Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, The Daily Mississippian interviewed all five major Senate candidates to get their opinions on potential solutions to the “brain drain” issue plaguing the state of Mississippi. The brain drain refers to the trend recent college graduates leaving the state to seek employment in other parts of the country after receiving higher education in Mississippi. All of this year’s Senate candidates acknowledged that the problem exists, but the candidates had different solutions on how to curb this exodus of educated young people.
Read below for what the candidates had to say:
Incumbent: Roger Wicker (R)
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker is a resident of Tupelo and has been a U.S. senator since 2007. He was first appointed to the Senate by former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour when former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott resigned. Wicker is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I’ve been a part of allocating a great deal of money to (the University of Mississippi Medical Center) for research,” Wicker said. “That’s a way to keep people in the state of Mississippi. We’ve increased jobs in the state of Mississippi. The bottom line is we have to work on job opportunities and quality of life issues inside the state.”
Challenger: David Baria (D)
David Baria is the state House Minority Leader and is a resident of Hancock County. He has been in the state legislature for a decade. This is Baria’s first bid for federal office, and he currently serves on the state House Committee on Appropriations and state House Committee on Colleges and Universities.
“College-aged kids are one of the major reasons why I’m running,” Baria said. “I have two daughters in college … I want Mississippi to be the kind of place where they want to live. Right now, we’re not providing the right type of environment for young people. I see millennials being more engaged this go-round. I think that millennials have to be engaged. They have to understand that elections are important.”
Incumbent: Cindy Hyde-Smith (R)
Cindy Hyde-Smith is the incumbent U.S. Senator, and the first woman to represent Mississippi in the Senate. She was appointed to fill former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s vacated seat when he resigned earlier this year. She was previously the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce and served in the state legislature.
“So many times … (college students) may leave initially and then return (to Mississippi),” Hyde-Smith said. “I want them to know that they can return to Mississippi and be able to raise their (families) in an environment they can be proud of and they also can prosper here economically and further their career here in Mississippi.”
Challenger: Mike Espy (D)
Mike Espy was the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from Jan. 22, 1993, to Dec. 31, 1994, under former President Bill Clinton. Espy resigned from his Cabinet position after he was indicted for receiving gifts improperly while in office. He was acquitted of all charges, and this is his first political race since his resignation. Espy served three full terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before resigning in his fourth term to serve as Secretary of Agriculture.
“I don’t want (recent graduates) to leave for the wrong reasons,” Espy said. “That would be that there’s no opportunity here: no jobs, no great income, no tech companies that they could begin with. So those are the things that I want to remedy.”
Challenger: Chris McDaniel (R)
Chris McDaniel is a resident of Ellisville and has been a state senator for 10 years. McDaniel ran for the U.S. Senate seat previously in 2014 when he challenged former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, but he was unsuccessful. McDaniel is chairman of the state Senate Constitution Committee. McDaniel initially intended to challenge incumbent Roger Wicker for his Senate seat, but switched races after Cochran resigned in March.
“If we find a way to improve the economic engine of Mississippi, jobs will be created.” McDaniel said. “Entrepreneurs will invest in the state, but one key way to have the state’s economy improve is to leave more money in private investment… The best way to see economic prosperity is to reform the tax code, reform the regulatory code and allow more people to keep more of their money.”