The Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus will hold a town hall meeting Saturday at the Starkville Sportsplex, one of a series of town halls the group has been holding throughout the state since the end of the legislative session in April.
“The idea behind this is to allow citizens in every part of the state to have a voice, to ask questions and tell us what is on their minds,” said Rep. Tyrone Ellis of Starkville. “When you have a state budget that has $415 million in corporate tax cuts, and you’re cutting funding for agencies at the same time, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. As a result of that, we want citizens to have an opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions.”
Ellis will be joined by other local MLBC members, including Rep. Kabir Karriem (D-Columbus), Sen. Angela Turner-Lairy (D-West Point), Rep Carl Mickens (D-Brooksville) and Rep. Karl Gibbs (D-West Point). Marty Wiseman, former director of John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development at Mississippi State will moderate Saturday’s town hall, which will be held from 10 a.m.-noon.
“This is not an event just for black residents,” Ellis noted. “It’s an opportunity for all citizens, regardless of race or party, to talk to their representatives face-to-face, share ideas and listen.”
Karriem said while tax policy and budget shortfalls have been issues raised at previous town hall meetings, other matters are being brought to caucus members’ attention.
“One of the things I’m especially interested in hearing about is criminal justice reform,” Karriem said. “Right now, we have 19,000 people in our jails and prisons, and the costs of that sort of incarceration are staggering. When these people get out, there are no jobs, and as result, we’re seeing a lot of recidivism. It affects everyone in our communities. There has to be a better way.”
Turner-Lairy said the meetings help legislators better understand the people who send them to Jackson, which helps them become better lawmakers.
“What I hope to get from this is a better feel for the heart of the people,” she said. “We have to make that connection with the voters if we’re really going to represent their interests. And, in turn, I hope these meetings will encourage people to get involved in what the legislature is doing, not just with their own representatives and senators, but with the leadership. Their voices are important.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.