U.S. Democratic Senate candidate Mike Espy

If elected to the United States Senate, Mike Espy says his responsibility will entail not only voting and working on policy in Washington, D.C.,  but also stressing responsible parenthood back home in Mississippi.

Epsy, the former secretary of agriculture in the Bill Clinton administration, said during an education roundtable discussion recently that he believes he will be qualified to go into schools and other surroundings to talk to particularly young men about being responsible parents.

Espy, who is battling in the special election on Nov. 6 against interim Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven; state Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville; and Tobey Bartee, a Gautier Democrat, said he does not intend to be the “morality police.”

“I don’t want to shame anybody, but I want them to live up to their responsibilities” to be a part of the child’s life, he said. “…I am going to do that. That is the kind of senator I will be.”

Espy, who in 1986 became the first African-American from Mississippi elected to the U.S. House since Reconstruction immediately after the Civil War, made similar comments last month when speaking to a community gathering in Jackson.

He repeated the comments during the education roundtable at his campaign headquarters Oct. 5 where he heard from parents, state legislators and students about education issues.

Espy said he believes he has a unique perspective because growing up in Yazoo City he and his twin sister were initially home-schooled by their mother, then attended a parochial school and later the public school. For a semester he and his sister were the only African Americans in an all white school.

Because of his background, Espy said he does not oppose charter schools, home schooling or private schools, but said public funds should be reserved for public schools.

Many of the issues that the participants discussed at the roundtable involved state issues where a U.S. senator has limited impact.

Still, state Sen. Sollie Norwood, D-Jackson, said there are issues where federal officials can have an impact, such as federal funds to help with such items as school counselors, social workers and other ancillary programs.

Espy agreed.

Espy also said that steps need to be taken to relieve or ease student debt for graduates who agree to social work, such as teaching in the Mississippi Delta where there is a shortage of teachers.

State Rep. Rep. Kathy Sykes, D-Jackson, said, “we need to provide more support for parents in the home,” such as improved pay so parents would not have to work multiple jobs.

Espy said that a $15 per hour minimum wage would help with that issue.

“We want to make sure students stay in school and get their degrees, and then make sure there are jobs in Mississippi waiting for them with good pay,” Espy said. “We want our young people to be able to start a family and see a future here, instead of having to move out of state to get a job. That should be the No. 1 goal of everyone serving in office.”

After the roundtable discussion, Espy said he would agree to debate if the interim incumbent Hyde-Smith would participate.

Espy dropped out a debate that was scheduled for Oct. 4 because Hyde-Smith was not participating.

“I am versed on the issues…I am ready,” he said.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.