Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Notes From the Political Forum

Cissy Jordan called the meeting to order and Henry Harris lead us in prayer and the Salute to the Flag.

The Habitat for Humanity Project (off Brodnax Road) has finally been defeated for good, the court upheld the decision by the Planning Commission and The Board of Supervisors.

Singing River Electric Power Association is experiencing problems with their phones. Cissy asked for a show of hands to see how many people it was affecting and discovered it was not affecting many people.

Everyone was invited to the January Meeting where we will elect officers.

Read the Initiatives that will be on the November 8th Ballot.
No 26 Persoonhood - NO
No 27 Voter ID - NO
No 31 Eminent Domain - YES

Recognized Michael Watson.

Candidates were allowed to make a 5 minutes speech.

The candidates running for School Board went first.

Duane Dobson - Wants to improve our scores so that our schools are not just first in the State, but also in the top percentage Nationally instead of ranked last as we currently are. Wants to see the funds distributed fairly and everyone working together. Is for comprehensive sex education in the schools and will research uniforms to see if there is a valid reason to do away with them if someone ask.

Lori Ramsay Massey - In the interest of full disclosure we are friends.  Concerned with school bus safety, proper hand-washing  to prevent germs from being picked up and in insuring that special needs children get the therapy they need.

Karen Ray Tolbert - wants to make sure we have winning athletic teams.

Candidates for Jackson County Sheriff

Jeff Barnes - maintains there is serious issues with Sheriff Byrd's leadership, that he waste our tax dollars and wants to know where the money goes.

Mike Byrd - was unable to attend due to a mix up in the dates. The Civic Association allowed a letter he wrote to be read on his behalf.

Walter "Bo" Bohl - did not attend

Candidates for Jackson County District 4 Supervisor

Bo Alawine - In the interest of full disclosure he is my spouse.  Since I have a copy of his speech I am including it here. 
My wife, Sandra, and I both consider it a privilege to be part of the Latimer community and citizens of Jackson County.  We moved here 24 years ago and have loved it.  However, as much as I love Jackson County, we could be doing far better. 

I believe government is often used to benefit the well-connected, while the rest of us pick up the tab.  For example, giving tax breaks to large businesses leads to more jobs which leads to more revenue. Unfortunately, this is usually an article of faith that results in a significant shift of the tax burden onto homeowners.

Overall, Jackson Countians pay higher property taxes despite the presence of several large industries here.  Our total assessed valuation is fourth in the state, whereas Harrison County is first. Yet we have the 26th highest total millage assessed while Harrison County ranks near the bottom in total millage.  Despite having the second highest millage for Fire Protection in the state, the fire ratings for the unincorporated areas remain at 7 or above and those for the incorporated areas are 5 or higher.  Higher fire ratings translate into higher insurance costs.

This begs the question:  Are we getting a good return on our investment for the tax breaks granted to large employers in the county?

I believe in using tax incentives to attract and retain businesses but those businesses should be held accountable for upholding their end of the bargain and we need to know for sure that they are.

We need a more diverse economic development plan, one that relies less on heavy industry and more on small to mid-size businesses which offer competitive wages and benefits.  Aggressively promote our natural attractions such as the Pascagoula River basin and  DeSoto National Forest as well as other venues such as downtown Ocean Springs and the proposed USS Ticonderoga project in Pascagoula.  Adding quality of life improvements such as bike paths, more parks and public boat launches when we upgrade our infrastructure.

Additionally, everyone should be able to know what their elected and appointed officials are doing without having to attend every meeting. There is no reason all county information should not be readily and publicly-accessible online 24/7.  As noted by the Sun Herald, Jackson County is the lone holdout here on the Coast with making its spending information publicly available. That is inexcusable. 

It boils down to this:  We deserve a county government which looks to the future and doesn’t rely on the “business as usual” approach in which the public’s business, OUR business, is discussed behind closed doors.

