Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Incumbent Rep. Cecil Brown is facing Democrat challenger Stacey Webb in the August primary for District 66, which covers parts of north Jackson, in the Mississippi House of Representatives.
Webb, a 33-year-old real estate appraiser, said he is running because he feels Brown has not forged enough of a presence in his own community.
"As I walked the neighborhood, I found that nobody knew who this guy was. Nobody in my neighborhood, in the area I frequented over by the YMCA on Manhattan Road, knew who he was. I, personally, can't speak for everybody, but I've never seen him over here," Webb said. "I hold a greater advantage by being more accessible to people. I hold a greater advantage by having kids in the Jackson Public School system, and my strong concern for education. I feel like I have a closer grasp of the district, and can do a lot more by being able to relate to the district better."
Brown, 63, said he has made a point of keeping his roots in the community. "I've always made myself extremely accessible," he said. "I attend the Tougaloo Civic League meetings, and I'm always holding meetings in the community, if you ask the folks right there in (Webb's) neighborhood. I've had meetings at Northside Library, right down the street from his house. I send out mail to all the constituents, one before the session and one after the session, giving a report and asking anybody with a concern or idea to call me. I give my home and office e-mails and telephone numbers to everybody," Brown said.
Webb, a Jackson resident for 25 years, said some of the prime issues he wants to tackle in the Mississippi House include education funding, state financial aid to the city and immigration issues.
"At the Capitol, I will go in and fight tooth and nail for what I can get for District 66," Webb said, adding that other parts of the state will have to take a back seat to his ward.
Brown says he works tirelessly for the city, having helped secure seven of eight legislative requests the city put to its local representatives, including a $2 million, one-time funding package for the city designed to pay for more police protection and street paving. Brown was also instrumental in securing a state deal ushering in millions of dollars in development near I-55, on the former property of the Mississippi School for the Blind. Brown also helped secure about $60 million in development in and around the University Medical Center.
Webb said he wants to be a fierce defender of fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program every year, "not just during the election years."
Brown counters that he has supported full MAEP funding with near religious vigor. Brown, as chairman of the Education Committee, has often been the loudest voice against under-funding MAEP. His position has set him at odds against Gov. Haley Barbour, who has generally opposed fully funding the program.
Brown and Webb share many Democratic goals, such as improved health care and job security. Both strongly support reducing the grocery tax and raising the state tax on cigarettes. Webb said he would take that fight to the governor himself if he got the chance, while Brown helped tweak the recent cigarette/grocery tax swap bill to protect municipalities that feared a loss of revenue from grocery taxes.
The two differ on immigration issues.
"With immigration laws coming up, I want everybody to get out and make their vote count," Webb said. "I am 100 percent against illegal immigration. If you're going to immigrate, you've got to do it the right way because it will ultimately hurt the economy if you don't. I think everyone should have a fair chance at being an American citizen. As far as illegals go, that's tax dollars we're missing out on. If you're going to be here, let's go through the proper channels. We have to sit down and work out something reasonable ... regarding the immigration issue because, frankly, we don't have a choice."
Webb would not say whether he opposes immigration legislation currently before Congress, though he is opposed to an "amnesty."
Brown, meanwhile, believes the immigration issue is not a serious problem, at least not when compared to other state issues.
"Immigration is more of a federal issue than a local issue. Sure, everybody here needs to be legal, and we passed some legislation this year that I voted for that would have penalized employers who hire undocumented workers who don't check their registration," Brown said, referring to a bill that the state Senate later killed. "It hasn't been as big an issue in terms of the state of Mississippi, though. We don't have as many illegal immigrants as other states. Sooner or later it might catch up, but right now, the bigger issues here are health care, education and economic development."
The winner in the Aug. 7 primary will go on to face Republican candidate Cory Wilson in the November general election.