By Editorial Staff Johnny DuPree offers Mississippians the opportunity to elect a governor with both the experience and the vision to transform the state. It is an opportunity voters should seize. DuPree's election would place in the Governor's Mansion a chief executive who has earned an invaluable appreciation of the challenges and responsibilities of both the private and public sectors of society. He acquired a commendable work ethic early in life. Born in Georgia on Nov. 18, 1953, DuPree's "parents separated when I was a small boy, and later, my mother, sister, brother and I moved to Hattiesburg. My mom worked domestic jobs to support us, but since I was the oldest male in the house, I was also expected to work. So, at the age of eight, I began working to help support my family." In time, he would go to work for Sears for 15 years before he and his wife went into real estate. He appreciates the value of family and faith. When he and his wife became teenage parents, he says, "My wife and I didn't start out with a lot of money, but we were determined to raise our girls with a strong Christian faith. our circumstances were less than desirable, but we were both determined to do our best because we had made a commitment to each other and wanted to keep it." His public service began at the most local level of government. Appointed to the Hattiesburg Public School Board in 1987, DuPree was elected to the Forrest County Board of Supervisors in 1991. Ten years later, he was elected mayor of Hattiesburg, an office he still holds. Now he is seeking the governorship. "No matter the circumstances, I am determined to do my best," DuPree has said. "I give you my word that I will wake up every day, regardless of the circumstances, with the intent of being the best governor for Mississippi." Among his objectives: DuPree will focus on creating new jobs through small business development, protecting the jobs we already have and working to recruit new jobs to Mississippi. During his 10 years as mayor, Hattiesburg created more than 6,000 jobs and never raised taxes. As he told the Sun Herald, "I'm not interested in raising taxes on anyone." But he would, according to his website (johnnydupree.com), "require that every person who works in Mississippi, claims homestead in Mississippi or reports to be a resident of Mississippi pays Mississippi income taxes. Because when they don't, they are cheating you, me and the state of Mississippi." As for business incentives, DuPree would work with the Mississippi Development Authority to create incentive packages for small businesses that mirror what is routinely offered large corporations. He would also review corporate tax incentives. As he explains it: "Offering tax incentives to corporations who want to come to Mississippi and create jobs is fine, so long as it is a smart investment. But once that investment is made, we should have annual reviews to ensure that the corporations are creating the jobs they agreed to create. If not, the state should work with them to correct the problem or revisit the tax incentives. This is not about being anti-big business. Big business creates jobs and improves our economy. It's about holding everyone accountable -- individuals, government and businesses. "When we recruit new businesses to Mississippi, we cannot be afraid to make our own requirements in return for the generous tax incentives they seek. We need to make sure they are hiring Mississippi contractors and Mississippi workers -- not bringing in a lot of out-of-state labor." As for public education, DuPree wants it to be fully funded and begin early in life. His school board experience convinced him that "it takes all of us working together -- parents, schools, government, the business community and nonprofit organizations -- to make our children first." On health care, DuPree wants to develop a comprehensive plan that addresses not just health care and insurance but also promotes healthier lifestyles across the state. On Medicaid in particular, DuPree supports a "crackdown on those who are taking advantage of the system without building brick walls to services for Mississippians who honestly qualify for Medicaid." On the Public Employee Retirement System, DuPree says that all current employees and current retirees should be guaranteed the benefits they were promised and that any future changes should not affect their plans. On the three ballot initiatives: 4 DuPree "ultimately supports" the Personhood Amendment because he believes life begins at conception, but he has concerns about the ramifications it might have on in vitro fertilization and birth control. 4 DuPree says Voter ID is a solution in search of a problem. "The proven cases of voter fraud in Mississippi would not have been prevented by voter ID, but the early voting programs killed by the Republicans in the Senate would have fixed those problems," says DuPree. However, if Voter ID passes, he says he will enforce the law. 4 He supports the Eminent Domain Amendment, saying, "While the use of eminent domain for the public good should be used when absolutely necessary, government should never take private property for a private corporate venture." As for running the executive branch of state government, DuPree said the "core services" of each department should be identified and then the money should be found to provide those services. That can be accomplished, he said, by "getting the right people and getting out of their way." All of this and more is part of DuPree's plan to change the results on scorecards that consistently place Mississippi at or near the bottom of the best lists and at or near the top of the worst rankings. His approach to doing that is both practical and appealing. It has won him our endorsement, and we hope that DuPree will win your support on Nov. 8 to become the next governor of Mississippi. This editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board, which consists of President-Publisher Glen Nardi, Vice President and Executive Editor Stan Tiner, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Flora S. Point, Circulation and Human Resources Director Wanda Howell, Marketing Services Director John McFarland and Associate Editor Tony Biffle. Opinions expressed by columnists, cartoonists and letter writers are their own.
