Incumbent Republican Secretary of State Michael Watson said he’s cut red tape for businesses, worked with lawmakers to make elections more secure and will push for major campaign finance reform if reelected.
Democratic challenger Ty Pinkins said Mississippi’s economy trails most of the rest of the country, and Watson had many years as a state senator before his four as secretary of state to champion campaign finance reform but didn’t.
The two candidates spoke and fielded questions at the Stennis Institute of Government’s Capitol Press Corps Luncheon on Monday. The forum was billed as “non-debate format,” and the candidates took the podium and spoke and answered questions in turns.
“I think Mississippi deserves a better choice on the ballot this November,” said Pinkins, a late entry into the race, replacing the former Democratic nominee who dropped out for health reasons. “… I’m running for secretary of state because I’ve been all over this state and people in Mississippi are ready for someone to lead. The problem is we have the wrong people in some of these offices … Mississippi is still near last economically because of the failed policies implemented by Republicans.”
Watson itemized numerous accomplishments in his first term, including registration of more than 250,000 new voters, working with lawmakers to prevent “ballot harvesting” and making voting machines more secure. He said his office has streamlined business services and cut red tape.
“Despite what you may hear from some of my (media) friends here today, it’s a great time to be a voter in Mississippi,” Watson said.
Both candidates vow to reform Mississippi’s weak, often unenforced campaign finance laws and reporting.
Watson said his office has a request for proposals out on a new computer system, and will work with the Legislature to create a publicly searchable campaign finance data system like most other states have. He has said he would push for his office to take over enforcement of campaign finance violations since no one else appears interested and said he has already been meeting with legislative leaders on other reforms.
Pinkins said he also would work to make campaign finance reports transparent and searchable.
“Our campaign finance reporting system is broken, and it didn’t just break last week, it’s been broken a long, long time,” Pinkins said. He said he also would push for online voter registration, no-excuse early voting and same-day voter registration on election day.
Both candidates are attorneys.
Watson, 45, from Pascagoula, served in the state Senate from 2008 to 2020. He ran his own law firm, focusing on business, construction and probate law.
Pinkins, 49, from Vicksburg, is a decorated U.S. Army veteran who served three combat tours, a former White House communications aide and former lawyer with the Mississippi Center for Justice.