Visit our 2020 Voter Guide to learn more about the November 3 general election.
Mike Espy, age 66, is vying to be the first African American elected by popular vote to the U.S. Senate from Mississippi.
In 1986, Espy, a Democrat, became the first Black Mississippian elected to the U.S. House since Reconstruction. He was re-elected by comfortable margins to the 2nd District post three additional times before he resigned to accept the appointment as U.S. secretary of agriculture in the President Bill Clinton administration. He was the nation’s first African American secretary of agriculture.
Espy later resigned after he was indicted on federal corruption charges, though he was acquitted on all counts. Since then, Espy has been practicing law in Mississippi.
In 2018, Espy reentered politics to run for the Senate seat left vacant after the retirement of long-time U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran. Espy lost the special election to interim Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith. Espy garnered more than 46% of the vote in the special election.
Espy is a Yazoo City native. His family has been involved in the funeral home business for decades, and his grandfather is credited with starting the first African American hospital in the state in the 1920s to provide a medical option for Black Mississippians.
We asked all of the U.S. Senate candidates to share their stances on several issues. Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith chose not to respond. You can view Libertarian Jimmy Edwards’ answers here.
Here’s what Democrat Mike Espy said:
What role should Congress play in coronavirus response?
Mike Espy: Congress, along with the President, should be leading a cohesive, coherent, and coordinated national approach to addressing the pandemic and the economic crisis so we do not have this ad hoc approach that has left our states and local governments to fend for themselves.
Instead of minimizing the pandemic and denying during the critical early stages, our Congressional leaders should have come together as a body, sat down with our world-renowned medical experts and come up with a comprehensive approach to shut down parts of the United States.
Should safeguards be put in place to limit national debt?
Mike Espy: As a long-time deficit and debt hawk and former member of the U.S. House’s Budget Committee, I believe we must reduce the national debt. But gimmick safeguards would bring fiscal collapse to our country’s economy, especially during downturns like we are in now.
It will be my utmost priority in Congress to reduce our debt through careful, targeted cuts. By giving tax breaks to the drivers of our economy — the middle class and small businesses — instead of the wealthy, we can reap the benefits of a booming economy and reduce our debt.
Should a president have broad power to declare war or send troops to battle without congressional approval?
Mike Espy: No. As outlined in the Constitution, the President should have to seek approval in order to declare war. I do support the President maintaining authority to keep our country safe and execute tailored missions, such as those against the War on Terror.
My support for the brave men and women who have sacrificed everything for their country is non-negotiable. I am dedicated to Mississippi’s nearly 200,000 veterans and 12,000 active-duty service members and will speak out against any attempt to denigrate their service and their families’ commitment to this country.
What are your healthcare priorities?
Mike Espy: I know how important affordable health care is for all Mississippians, because it’s part of my family’s legacy. In 1924, my grandfather, Thomas J. Huddleston, started the first Black-owned hospital in Mississippi at the height of Jim Crow. Like my grandfather, my number one priority will be guaranteeing all Mississippians access to quality and affordable health care. Too many Mississippians are getting crushed by the rising cost of premiums, copays, and prescription drugs.
I am committed to building upon the Affordable Care Act in order to lower health care costs for all Mississippians, including expanding Medicaid in Mississippi — a policy we are already paying for in other states as taxpayers. It’s high time Mississippi had the same benefits for their rural hospitals and lower costs that other Medicaid expansion states like Oklahoma and Missouri do.
What are your public education priorities?
Mike Espy: Every child in Mississippi deserves access to a quality education that will allow them to reach their full potential — no matter the school they attend, the color of their skin, or how much money their parents make.
I was fortunate enough to attend a local parochial school in Yazoo City until I integrated the all-white Yazoo City High School. I support all schools in our state. Public dollars should go toward our public schools. For years,our public schools have been underfunded by billions.