Why did I decide to run for supervisor?  Well, besides the fact I arguably have no better sense, I have two very important vested interests: Jonathan and Sean.  Jonathan graduates from college this December, while Sean has a couple more years.  I want them to be able to find good-paying jobs here in Jackson County.  Not in Alabama or Louisiana, but here.  I want them to be able to afford homes, put down roots, raise families, without worrying about whether their county is cutting backroom deals that will mean a lower quality of life for their families.

It’s conventional wisdom that money often buys political influence.  That’s why you should know that, with one exception, I have not received any political campaign contributions.  I am a self-funded candidate and I have copies of my campaign finance report here to prove it.

I’d rather risk losing an election due to insufficient campaign funds than win one bankrolled by special interests that come calling after Election Day.  When it’s all said and done, I do not want to owe anyone anything but a “Thank you!” for their vote. 

Sandra has more than once told me she honestly believes I’d make a great supervisor but I definitely make a lousy politician.  I personally think that’s a great compliment.

I don’t want Jackson County to be just a good place to work. I don’t want it to be just a good place to do business.  I want Jackson County to be a great place to live.  A great place to start and raise a family.  A great place to enjoy the company of friends and family.  A great place to grow old and retire.

A great place for all of our children to build their futures.

Please consider me for your next supervisor. - Bo Alawine

There was some confusion and his time was cut short as he wanted to clarify that even though he is a member of the Latimer Civic Association the Association is apolitical and does not endorse any candidates, therefore he did not get to give the speech in it's entirety.

Troy Ross - He is currently the Alderman at Large for Ocean Springs.

The meeting was adjourned.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Political Forum Monday

The Latimer Civic Association is holding a Jackson County candidate forum at 7 p.m. Monday at the Latimer Community Center. Candidates for sheriff, District 4 supervisor and Jackson County school board will be speaking to residents. There will also be discussion of the three ballot initiatives on the Nov. 8 ballot -- personhood, voter ID and eminent domain.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Interview with Bo Alawine

Note: The following Q  and A appeared in the October 19, 2011, edition of The Gazette (article not yet online).

Q. What is your political philosophy?
A. If I had to condense my political philosophy down to one sentence, I suppose it would have to be something along the lines of "Government is to be for the betterment of all, not for just a privileged few."  It is my belief that, more than ever, the levers of government have been and are being used to fatten the bank accounts of the well-connected, while the rest of us are expected to pick up the tab.  Often this sleight of hand is presented to the rest of us as "economic development".  A perfect example would be the favorite conservative tactic of granting tax exemptions to large businesses/industries under the claim that those businesses/industries will create more jobs which will lead to more revenue.  In my opinion, the current means of ascertaining economic impacts is fraught with pollyannish guesswork and wishful thinking, resulting in a significant shift of the tax burden onto the taxpayers themselves.  I find it hard to believe this isn’t intentional.
  I would also add as a corollary that government should be transparent so that every citizen can know what his/her elected official is discussing and that official will be voting upon.  Publicizing what factors go into the various decisions and votes is critical for having an informed electorate.  Unfortunately, it is often standard operating procedure to coordinate the public’s business away from the public forums and/or to move to “executive session” to discuss politically sensitive items.  In this day and age, there is no reason why every agenda, all official meeting minutes (as well as video of all meetings) and every document should not be publicly-accessible online 24/7.  Jackson County is the lone holdout here on the Coast with respect to making its spending information available and the current Board of Supervisors has postponed doing so until next year.  That is inexcusable.

Q. Who are your political heroes?
A. My political heroes?  That’s an interesting question, one I haven’t even considered until now and I’m not sure I’d consider anyone a political “hero”.  “Hero” is a term which has become almost meaningless in today’s lexicon.  To me, a “hero” is someone who selflessly goes far beyond the requirements of their daily lives to help others, putting themselves at considerable risk, professionally and personally.
Having said that, I would consider former Congressman Gene Taylor as someone worthy of emulation.  While I strongly disagreed with a number of his conservative positions, he was always respectful and willing to listen to my concerns.  I was also greatly impressed with his display of “grace under pressure” during his August 2009 “town hall” meeting in Moss Point.  I could only hope to be half as patient as he was in dealing with some of the most outrageous attacks on both his character and his person.

