The African American Student Organization and NAACP partnered to host their first political forum Sept. 23. Candidates discussed issues such as voter turnout, education and agriculture.
The event, held in the Luckyday Multipurpose Room, featured several Mississippi politicians, including senior communications major Brandon Rue, Jay Hughes, Jennifer Riley-Collins, former Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree, Rickey Cole and Connie Moran.
“We are trying to bring educational pieces to students. Our organization is centered around cultural, social and academic services,” Ford said. “In the social aspect, college students don’t vote because they make up excuses like they don’t know who to vote for.”
During the event, Rue, who is running to be state representative of District 102, said some students are not aware of the ways students are blocked or deterred from voting in Mississippi.
“There was a lawsuit that was trying to get college students to not be able to vote in their college towns, which is ridiculous,” Rue said. “It was a direct attack on college students. For me, that’s one issue that I highlight the most. Students aren’t voting, and they don’t want us to vote.”
Dupree, who is running for secretary of state, said this deterrent leads to very low voter turnouts that skew the outcome of the election and leaves only a small portion of the community to decide for everyone else.
“You cannot get where we need to go by only having 10 or 15% of the people vote. In Venezuela, Hong Kong and Korea, there are millions of people marching in the streets right now. Why?” Dupree said. “They want what we have. All these nations want is to make sure they can elect people who are going to represent them.”
Riley-Collins, who is running for attorney general, took a different approach to the issue of low voter turnout. She said the problem would be best solved with making voting more streamlined with online voter registrations and easier access to early voting.
“The number one way to address the myriad of issues that Mississippi faces is to innovate the right to vote,” Riley-Collins said. “We need to make sure that people are able to vote early without excuse, and we need to make sure that people are able to register to vote online. We do everything else online, including paying our taxes. Why shouldn’t we be able to register to vote online as well?”
Voter rights and turnout was not the only issue raised during the forum. Speakers also mentioned public education and the issues revolving around it. Hughes, who is running for lieutenant governor, said he believes that reforming the public education system within the state is the first step.
“Education is the single greatest equalizer,” Hughes said. “It is the single greatest economic tool we have and the path out of poverty. We have to make sure we have the resources to allow the mind to be the best it can in every county, not just in the wealthier districts.”
Rue said he believes in educational reform as well but also feels it starts with the teachers.
“Systematically, we have some failures in our state that sabotage our educational system,” Rue said. “I think our teachers should be paid at least the southeastern average. Our teachers are paid the lowest rates in the country, and because of that, we’re losing a lot of them.”
Cole, who is running for agriculture commissioner, said he thinks one of the problems lies within Mississippi’s agricultural scene.
“I think we outsource too much of our food. Ninety percent of what we eat in Mississippi is produced outside the state, which is a $6 billion yearly drain on our economy,” Cole said. “If we could bring one-sixth of that back to our state, that’d be a billion dollars. As far as food being made locally, that’d create 13,000 jobs, which is twice the amount of jobs at the Nissan plant in Canton.”
Moran, who is running for public service commissioner, said she wants students to be aware that she’ll fight for them.
“I want the students at Southern Miss to know that I will be their ‘watchdog’ in Jackson for your utility rates,” Moran said. “They should know that I value education and economic development and that I want to create an infrastructure that will help create jobs in the future.”
Elections will be held Nov. 5. For more information on voter registration and precincts visit MS.gov, and information on the candidates can be found on their respective websites.
Klaria Holmes previously worked for Hughes as an intern.