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Candidates Jockey For Votes At Rally

District 33 Representative Tommy Reynolds delivers a passionate speech last Saturday afternoon at a political rally in Tillatoba. The rally was sponsored by the Tillatoba Fire Department and was the first opportunity for candidates to address voters in a public forum. – Photo by David Howell

Tillatoba Fire Chief Ben Box shows off a chocolate cake as Eddie Simmons works the crowded room of politicians to get the highest bid for the delicacy. The department hosted the county’s first political rally of the season. – Photos by David Howell

By David Howell

TILLATOBA – With the primary election just over a month away, political candidates lined up to speak in the first public forum last Saturday at Tillatoba Fire Department’s political rally.

    The candidates represented ranged from the Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Dennis to almost every local race on the ballot. Most of the politicking was friendly, with a few candidates working in a political jab during the afternoon rally.

    Water Valley native Kevin Horan was among the first candidates to take the stand and let the voters know his bid for the 24th Representative District would bring change.

    Horan stressed that although the district includes the southern third of Yalobusha County, the people do not have a voice in Jackson.

    “This district includes Grenada and half of Yalobusha County,” Horan told the crowd. “You are not going to have to look my picture up in the state representative book to know who I am,” Horan pledged.

    Horan, a Democrat, is running to unseat Republican incumbent Dr. Sidney Bondurant in the November 8 General election. Neither candidate faces party opposition in the August 2 primary.

    Dr. Bondurant did not attend the rally.

    Horan’s comments were followed by incumbent District 33 Representative Tommy Reynolds.

    Reynolds was easily the most spirited speaker, stressing his work in Jackson acquiring state funding for rural fire departments across the state and fighting to keep George Cossar State Park open after the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks threatened to close the park last year.

    “Kevin (Horan) and I do have one point of disagreement. I want all of Yalobusha County in District 33. I am going to fight to get that,” Reynolds said, referring to the ongoing state redistricting battle.

    “When you need me, you know I live just up the road… Call me anytime you need me,” Reynolds concluded.

    Incumbent Gray Tollison, who serves Senate District 9, and Republican challenger Todd Wade spoke at the rally. Wade provided background information, telling the group that he was an Ole Miss football player and entered the NFL for the Miami Dolphins in 2000.

    Wade shifted to politics,  telling the group that the state has too much bonded indebtedness.

    “People in Jackson must address it,” Wade said. He also said he would fight for education.

     Tollison’s remarks followed.

    “I appreciate you allowing me to serve as state Senator for the past 16 years and I am applying for the job again,” Tollison said.

    “I have worked for jobs, education, health care, improving our criminal law… I think if you ask anybody down there (Jackson) if somebody puts it on the line for education, it is Gray Tollison,” he continued. “I have children in the public school.”

    Tollison also stressed job creation, noting that Winchester Ammunition in Oxford is adding hundreds of new employees.    


County Candidates

    Proceeding in order of the ballot, the first two county candidates to speak were Donald Gray and Amy McMinn.

    “The reason I am running for this I want our entire county to be a unified county,” Gray told the group. “When I go door-to-door, a lot of people are telling me that they don’t see that and it needs to be… I think we can all get along in the county,” Gray continued.

    “One county, not Water Valley, not Coffeeville but one county,” Gray added. Gray provided background, telling the crowd he was born and raised in Coffeeville and now lives in Water Valley.

    With three kids, Gray also told attendees that he has a vested interest in the county progressing.

    “I want our young people to be able to come back to Yalobusha County and make a living,” he said. “We need jobs any way we can get them.”

    Gray then shifted to schools in the county, explaining that he taught in the Coffeeville school system for six years.

    “My children went to the Water Valley School System. My youngest one is still there. A lot of people talk about our schools, but we have good schools,” Gray added.

    Gray also outlined his priorities in life, God first, family second and his job third.    

    McMinn was next to speak.

    “I am Amy Fernandez McMinn, I am your Chancery Court Clerk,” she said in introductory remarks.

    “I have been serving since 2000 and I am your most qualified candidate for the job,” McMinn continued.

    Like Gray, McMinn said she was born in Coffeeville, and is the daughter of Julia York Fernandez and the late Kenneth Fernandez. She said she is a resident of Water Valley.

    “I enjoy my job, I enjoy what I do. I work with all offices in the county,” McMinn said. “My office is the custodian of the records.”

    McMinn listed accomplishments while serving, including implementing a new scanning system for documents in 2007, which saves the county in paper and makes the office more efficient for the people.

    “As custodian of the records, I am also required to be the land redemption keeper,” McMinn said, explaining her duties.

    “I also am the clerk of the Chancery Court, where we handle divorces and estates. There are also youth court and mental commitments. I also would like to implement… a new electronic filing system, much like the federal system,” she explained. “

    “At this job I am also the county treasurer and auditor. I am responsible for doing monthly and quarterly reports for the State Audit department or the State Treasurer’s Office,” McMinn added.

    “I love my job and I humbly need my job and ask for your support on the August 2 election,” McMinn concluded.

    Next to speak was Circuit Clerk Daryl Burney, who thanked the people in the county for their support.

    Both Burney and McMinn credited their competent staff in their respective offices.


    Coroner candidate Wanda Smith was next to take the podium.

    “I love the work I am in, I have been in the medical field for 14 years,” Smith told the group. Currently she works full time in Calhoun County for the ambulance service and part-time in Yalobusha County in the same role. She also said she served as deputy coroner for Tallahatchie County for three years.

    “I have a passion for people,” Smith explained. “I am qualified to be a coroner.

    Incumbent Coroner Ronnie Stark was next to speak.

