As of today, there are 40 days remaining before the Nov. 8 general election and most of the attention has been and will continue to be on the four U.S. House of Representative seats. Depending on where you live in the Golden Triangle, you will vote in the District 1 race (incumbent Republican Trent Kelly vs. Democrat Dianne Blac) or for the District 3 race (incumbent Republican Michael Guest vs. Democrat Shuwaski Young).
Who we send to represent us in Congress matters, yet there are other offices on the ballot that are also worthy of careful deliberation.
In Lowndes County, former YMCA director Andy Boyd and businessman David Chism will be on the ballot to fill the unexpired term of Lynn Wright for the Mississippi District 37 House seat. Wright passed away in June. Because it is a special election, it is a non-partisan race.
Oktibbeha County’s ballot will include a new judge position — county judge — which will primarily handle youth cases. The candidates for the judgeship are Bruce Brown, Marty Haug and Lee Ann Turner.
Meanwhile, two of the three circuit judge races are contested and we will have at least one new District 16 circuit court judge following the retirement of Place 3 judge Lee Coleman. There are four candidates on the ballot – Trina Brooks, Mark Cliett, Michelle Easterling and Bennie Jones Jr.
Lee Howard V faces no opponent in Place 2. In Place 1, incumbent Jim Kitchens faces challenger Chuck Easley.
Aside from jury duty, most citizens have little exposure to the job these judges do. Circuit court judges preside over the trials of felony cases, serious offenses that often involve violent crimes. The stakes in these cases are naturally high and a judge’s role can influence the verdict in myriad ways: It is the judge who determines what evidence the jury hears, what instructions juries are given as they begin deliberating the verdict. Some judges allow jurors to take notes during testimony. Others do not.
Because the average citizen has little familiarity with circuit courts, it may be difficult to determine what you should look for in a candidate.
Jim Davidson, who served as a chancery court judge for 12 years, said it’s pretty simple.
“Show up, do your work, get it right,” he said.
Davidson noted that judge positions are determined through non-partisan elections. Presumably, that is. In recent years, the line between being an independent arbiter and following a partisan path.
As voters consider the candidates, it’s worth watching out for partisan rhetoric in their public appearances or campaign literature. An independent judiciary is vital to the health of our society.
Usually, in these campaigns, you hear a lot about being “tough on crime,” something that appeals to the fears and frustrations caused by serious crimes in our communities.
When you consider that Mississippi has the highest incarceration rate not only among U.S. states but in the world, there can be little doubt about how tough our judicial system is.
That is why we were encouraged that the tone of the rhetoric in these races have shifted. In a candidates forum Tuesday in Starkville, candidates talked about ways to reduce incarceration without jeopardizing public safety through drug courts and diversion programs, house arrest using ankle bracelets and leniency in sentencing for non-violent crime.
In the remaining days before the election, we encourage voters to familiarize themselves with the candidates in these important races. To help, The Dispatch will publish a voter guide in early November.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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