Retiring Dick Hall and Cecil Brown call for guts, vision from future leaders in farewell speeches

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

“We cannot afford to fall any further behind in the race for economic development,” Dick Hall said during the Neshoba County Fair Wednesday, July 31, 2019.

NESHOBA COUNTY FAIR — With 68 years of government experience between them, Republican Dick Hall and Democrat Cecil Brown used their final speeches at the Neshoba County Fair to urge the next crop of Mississippi leaders to adopt stronger visions for the state.

Hall — with 44 years of political experience, serving in both the House and Senate and currently serving as one of the state’s three transportation commissioners — has for years publicly lobbied lawmakers for an increase in the state’s fuel tax, which hasn’t been adjusted since 1987.

“We cannot afford to fall any further behind in the race for economic development,” Hall said. “And our race cannot be run without a modern, multimodal system for transportation. It’s imperative that we choose someone who has the vision to see the road ahead and the political guts to lead the way.”

Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

“Letting our roads and bridges crumble is not conservative,” Cecil Brown said during the Neshoba County Fair Wednesday, July 31, 2019.

Brown — with 24 years of political experience serving four terms in the House, the state’s chief fiscal officer and currently as one of the state’s three public service commissioners — zoned in on health care and public education. Brown has been a vocal critic of Republican leadership for years, highlighting disparities in health care and public education.

“We can do better, but it will take different leadership at the state level,” Brown said. “We can’t elect the same ol’ people and expect change.”

The podium at the Neshoba County Fair garners broad attention as most every news outlet in the state closely covers the annual speeches ahead of the Aug. 6 primaries. Both Hall and Brown talked specifically about the importance of the governor’s race, but neither directly endorsed a candidate.

Hall, not dissimilar to Neshoba speeches he’s given in recent years, blasted his fellow Republican leaders for not adequately addressing the state’s problems in education, health care and infrastructure.

“Unfortunately, there are some things that haven’t changed that some of us so desperately want to see,” Hall said. “When I first spoke to you 40 years ago, the issues being discussed as important back then were education, health care, and roads and bridges. Here we are 40 years later having the same discussion.”

Hall continued: “Hopefully next year, our new leaders will develop a plan for the salvation of our highway system. Whatever is planned will have to be funded. Know the money’s not going to fall from the sky like some of our politicians seem to think. When all the debate has ended, the answer will be the same as it was 32 years ago: Adjust the fuel tax like most other states have already done. Why are we always last?”

Brown continued his years-long refrain of criticizing Republican leaders for disparities in health care and public education but also talked about contradictions he’s seen from so-called conservative leaders.

“Letting our roads and bridges crumble is not conservative,” Brown said. “Closing driver’s license bureaus is not conservative. Some of these politicians are going to get up here and brag about cutting regulations or changing laws. They keep piling new regulations and passing laws that we don’t need. That’s not conservative.”