JACKSON — U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy participated in the state’s first senatorial debate in 10 years on Tuesday night, where the candidates addressed controversies that have garnered national attention.
Hyde-Smith apologized for her “public hanging” remarks but said the comments have been “twisted” to mean something she didn’t intend and have been used against her “as a weapon.”
“For anyone that was offended by my comments, I certainly apologize,” Hyde-Smith said. “There was no ill will, no intent whatsoever in my statements. In nearly 20 years of service… I have worked with all Mississippians. It didn’t matter their skin color type, their age or their income.”
Espy addressed a controversy that has recently come to light regarding a past lobbying contract with an Ivory Coast dictator, Laurent Gbagbo, who currently faces charges of crimes against humanity.
“They asked me to work with this particular president,” Espy said. “So, I took that contract. The thing about it is, I found out how bad the (despot) was. I really did. So, I wrote him, I resigned, I terminated that contract. There was a contract extension that had already been agreed to.”
The candidates focused a lot of time on their differences in healthcare policy, specifically about making sure people are covered for pre-existing conditions.
Espy said he doesn’t want a single-payer healthcare system, but there are certain things about the Affordable Care Act that he liked.
“I support a healthcare system that’s affordable and accessible,” Espy said. “First, we have to make sure there is coverage for pre-existing conditions. That’s just absolute… The other is to make sure students can remain on their parents’ policies until age 26.”
Hyde-Smith disagreed with Espy and said she wanted to repeal Obamacare because it “has been a disaster” for the state.
“I’m for free market solutions,” Hyde-Smith said. “I have never voted for a bill that excluded pre-existing solutions. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a pre-existing condition.”
Shortly before the debate began, the University of Mississippi Black Student Union released a statement condemning Hyde-Smith’s remarks about attending a “public hanging” as “racist” and calling for her “immediate resignation.”
“Due to her egregious remarks, we no longer feel her character is conducive to all members of our community, and her representation now hinders the state of Mississippi’s ability to effectively progress,” the statement said.
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker spoke on behalf of Hyde-Smith at a press conference following the debate.
“When I was a student, I said a lot of things that probably were unrealistic also,” Wicker said. “I thought Sen. Hyde-Smith addressed the issue adequately tonight. I think also the people of Mississippi have a strong sense of fair play, and they know what the statement wasn’t.”
When asked what a public hanging was, Wicker declined to comment.
After a video was released of Hyde-Smith joking about making the voting process more difficult for students at “liberal” universities, Hyde-Smith posted a photo on social media with Mississippi State University students.
“It’s OK to still have a sense of humor in America, isn’t it? These students enjoyed a laugh with Cindy despite out of state social media posts trying to mislead Mississippians,” according to the social media post.
Wicker declined to go into detail about the social media post but said he didn’t think it was a “major issue.”
“I think the major issues tonight were outlined,” Wicker said. “We had one candidate who was for Obamacare… We had one candidate who was endorsed by Right to Life.”
The runoff election will take place on November 27. Follow The Daily Mississippian for continuing election coverage.