Q.  What propelled you to enter the race?
A. Every American boy and girl probably dreams of being president one day; I was no different.  As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve become more interested in the workings of local, state and federal government.  I’ve never been interested in “politics”, per se, but in the day-to-day operations that most of us take for granted.  
The specific impetus for throwing my hat into the ring was the initially unopposed candidacy of the current Jackson County District #4 supervisor, Tommy Brodnax.  On more than one occasion, Mr. Brodnax had displayed what I considered an incredible contempt for the concerns for his constituents, particularly those in the Latimer community with respect to the Highway 15 proposal.  No one, regardless of their job approval numbers, should be allowed to run for office unopposed and I intended to not allow Mr. Brodnax to “walk” into office.  It wasn’t until after I had registered as a Democrat that two other challengers, Mr. Ross and Mr. Cruthirds, filed to run against Mr. Brodnax in the Republican primary.  Had I known Mr. Brodnax would have had two challengers, my decision would have still been the same, given my personal political philosophy is generally at odds with that espoused by Republican politicians.
I am also motivated to move Jackson County away from what I perceive to be “good ol’ boy” politics, where officials count on the indifference or ignorance of the public to push through policies which might not be in the public’s interest.  I would also like to see the county rely less on heavy industry and more on sustainable, “smart” growth, growth which promotes our natural resources and our people.

Q.  Who has supported you in this race?
A. A number of coworkers, friends and family have wished me the best of luck.  I feel it important to note that, with one exception, I have not received any political campaign contributions; i.e., no one is supporting me financially.  In other words, I am a self-funded candidate.  At the end of the day, I want to owe no one but a “Thank you!” for their vote.  
It’s often said that money is the mother’s milk of politics, a necessary evil to promote one’s campaign message.  While this may be true, it would be difficult to dissuade me from the firm belief that money often buys influence.  I’d rather risk losing an election due to insufficient campaign funds than win one bankrolled by a number of people who come calling after I’ve been sworn into office.

Q.  Tell us about yourself, your family.
A. My wife, Sandra, and I are both originally from Meridian. 
I graduated from Clarkdale Attendance Center in 1983 and received my A.A. in Electronics Technology from Meridian Junior College in 1985.
When I graduated with my B.S. in Electronics Engineering Technology from the University of Southern Mississippi in May 1987, Sandra and I got married and we moved to a little rental house on Stennis Avenue in Ocean Springs in August of that year  when I was hired by a defense contractor out at Ingalls Shipyard.  In September 1991, we bought our first (and only) house in the Latimer community where we’ve lived ever since.  
Both of our sons, Jonathan and Sean, were born at Ocean Springs Hospital and attended St. Martin Elementary until we decided to homeschool.  Both boys are currently attending the University of South Alabama where Jonathan is working on his Master’s in Computer Science and Sean is pursuing a Bachelor’s in History with a minor in Political Science.
I have been fortunate that my employment has allowed me to travel all over this country and to points beyond.  I’ve been to Japan, Panama, Mexico and Canada.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting different people and hearing different viewpoints on politics and government and life in general.

Q. Tell us what has surprised you in the past months as you have been out campaigning.
A. I was completely taken aback with the amount of money that local candidates were expected to raise during the course of an average campaign.  At my first Democratic Party meeting, several experienced incumbents offered their experiences with fundraising and relayed the amounts they had raised in their last campaigns, amounts I found staggering. 
My first true campaign experience was during the Ocean Springs Mardi Gras parade.  Prior to the parade itself, I walked up and down Government Street, introducing myself to folks.  It turned out approximately half of the people I talked to weren’t even from Mississippi, must less Jackson County District #4.  This caused me to re-evaluate how I was going to get message out to prospective voters.  Given my decision to self-fund my campaign, it seemed wasteful to purchase advertising that couldn’t be targeted to just District #4.
Another thing that came as a bit of a surprise to me was the number of people who had no idea as to their supervisor, their district, their voting precinct or even when Election Day was.  It strikes me as a bit odd that so many people could rail about what the federal government was or was not doing right but had no clue about their own local government.