By DeShuna Spencer While most Americans are focused on a certain black presidential candidate making strides in the Republican Party, in Mississippi a black candidate is creating a little buzz of his own in hopes of making history. Mayor Johnny DuPree of Hattiesburg, Miss., the third largest city in the state, is the Mississippi Democratic Party's gubernatorial nominee and the first black person to be in that position since reconstruction. If DuPree, 57, beats Republican candidate Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, 56, of Brandon, Miss. in the November 8 election, he will be among a small, elite group of black governors. In history, only three black men have held the position. In a state that is stigmatized by its Jim Crow past, the potential outcome of the governor's race could be a huge leap in reversing many of the stereotypes and perceptions that still plague Mississippi and its citizens. During an interview with emPower magazine, Mayor DuPree spoke candidly about his humble beginnings, what motivated him to enter public service, and how he plans to tackle education if he becomes governor of Mississippi. emPower magazine: For those living outside of the state of Mississippi, tell us about yourself and your upbringing? Mayor Johnny DuPree: I was born in Fort Benning, GA on Nov. 18, 1953. My parents separated when I was a small boy, and later, my mother, sister, brother, and I moved to Hattiesburg, Miss. My mom worked domestic jobs to support us, but since I was the oldest male in the house, I was also expected to work. So, at the age of eight, I began working to help support my family. I'll never forget my first job. I worked as a newspaper carrier for Ms. Lillie's Newspaper Stand, who worked for the Hattiesburg American. Ms. Lillie claimed that I was one of the most dedicated paper carriers she had. I don't know if I was the best carrier, but I do know that I tried. I left for work every day wanting to be the best paper boy that Ms. Lillie had, mainly because I was aware that I was representing her it wasn't just my reputation that was on the line. If I didn't perform well, not only did it look bad on me, but it would also be a poor reflection of her and the company that she was trying to build. Her slogan, "Rain, shine, sleet or snow, Lillie's papers' gotta' go," became a powerful lesson for me, and this slogan has guided many of the decisions that I've made throughout my life. No matter the circumstances, I had to be determined to do my best, whether I was mowing yards, bagging groceries, washing cars, or working at the slaughter house. As I look back over my life, I realize that this same philosophy has not only guided me throughout my professional life, but has been a guide for my personal life as well. emPower: Being the oldest child, but still so young, how was that experience? Did it interfere with school? In the early 1960s did other young black children work to help support the family? DuPree: We were so poor that we played dodge rock--we couldn't afford the ball. I guess I was a pretty good shot, though, because that is how I accidentally broke my sister's glasses. My mother told me that she couldn't afford to pay to replace the glasses, so that is the reason that I got a job delivering newspapers for Ms. Lillie. Every night when my mother came home after working, she would ask us for our homework, which we gave her. We had no idea that she didn't know what she was looking at. What my mother did was to instill in me the understanding that education was important, and that is the foundation for my emphasis on education both in my own family and for all of Mississippi's children. emPower: Time and time again, you hear people say that even at a young age, they knew they would be something great in life, even in times of hardship. DuPree: Growing up in your community, could you see your own potential and bright future while living in poverty? I knew that I wanted to be a good son, a good husband, a good father, and a good citizen. That's what I strived to be. emPower: What was your first political position and what made you decide to go into politics? DuPree: I was appointed to the Hattiesburg Public School Board in 1987, which began my life as a public servant. One year later, my wife and I started our own Real Estate Company, DuPree Realty. The work that Johniece and I did through DuPree Realty and on the Hattiesburg School Board was extremely fulfilling, because we felt that we were in the business of making a difference in people's lives. We began to see first-hand how fulfilling it was to serve the people in our community. So, we began to seek God's guidance for other opportunities to serve. In November 1991, I was elected to the Forrest County Board of Supervisors. After serving as a member of the Board of Supervisors for 10 years, I decided to run for Mayor of Hattiesburg and was elected in June 2001. emPower: Becoming the first black person to be the gubernatorial candidate for a major party since reconstruction is a victory within itself. Going back to election night, what did that victory mean for you, your family and blacks in the state? DuPree: "I'm just so proud of the fact that we had people who believed in us, believed in the message, believed in what we're trying to accomplish. I'm so proud that people took a hold of that." emPower: Fast track to today, how has being mayor prepared you to be governor of Mississippi? DuPree: Whether it's small or large, you still have to do the same things. You still have core services that you have to provide, whether it's for 150,000 people or 50,000 people. Hattiesburg is the fourth-largest city in this state, but the processes remain the same. It's just a larger population. You have to work with people and put people around the table who are experts in their areas. emPower: How have you been received throughout the state while campaigning? DuPree: People are responding very well to our message. We got more votes than anyone--Democrat or Republican--in the primary. Eighty percent came back out in the run off. The experts told us to expect about 30 percent. And we received in the runoff 99 percent of the vote we got in the primary. That is unheard of. It means that people are excited and passionate, committed, and determined. emPower: I spent some time in Mississippi while in college at Jackson State University. When I was there, the state was always ranked high in teen pregnancy, obesity, unemployment and education, just to name a few. What are some of your proposed initiatives to reverse many of these trends that have been around for decades? DuPree: That is the reason we're in this race. On too many lists--like those you've named, we are opposite of where we want to be. Without a doubt, education is a top concern. The dropout rate is the highest in the nation. The graduation rate is one of the lowest. I think you can make that connection between education and jobs, recruitment of jobs, health care and teen pregnancy. All of those things relate right back to education, or the lack of education. When you look at our penal system, 70- to 80-percent of the people who are there are high school dropouts. We have a four-phase Mississippi education-restructuring program that we have proposed that begins with early childhood development. I think we are one of two or three states in the southeast that actually doesn't have an early childhood program. We need for graduation coaches in middle school and in high school to help the dropout rate. States that use graduate coaches have increased their graduation rates and reduced their dropout rates. On the other end of the spectrum are those who are not going to college. We have to start a program of vocational training, using our unions and our community colleges. The people who actually do the work at my house, HVAC, electrical, plumbing, all those people actually were my classmates. They didn't go to college but they have their own businesses. They make a decent salary and they hire people. We also propose tax cuts for public school teachers and parents of public school children to honor the promise the state already made to them and failed to uphold. We've got to be determined to pay our teachers a decent salary. If we're determined to do that, we can do it. emPower: What is the single most pressing issue for Mississippians that is on your to-do list once winning the governor's race? DuPree: Jobs and education--they go hand-in-hand.
