Had lengthy interviews with the candidates for the House District 111 race, between incumbent Democrat Rep. Brandon Jones and Republican challenger Charles Busby, both of Pascagoula – heck, both of the same street, as it turns out; they’re neighbors.
I’ll follow this post with some excerpts from my interviews with the candidates. First, here’s the lay of the land:
This race will be closely watched from Jackson. It’s a key battleground in the state GOP’s bid to take a majority, and hence the speakership, in the House, and in the state Democratic Party’s fight to retain said majority and speakership.
Jones, although a freshman, over the last four years became a real legislative leader. But the GOP badly wants this seat back. Jones winning it by 11 votes in ’07 was a shocker. It had long been a Republican held seat, with Carmel Wells-Smith, R-Pascagoula, holding it for 15 years prior to Jones.
The state GOP is jazzed about Busby’s candidacy. He’s their archetype candidate – well respected, conservative self-made businessman. He worked at Ingalls and elsewhere putting himself through engineering school at night, and founded his own company that now serves some Fortune 500 companies.
Many have observed that Jones’ election was a key to Billy McCoy barely keeping his speakership in the ’08 vote, which was 62-60. Jones has had unprecedented power as a freshman lawmaker over the last four years and he’s considered a hard worker and straight shooter. His being targeted by the state GOP for de-election isn’t surprising, given the past voting history of his district. But it also may be coming from Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, whom Jones has bucked at least a few times. He railed against Barbour’s using his executive power to release a convicted killer who committed a heinous murder in Pascagoula, and tried to pass legislation to reduce the governor’s pardon powers. He also fought hard to pump more state money into the insurance windpool to help Coastians struggling with high premiums, a move Barbour opposed and vetoed.
“If I became a target because I didn’t like that murderer being released and for windpool funding, then so be it,” Jones told me today. “That’s a fight I’ll walk into every time.”But Busby has a different take on Jones’ clashing with Barbour.
“A change in House leadership is something we needed eight years ago,” Busby said. “Haley Barbour, probably the most effective governor we’ve ever had, was handicapped by a liberal-controlled House...The very first vote (Jones) cast was for Billy McCoy to be speaker of the House, and I don’t think it was a youthful mistake...We have the chance to make some changes that need to be made.”
-- Geoff Pender/Political editor