District 32 candidates discuss issues

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Voters in Kemper County, as well as those in parts of Winston, Noxubee, and Lauderdale counties will go to the polls this Tuesday to elect the next Mississippi State Senator from District 32.

Nine candidates qualified to vie for the seat left vacant by the retirement of longtime Sen. Sampson Jackson. On Nov. 2 voters whittled that field down to two with only Rod Hickman of Noxubee County and Dr. Minh Duong of Lauderdale County left standing.

The Kemper County Messenger e-mailed both an identical list of seven questions last Thursday afternoon and both submitted their responses. Neither candidate was made aware of the other’s responses before answering the questions. Those questions and their responses follow:

QUESTION ONE: WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON MEDICAID EXPANSION IN MISSISSIPPI?

— DUONG: “I grew up on Medicaid my entire childhood. But my parents also worked 70-80 hours a week at the same time. In high school I also worked 70-80 hours/week in the summer.

“I understand that Medicaid is a life saver for the people who need it. I also understand that it would be a tremendous, short-term benefit to the hospitals in the rural areas. What we have to realize it that as long as Governor Tate Reeves is in office and Phillip Gunn is Speaker, then they will vote against it. This means that it’s a moot point in the next 2 years.

“If the Build Back America plan does pass soon there is a provision in there that would give federal funds to the 12 states that are not receiving matching funds. Mississippi is of course one of those states. The only thing that I am a little worried about is the shortage on labor right here right now. Will expanding Medicaid hurt the labor shortage? I will have to do more research on that topic. “

— HICKMAN: “I support the expansion of Medicaid in Mississippi. By expanding Medicaid almost 200,000 of the poorest and sickest uninsured Mississippians would immediately gain access to healthcare coverage. The individuals that would be covered are childless adults, a group that has been excluded from Medicaid coverage.

“The reason that expanding Medicaid is and would be important to me as a senator is because parts of District 32 make up one of the areas of the state that would be the most impacted by the expansion of Medicaid. Further, expanding Medicaid creates greater access to health care, increases coverage and ultimately helps keep District 32’s rural hospitals open.

“Mississippi is leaving billions of federal dollars on the table that could help enhance the lives of so many Mississippians.”

QUESTION TWO: HOW DO YOU STAND ON ELIMINATING STATE INCOME TAX?

— DUONG: “I am in favor of slowly reducing the state income tax if done in the correct manner. What we must make sure is that we replace the income with another source of income. For example, we could increase the sales tax by 2% for non-essential items like cars or shoes or purses. At the same time, we could decrease the grocery tax by 50%. This would help create a net neutral budget. We could then recruit big corporations to come to Mississippi. This would bring more jobs and keep our young people here.

— HICKMAN: “When viewing the current tax structure in Mississippi I think the system is already inequitable. To eliminate the state income tax would make the system even more inequitable. It is difficult to come up with ideas of how to offset the loss of income taxes seeing that individual income taxes are the fairest of the states three major taxes (sales and property being the other two major taxes). Individual income taxes are literally based on an individual’s ability to pay. As a result, lower wage earners pay a lower percentage of their income in income taxes.

“The easiest group to evaluate its most immediate effect on would be retired individuals, individuals on fixed incomes and disabled individuals. Further this tax scheme would allow the wealthy to pay significantly less taxes than the poor and low-income individuals.

“An idea to offset the loss in tax revenue is to add an extra tax on gas. This idea is also inequitable and would disproportionately tax the majority of rural Mississippians, communities where individuals have to drive far distances for work. These communities make up a large part of District 32.

“The states that we have used as examples of eliminating income taxes such as Texas, Florida and Tennessee all have things that we don’t such as huge tourism and natural resources which allows them to make up for the loss in income taxes, Mississippi has neither of these.

“When looking at all of these ideas in the aggregate none of them make sense. Without another equitable tax scheme, I don’t feel that eliminating individual income taxes would benefit the state or District 32. In the grand scheme of things no one is leaving a state or coming to a state because of individual income taxes.”