By Matt Williamson Johnny DuPree continued his tour across Mississippi with a stop in Summit Thursday evening, speaking to supporters at a fundraiser and stoking the base in his run for the governor's mansion with 25 days before Election Day. The three-term Hattiesburg mayor faces Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant in the Nov. 8 election. The two will hold a debate at 7 tonight at the Mississippi College School of Law. WLBT will broadcast the debate. "I got into this race because as looked around I saw a number of people who decided to run, I looked at my experience on the school board, my experience on the board of supervisors, my experience with municipal government, I realized nobody in this race had the kind of experience that I had," DuPree said at the home of Jim and Missy Hancock. "Nobody worked grass roots like we do. "Everybody in this race either had no experience, or they had experience going up to Jackson for two or three months and going home," he said, giving an obvious jab at his opponent. DuPree said his experience as the top executive in Hattiesburg's government makes him qualified to lead the state. He cited the bustling economic development and downtown revitalization successes in Mississippi's fourth-largest city. DuPree noted that the city added 6,000 jobs last year, the American Planning Association ranked a historic Hattiesburg neighborhood as one of the most livable in the country, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield ranked Hattiesburg as the most fit city in Mississippi with a population of more than 10,000. He said Hattiesburg also has the only fully handicap accessible park in the state, and Census figures show its 24- to 29-year-old population grew by 11 percent in the last decade. DuPree said his city's success came through a diverse group of motivated people "working together to solve our problems. "I'm talking about black, white, rich, poor, Democrats and Republicans. "I wish I could say I did all that, but I would not be telling the truth," he said. He also noted the unique challenges that come with the job. "Nobody (else) gets calls saying we have bed lice and we need to come get rid of them. I get those calls. I also get those calls when people can't pay their mortgage, they can't pay their utility bills, they want a job." Dupree said he hopes to bring the same level of collaborative success and a sympathetic ear to the governor's office. "I believe people in Mississippi want the same thing," he said. "They want Mississippi to be first. ... If we can solve our problems in Mississippi, then we can solve our problems in the nation." DuPree acknowledges that he's well outspent by Bryant, whose war chest has topped $4 million, while Dupree's has yet to crack the million-dollar mark. "We've always relied on volunteers, people who are interested in moving forward. ... That's not saying we wouldn't enjoy having parity in the money," he said. "I say all the time you give me a choice between a thousand dollars and a hundred voters, I'll take a hundred voters." The elephant in the room throughout the campaign is the fact that DuPree has come closer to the Mississippi governor's mansion than any other black candidate, although he's largely downplayed that issue. "Sometimes in a closed gathering, I say, "By the way I'm black,' " he said with a laugh. "I'm a proud African-American, but I'm even more proud to be the Democratic nominee for the governor of the state of Mississippi." DuPree has instead focused on education throughout the race, saying it is linked to most of the state's successes and failures. "All of the ills we have in Mississippi, I think, you can trace it back to eduction," he said. "Seventy percent of the people incarcerated are high school dropouts. Does that not say something?" He said he believes state support for early childhood education, and education in general, is on the line in the election. As for funding such measures, "you've got to decide what are the core services." "You've got to look at ways to increase revenues, and I'm not saying increase taxes," he said. "We were able to fund our budget in Hattiesburg in the same economic downturn without raising taxes." DuPree said the sate also must look at "equity and fairness in taxation." "Those companies that are not paying taxes have to pay their fair share," he said. "Or if there's an employment agreement that they will hire "X' amount of employees to get those tax breaks, then they need to hire them."