out of 66 candidates who filed to run for county offices, only three were Democrats. Right now the only elected Democrat serving in a county elective office is District One Supervisor Anthony Hales, Sr. A movement that began in the early 1970s by Republicans when the late Grady Thigpen, Jr., won the office of mayor in Picayune, began a movement that over four decades has seen Republicans take over county government.
In addition, Pearl River County is noted statewide as one of the most solid Republican Party strongholds and consistently votes a conservative ticket. There is little doubt that Romney will take the county and Mississippi.
County Republican Party Chairman Jose Lopez, 26, of Carriere, takes the opposite stance as Dalton. He says he got active in politics during the 2008 election over a concern about the huge deficits. He said not only Obama but Bush also piled up deficits “for our children to pay.”
He then got active in the county Republican Party. Tavish Kelly, a young political activist, had been elected in a shake-up of the county GOP, unseating long-time chairman Cecil Watkins. Kelly was a student at Pearl River Community College and then went to New York state to study law. Republicans then elected Lopez, who’s been active in the county Republican Party for about a year.
In a nutshell, Lopez’s views are the opposite of Dalton’s.
“We believe that the function of government is outlined in the Constitution and that our government now is too intrusive and too large. We believe it has limited functions, and other than accomplishing those functions, the main one being to protect us, it should get out of the way and let individuals and private concerns pursue their dreams,” said Lopez.
“We also believe that the Federal Reserve should be audited and its power to issue and print money be curtailed. That’s one reason I got involved in politics; I believed that an out-of-control Federal Reserve was and is destroying the value of our money, and that’s another major function of government, to assure that we have sound money,” added Lopez.
He said he believes Obamacare should be repealed and that the private sector should be allowed to function in a free market system to deliver efficient and low-cost health care to citizens.
“The reason the system is all gummed up and over-priced now is because the Federal government is so involved in it,” said Lopez. “It’s like Reagan said, ‘Government is not the answer; government is the problem.’ Competition will level out prices if government gets out of the way.”
“I believe that four more years of Obama will push us over the edge. If government spending and our debt is not reined in, there will be a reckoning day soon. Everyone knows it cannot go on the way it is. Is Romney perfect, no. But we stand a far better chance with him than we do with Obama. We have already seen what four years of Obama has done to us,” said Lopez.
He said Republicans will open a campaign headquarters at 1125 Mississippi Highway 43 North in Picayune on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. A ribbon cutting is scheduled for 11 a.m.
“We invite everyone to attend; local Republican office holders will be there, and if you want to get involved in the election, please come. Everyone is welcome,” he said.
He said anyone who wants to join the Republican Party and get active, can call him at 601-347-5251.