QUESTION THREE: WHAT ARE YOUR STANCES ON A GROCERY TAX?

— DUONG: “I favor decreasing the grocery tax by 50 percent. However, the sales tax for non-essential items would have to go up.”

— HICKMAN: “I would support lowering or eliminating Mississippi’s grocery tax. Eliminating the state’s grocery tax would actually be a step in the direction towards a more equitable tax scheme. If Mississippi is looking to eliminate a tax, a tax on food ,a basic necessity for all Mississippians, should be eliminated.”

QUESTION FOUR: ARE YOU FOR TAKING FEDERAL FUNDS TO HELP INFRASTRUCTURE?

— DUONG: “I am in favor for using federal funds for infrastructure projects in our district. There are always strings attached when using federal funds, so we must make sure we follow the rules. I am willing to fight for every dollar so that we can get our fair share of the money. As a small business owner, I have been forced to learn how to analyze a budget. This experience will be tremendous in the legislature.”

— HICKMAN: “Yes, depending on the stipulation. Many areas in Mississippi including District 32 has major infrastructure issues especially with our roads and bridges. Further, District 32 and Mississippi need to expand access to reliable high-speed internet which has the ability to draw small business and industry and these are also areas where federal funds could be utilized.”

QUESTION FIVE: WHAT IS YOUR STANCE ON THE MARIJUANA ISSUE?

— DUONG: “Seventy-four percent of people in Mississippi voted to approve medical marijuana. I do think that the benefits outweigh the danger. Education is the key to making this work. As an optometrist, I am one the doctors who will be able to prescribe medical marijuana. We need to be educated through continuing education on concentrations, dosages, and side effects on all the diseases that we are prescribing for. I think that edibles are safer than vaping or smoking. Doctors would prescribe the exact amount needed for a month. This would help reduce the chance of abuse.”

— HICKMAN: “I think that the people’s voice has to be the strongest voice in our system. In 2020 the people voted to legalize medical marijuana so the legislature should make this bill law.

“Medical marijuana has been proven to provide needed care for many debilitating health issues and I think the sale of marijuana for medicinal purposes will benefit the state of Mississippi and District 32.

“I further believe the law should be set up in a way so that Mississippians would be the primary benefactors when it comes from income generated from growth, distribution and sales.”

QUESTION SIX: THIS WILL BE THE FIRST TIME IN MANY YEARS THAT KEMPER COUNTY HAS NOT HAD A RESIDENT IN THE STATE SENATE. THE ENTIRETY OF THE COUNTY WILL BE IN YOUR DISTRICT. IN WHAT WAYS WILL YOU ENSURE THEM THAT THEIR VOICE AND ISSUES WILL BE HEARD?

— DUONG: “I live in Meridian, which is only a 35 minute drive. I have set up my business at Primary Eyecare so that I would have plenty of time and flexibility to attend meetings. I have two full time doctors who work for me. My wife is also a doctor who can help. I have the best managers who will run the clinics for me if I am out. I am committed to making Kemper a better place”

— HICKMAN: “Throughout this campaign I have had the opportunity to meet countless wonderful individuals in Kemper County and a large part of my family is located in Kemper County. All of these things make me extremely connected to Kemper County and also make Kemper near and dear to me. Hence, it is without question that I will always be open to hear the issues from Kemper County and also work to make sure that those issues are taken seriously. I have proven this throughout my campaign. I have spent a great deal of time in Kemper County meeting and connecting with the individuals I will serve.”

QUESTION SEVEN: IF ELECTED, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR TOP PRIORITIES IN THE MISSISSIPPI SENATE?

— DUONG: “My top priority is to fight for every dollar. There is a tremendous amount of federal money coming in now and the next couple of years. We will use this money for infrastructure, better education, safer streets, and better preventive healthcare. I will focus on bringing better jobs to District 32.

— HICKMAN: “My priorities include adequately funding public education, greater investment in infrastructure, expanding Medicaid, and criminal justice reform.”





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