Starkville attorney Rob Roberson recalls a time when support for the Oktibbeha County Republican Party amounted to a half-dozen residents in a room listening to one, maybe two candidates.
It was not like that Monday evening.
Roberson, a District 43 state representative candidate, was among about a dozen candidates who spoke to a capacity crowd in the Oktibbeha County circuit courtroom on West Main Street. Roberson will face Little Dooey owner Mac Smith in a Republican primary in August. The primary winner will face Democrat Paul Millsaps in November’s general election.
“I think we have some of the finest candidates you could ask for, including my opponent,” Roberson said during his comments to the crowd.
Other than general election candidates who will face Democrats in November, Republicans boast candidates in four contested primaries that affect Oktibbeha County — the District 43 race, circuit clerk, coroner and District 4 supervisor.
In years past, County Republican Party Chairperson Marnita Henderson said the party was fortunate to drum up one contested primary. But she said she is proud to see how far the local party had come.
“We’re delighted with our turnout,” she said. “It was an opportunity for people to see what good, strong candidates we have … as Republicans, we want to represent everyone and make sure no one feels left out. I feel like we have candidates who will listen to the people.”
District 43 is a new area created in the most recent redistricting and covers parts of Starkville and Oktibbeha County, including the Mississipppi State University campus.
In Roberson’s remarks, he focused on improving education and said the state had to get “creative” in facing that challenge. Simply throwing money at the problem, he said, wouldn’t work.
“We should be a model for other states to look at, rather than a model to be made fun of,” Roberson said. “… I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I’m smart enough to find the people who do.”
Once Smith took to the podium, he light-heartedly asked Roberson, “How did you get my speech?”
He went on to focus on the upcoming consolidation of Starkville and Oktibbeha County schools, saying that it put local public education on a “good road.”
“We’ve got to make this merger work,” Smith said. “We’ve got to make it successful.”
District 4 supervisor opponents Bart Gregory and Bricklee Miller also squared off at the forum.
Gregory, who works for the SEC Network, promised to bring a business approach to politics, if elected, and noted what he called “strained relations” between his district and MSU. He said Starkville residents living in the district also need to feel fully represented by their county supervisor.
On Monday, Gregory also addressed the future of OCH Regional Medical Center, a county-owned hospital that supervisors have toiled over whether to sell for several years. He called for a third-party who “knows the business of health care” to study the issue.
“Neither you nor I have all the information we need right now to know what to do about this,” he said.
Miller, the 15-year director at Mississippi Horse Park who unsuccessfully ran for supervisor in 2011, said her job experience demonstrated teamwork, work ethic and fiscal responsibility that she could bring to the job. She said the county should also make every effort to grow its tax base while lowering the citizens’ tax burden.
“It doesn’t matter if you live in the city limits or out in the county, you should have equal representation,” Miller said. “Your voice will be my voice on the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors.”
The winner between Gregory and Miller will face Democratic incumbent Daniel Jackson in the general election.
Other Republican primary candidates who spoke Monday included circuit clerk candidates Michael Campell and Glenn Hamilton (incumbent); and coroner candidates Doug Hamilton and Chris Pollan.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.