Democratic Senate hopefuls on challenges facing African Americans

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Last week on “The Jungle: Mississippi Today’s Election Podcast,” we interviewed state Rep. David Baria and businessman Howard Sherman, and asked each candidate seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate the following question: “What do you perceive to be the biggest struggles facing African Americans in Mississippi, and how might you address those problems if you were elected to the U.S. Senate?”

Because African Americans are a vital bloc in the Democratic electorate and the candidates are working hard to court black support, we are publishing their responses to that question in full below.

Rogelio V. Solis / AP / File

In this March 10, 2015 file photograph, Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, speaks at the well in House chambers at the Capitol.

David Baria, state representative and attorney

 “Well, first and foremost, African Americans in our state continue to struggle from failed policy and years of systemic racism that keep African Americans from getting jobs they are qualified for and need and reaching the income levels that they need. So you end up with these generational cycles of poverty, and it’s very difficult to break out of that. In underserved communities, both black and white, there aren’t the resources you have in other places around the state like the Gulf Coast or Madison County or DeSoto County. We’ve got to dedicate resources to those areas of our state where it’s difficult to attract jobs and industry and people because they don’t have the facilities they’re looking for. Whether that’s a school system, hospital, or a good road. We have to address those things.”

“I think, actually, it’s going to be easier to address them from Washington because you have a little more leeway in terms of the federal dollars you can send home. Keep in mind, our education system here in Mississippi couldn’t survive without federal dollars. Our transportation system couldn’t survive without federal dollars. Our healthcare system couldn’t survive without federal dollars.”

“The other thing folks need to know about me is when I go to Washington, my office, staff and team is going to reflect the composition of the state of Mississippi. I’m going to elevate deserving folks, regardless of race, creed, or color, but I’m going to make sure my staff is reflective of this state that I serve. And I’m going to change the conversation about race. As I know you’re aware, I have a biracial child. For me, it’s not a lived experience, but it’s a learned experience what a person of color goes through in this state and in this country. That’s what folks need to know about me, and I’m going to change the conversation about race.”

Howard Sherman campaign

Howard Sherman, businessman and candidate for U.S. Senate.

Howard Sherman, businessman

“It’s the fundamentals. They care about jobs. You know, it’s so interesting because I’ll be in one part of the Delta and they’ll say, “I really want jobs.” I had a meeting with Congressman Bennie Thompson in Washington, and he heard all my ideas about medical tourism and Mississippi Math and our idea village. He said, “That’s good but those are longer term solutions. Those are not solutions that you can hit it on a dime.” He said, “What can you do for me now because we need jobs? Our unemployment rate is double what it is in the (country).” I said, “I have an idea, give me a couple weeks.”

“So I went back and I worked my network of people that I know and I found a corn chip company on the west coast. I got this idea that we should really rebrand the Delta – because we grow so much incredible stuff – as the farm-to-table part of the country. So I called the CEO of the corn chip company and I said, “I need you to open a factory in the Delta on the edge of a corn field.” He says, “Why would I do that?” I said, “Because you’re probably fighting in the market to differentiate yourself – make the consumer see you as different – from Frito-Lay and Doritos and all that.” He said, “Yeah, we fight for colors and message and all that.” I said, “How about a message that says ‘Freshest chip on the market.’ Within 48 hours, you go from field to bag. Literally have the factory on the edge of a corn field.” He said, “Oh my, I pay all my marketing people, but in this one phone call, it’s 1,000 jobs.”

“So that’s how you do it. We have to bring jobs to the African American parts. They want vocational training, of course. There are core programs that can fund it, as long as you match it to a company coming in. So we’ll use some core funding. I also have a bank that will fund vocational training as long as they can get a commitment from the local municipalities who’ll now enjoy higher taxes to repay the loan. So they’ll advance $100,000 to train an African American or any workforce, but then the company relocates the factory there. It generates jobs, that creates a tax base and the local municipality takes incremental money they weren’t getting anyway, repays the bank. You have jobs, you have a tax base.”