By Elizabeth Crisp
With less than four weeks until Mississippi elects a new governor, Democrat Johnny DuPree and Republican Phil Bryant appear to be sticking to plans to keep the race civil.
The two faced each other Friday in what is likely their only debate before the Nov. 8 election, and though they showed slight differences on some issues, each appeared to have mostly positive things to say about his opponent.
"This is the way we want to change politics in Mississippi," said DuPree, who is in his third term as mayor of Hattiesburg. "You want to talk about the issues, not each other."
Bryant, who is in his first term as lieutenant governor, said he hopes people will look back on the election and remember, "They talked about issues and ideas" rather than personal attacks.
The one-hour debate, held at the Mississippi College School of Law and sponsored by AARP Mississippi, was aired live on television stations across the state.
Questions covered education, teen pregnancy, health care and the state's financial reserves, among other topics. Gov. Haley Barbour is term-limited and cannot seek re-election.
Both candidates pledged to work beyond party lines for the betterment of the state.
"I don't think the people of Mississippi want a gridlock," said DuPree, 57. "I don't think they want what is going on in Washington."
Bryant, 56, said he has worked with Democrats in the House and Senate as lieutenant governor.
"We've gone through tough decisions, but we leave there as friends," he said.
DuPree is Mississippi's first African-American major-party candidate for governor.
But he and Bryant have several similarities.
"We're friends. We both love Mississippi," DuPree said.
Both grew up in working class families - DuPree the child of a single mother and Bryant the son of a mechanic.
Both are University of Southern Mississippi alums.
Out of a field that began with nine candidates for governor, both DuPree and Bryant were the candidates with the longest records in public office.
Bryant is a former member of the state House and former state auditor.
DuPree served on the Hattiesburg School Board and Forrest County Board of Supervisors before becoming mayor.
The areas where they differed Friday included health care and a ballot initiative that would require voters to show identification at the polls.
The federal health care overhaul is expected to add thousands of Mississippians to the Medicaid rolls.
"It's impossible for us to afford," Bryant said. "It would just be unbearable."
DuPree said he thinks it's important to make sure that there is access to affordable care.
"The reality is we're gonna pay for it regardless," he said, noting that many without insurance have to seek care at emergency rooms.
Bryant said he supports a voter ID requirement.
"It gives integrity to the voting system," he said.
DuPree said he doesn't think it addresses the voter fraud problem in the state. He said it would be better to alter the absentee voting process and allow early voting.
"Absentee voting is the problem," he said.
They also shared different plans for education in the state.
Bryant has advocated dual enrollment-type programs that offer high schoolers an opportunity to learn a skill, rather than possibly drop out.
"If we can teach that child to weld, to be a plumber, to be an electrician, we can change that child's life," he said.
Bryant said he also supports efforts of an early childhood education commission.
"We're looking at how we can use the existing system to build the very best in America," he said.
DuPree's education plan starts with incentives for private pre-K programs.
He also supports additional training for teachers and raises.
"We've got to stop just plugging holes," he said.