Decisions about education are best left to our educators, teachers, parents and school administrators and I will fight to get them the support and funding they need, including increasing teacher pay, adequately funding training programs and expanding federal loan forgiveness programs for teachers.
As Senator, I will work with any president and any legislator to deliver results for Mississippi’s schools — and I will demand answers for policies that hurt our teachers and families.
What is your take on the current debate over funding of police?
Mike Espy: I do not support “defunding” the police. But I have proposed a number of clear steps to reform policing so our law enforcement officers can better serve our communities.
First, we need to hire more officers of color, especially Black men and women. We can attract more applicants by offering competitive salaries and opportunities for continuing education.
Second, applicants and new hires should be subject to stringent background checks on past conduct and previous performance. That’s why we must create a national registry of police misconduct and disciplinary actions. State and local police departments should also be required to report use-of-force incidents to the Department of Justice.
Third, we must mandate bias and de-escalation training. I also want our police officers to receive training from our mental health counselors, social workers, child protection officers, and addiction specialists. On a daily basis, officers are confronted with situations involving these afflictions. I want our departments to work hand-in-hand with these experts so they can better understand these situations in order to better serve our communities.
We must create a new prevailing standard of conduct in which the unacceptable standard of “reasonable force” is replaced with “necessary force.” And fourth, chokeholds and other restraint positions should be abolished.
Finally, all officers should be required to wear body cameras at all times while on duty.
Do you believe criminal justice reform is needed? If so, what reforms would you support?
Mike Espy: In the last decade, improvements in technology, and better understanding of the impact of sentencing, the criminal justice system and the causes of crime, have forced us to reevaluate policies put into place in the 20th century. I think the FIRST STEP Act was an essential and much-needed bill.
In Mississippi, we have an incarceration problem. There are far too many people, most of whom are Black men, in prison for non-violent crimes and technical violations. It’s a drain on the families of the incarcerated, on our economy, and on our state budget.
Most incarcerated Americans are held in state and local jails. As your U.S. Senator, I would work on a “second step act” to address criminal justice issues at the state and local level and allocate federal funds for new programs to help reduce recidivism. By increasing the funding for and availability of addiction and psychological treatment in prisons, education and job training programs for individuals on the inside and when they are recently released, affordable housing, and private-public partnerships for reentry programs, we can help both incarcerated individuals and their families deal with the financial burden of incarceration and become contributing members of our economy.
The Mississippi Legislature recently voted to remove the state flag with its confederate emblem as opposed to putting that decision before voters. Do you agree or disagree with this and why?
Mike Espy: Agree. At 66 years old, I never thought I would see the flag come down it in my lifetime.
The confederate battle emblem flag was hurting our state’s economy. With the retirement of the old flag, Mississippi is finally ready to turn the page on that part of our state’s history and start the next decade as one of prosperity and promise.
As a Mississippian, do you think the old state flag should be placed on the ballot for a vote of the people?
Mike Espy: No. I believe it was the right decision for the legislature to choose to take down the flag. As a former Congressman and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, I know that sometimes leaders have to make tough decisions. The legislature made the right decision to take down the flag and put a new flag up for a vote. With this new flag, we can all move forward together.
What do you think of the removal of confederate monuments across the South and nation?
Mike Espy: I believe monuments erected in favor of confederate leaders and generals should no longer be displayed on official property. I do support putting these monuments in museums with context to educate the public on the history of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the South.
I do not believe that we should be glorifying a time when one human being was allowed to own another human being or the war that was fought for that very system.
Please express your thoughts on any issues we didn’t mention.
Mike Espy: As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, Mississippi is at a pivotal moment. We often come last in rankings and make do with less. Mississippi is home to the most generous and hospitable people I know. I am tired of our leaders not standing up for our state.
No matter your race, your gender, your age or your political views, you can always call on me as your U.S. Senator. I will be an independent voice for the health, safety, and economic security of Mississippi’s families. Together, we can move Mississippi forward.