Republican nominee hopefuls Michael Watson and Sam Britton, faced off on the on Paul Gallo show this morning on Supertalk Mississippi. The Secretary of State’s race has been widely viewed as the most evenly matched Republican primary featuring two elected officials with high profiles.
Gallo said this was not the first time the possibility for a conversation or debate on air together was offered to candidates, however, Britton and Watson were the first to accept.
When asked why they made the decision to run for the office, Watson led with his encouragement from Governor Phil Bryant to consider a run for the office. He said he was in a meeting with the Governor discussing his future plans away from the State Senate, when Bryant suggested he consider the Secretary of State’s office.
“It was one of those ideas that just wouldn’t go away,” said Watson. “We prayed about it and got a good peace about it and decided to run for the office.”
Britton is currently serving his first term in public office as the Southern District Public Service Commissioner. He hails the resolution of the Kemper County Plant as a success in his short time there, and says one person can make a difference but they can’t do it alone.
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“That [Kemper] was the big issue that brought me into politics. Then, when that was resolved, it was not a foregoing conclusion that I would run for reelection or another office. But I began to look at how much you can get done in government,” said Britton.
He said after seeing that much can be accomplished with individuals working together, he began to look statewide and decided to try to make a difference there by running for Secretary of State.
Gallo then asks for the both candidates to speak more to what the office does, than just handling elections.
Watson took the first jab of the morning at Britton and his call last week for Voter ID, a process that was implemented by Delbert Hosemann’s office nearly five years ago.
Britton’s response was that he absolutely knew and supports voter ID. He claims that the statements he made were in regards to continue to implement them and not forget how far we’ve come.
“Michael this is something we agree on, there’s no question. You’re trying to make point, or turn something into something that was not,” said Britton.
Watson fires back, “The comment said ‘add voting to the list of things we need ID for,’ how else do you interpret that Paul?”
The two went back and forth on the statement for several minutes at the end of the first segment while Britton tried to defend the statement saying there were a few words left off and it didn’t mean anything other than that.
Watson also went after Britton’s claims that he helped solve the Kemper problem. He said that a cap was already set to go on Kemper before Britton was elected. However, before Britton could respond, Gallo changed the direction of the conversation back to the 16 section land issue.
Both candidates were in support of the program, saying the continuation of this program is important. Watson reminded voters that it was the responsibility of the local school board to negotiate these leases.
After the break, Gallo touched on Tidelands briefly. Both candidates discussed the obligation of the SOS’s office to ensure these lands are preserved. Britton said if elected he would like to do a review of the process to correct any portion of dysfunction in that system.
When asked about what to do regarding the Department of Motor Vehicles, the candidates disagree.
Watson is of the opinion that the DMV should be moved under the directive of the Secretary of State’s office, while Britton disagrees and says they should just fix the problem.
“There is no question that the DMV is a disaster,” said Britton. “This is a law enforcement issue period and I think it is absurd to take one function of government away from a relevant agency and move it into an agency that has no business or experience handling it.”
Britton even goes on to say it’s lunacy.
And shots were fired…
“Lunacy is saying that you fixed something like Kemper, when Kemper was actually fixed before he got there,” said Watson.
Watson said according to Mississippians he has talked to they believe moving the DMV over to the SOS’s office is a logical and good idea after the success that Secretary Hosemann has had with other licensure procedures.
Gallo then took a moment to “clear up the Kemper thing.”
When given a chance to correct the record, Britton says Kemper was still ‘blowing and going’ when he took office. He said Watson’s comments were really just a ploy to distract from Watson’s vote in the Senate in favor of a large corporation bail out.
“My opponent voted for the largest corporate bail out in the history of our state. One Billion dollars to support Mississippi Power,” said Britton. Britton said no to the bail out and says this shows a case in which Watson picked the rate payers as ‘losers’ and sided with a corporate winner.
Watson said it was never truly bail out, but rather it was allowing MS Power to finance that project on the front end and save rate payers dollars on the backend. He also said his votes against certain bond bills containing Ingalls projects were not because he doesn’t support Ingalls, but because he doesn’t believe government should be funding projects for businesses that are already over bloated with them.
Gallo returns back to the question asked for Senator Watson, what is the first piece of legislation he would offer if elected to the office.
Watson reminds voters that the Secretary’s office cannot introduce legislation. However, the piece he would offer support for would be moving the DMV over to the Secretary of State’s office.
“I think that’s an important issue that Mississippians all over the place have said ‘Michael that’s a great idea,'” said Watson “It’s a combination plan…where you’d move it and privatize some of it but some would stay under the umbrella of the Secretary of State’s office.”
Watson said the budget transfer would look something like $20-something million. He said with payroll it could be higher.
The same question was asked to Britton.
He again said he is not in support of the movement of the DMV under the office of the Secretary of State. He believes that is more movement of bureaucracy that doesn’t solve anything.
“Unless someone fixes the problem you haven’t accomplished anything,” said Britton.
As far as introducing new legislation, he said he isn’t sure we need anymore new laws, but rather work on what we have. He mentioned working on things like Cyber Security would be priority.
Gallo brought up absentee voting, and asked the candidates if people are able to vote too early?
“I’m not for expanding early voting. I think too many men and women went to war and died for that right so for people to say ‘oh we need to make it more convenient,’ I disagree with that,” said Watson.
Britton said that when it comes to absentee voting, whatever system is in place must work.
“Whether we do early voting and how we do it is almost secondary as to make sure that the system works and that people have faith in it,” said Britton.
For the remainder of the segment Gallo asked a series of questions presented by each candidate for the other, on things like experience prior to where they are there and how each is best suited for the office of Secretary of State.
The final segment ended with more controversial comments between the two candidates.
Both candidates gave their closing remarks on why they feel they’re the best fit for the office whether it by former job experience, time served in the Senate or as Public Service commissioner, both considered themselves to be conservatives and that the record showed it.
In Watson’s closing statement he mentions money donated by Britton to the Ronnie Musgrove campaign against Haley Barbour, data that hasn’t yet been litigated publicly. Britton does not comment on Watson’s remarks in his closing statement.