    “I am a life-long resident of Yalobusha County,” Stark said. Since 2004 Stark said he has worked as a paramedic for the Yalobusha County Ambulance Service.

    “I am also a first responder and volunteer fire fighter for Velma Fire Department and Water Valley Fire Department,” Stark said.

    “I have a life-long passion for serving the people of Yalobusha County,” Stark said.

    In 2004 Stark was appointed as deputy coroner.

    “During this time I made the majority of coroner call in Yalobusha County. He added that he was elected in 2007. During the last four years, Stark said he had helped acquire a coroner’s van which helped his office better serve the people and save the tax payers money.

County Prosecuting Attorney

    Gail Barton said she had lived in Yalobusha County and practiced law for over 30 years here. She also said she work to be fair if elected.

    Water Valley Attorney David Burns followed Barton and told voters that he has practiced law for over 20 years, with the last dozen in Water Valley.

    Burns reminded voters that he had run for a new Circuit Court Judge post last year.

    “We ran an honest, grass roots low-budget campaign. I was not elected. When I found out about the support I received in Yalobusha County – I carried every box in the county – I felt like a winner.”

    Burns then told the voters that he sees the position of County Prosecuting Attorney as a branch of law enforcement.

    “I look forward to the opportunity of working with law enforcement to make our great county even better, even safer,” Burns said.

    The third candidate, Daniel Martin, told the group he had been working to see everybody door-to-door.

    Martin then provided an explanation for the role of the office.

    “This is prosecuting your misdemeanors and D.U.I.’s of this county… I am the person that you would see on the other side if you ever got in trouble and showed up in court.”

    Martin noted that incumbent J.K. Ward has been serving this office for a long time but will retire.

    “As you just saw, there are several people interested in this position,” Martin said, before providing a brief background information.

    Martin then provided background information, telling the  group that he is from Mobile, Ala.

    After attending law school at the University of Mississippi, Martin said he came to Yalobusha County and was welcomed by the community.

    “I chose Yalobusha County and now I need Yalobusha County to choose me,” Martin added.

Sheriff Race

    A long list of candidates running as sheriff were next on the speaking schedule.

    Columbus Buford was the first to address the crowd.    

    “I am not much speaker, I am better one-on-one,” Buford stated. “I am going to bring you loyalty, I am going to bring you trust to Yalobusha County. I promise everybody fairness. I guarantee you one thing, if you call me, I am coming,” Buford said.

    “I need your support,” he concluded.

    Jamie Caldwell was the next sheriff’s candidate to speak.

    “I am a resident of Oakland,” Caldwell said, moving here in 1982.

    Caldwell listed his law enforcement experience, telling the crowd that he served 26 and half years as a state trooper, with the last 11 as assistant trooper commander out of Batesville.

    “ I supervised troopers in Lafayette, Yalobusha and Tallahatchie County. For the last three years I have been employed at the Water Valley Police Department, keeping my training current, my certification going,” Caldwell said.

    Caldwell added that he has attended the Sylva Rena Baptist Church with his family since moving to the county.

    “During my service with Water Valley, I have been on numerous calls of all kinds – murders, rapes, robberies… If you want a sheriff that has the education, training and experience, consider me. I have 30 years in law enforcement. I have kept my training going and I would appreciate your vote and support on August 2.”

    Candidate Luther Folson followed Caldwell.

    “I am running for sheriff because I have been looking at a lot of things going on throughout the years. I actually started looking to run about five years ago, for the last five years I have been positioning myself,” Folson said.

    Folson provided background information, explaining that he was a deacon in his church and graduated from Water Valley High School.

    Folson said he had worked at the Coffeeville and Water Valley school systems. He has also worked at Coffeeville Police Depart-ment and currently works at the Water Valley Police Department.

    Folson served three years in the military and came back to Mississippi and enrolled at Northwest Community College.

    He suffered a relapse of Hodgkin’s Disease and could not play football, but obtained a band scholarship to attend Northwest.

    Folson said he is heavily involved with kids, coaching and officiating in baseball, softball and football in Coffeeville, Water Valley and Oakland.

    “I said all that to say this, kids are a priority to me. Me and my wife are foster parents. I have been fostering over 10 years,” Folson said.

    “I am involved in the whole county, that is why I am running for sheriff. I have seen too much going on that doesn’t need to go on… I live in a neighborhood that is infested with drugs. I am probably the only law enforcement office in this county that can go out the door and look around and see drug dealer’s houses. I stand tall, I stand proud. I am not going back down, I am not going to let them infest my neighborhood,” Folson said.

    Folson then told the crowd he was running for sheriff to make it “fair across the board.”

    “I am tired of seeing the average person treated as a criminal sometimes when we have criminals treated as saints,” Folson continued.

    “I want to make it fair across the board… I will talk to you anytime, any place,” Folson said. “I am well qualified for this job.”

    Sheriff candidate Russ Smith, who currently serves as Oakland Police Chief, was next to speak.

    Smith said he was hired by former Sheriff Steve Shuffield and has served as Chief of Oakland for over five years.

    “I believe I have done a lot for the City of Oakland. I am running for sheriff  and I would like your vote,” Smith concluded.

    Incumbent sheriff Lance Humphreys took the podium next.

    “I am Lance Humphreys, I am your sheriff,” Humphreys told the crowd.

    Humphreys said he has 17 years of law enforcement, all in Yalobusha County and starting at the Water Valley Police Department.

    Humphreys said he was elected in 2007 and is a certified investigator by the State of Mississippi. He also said he attended the Mississippi Command College at the University of Mississippi.

    “Since I was elected in 2008, drugs has been my priority. I have done everything we can do to get the drug dealers and drug users. The drug users to rehab and the drug dealers to jail.”

    Humphreys said his department has made 175 drug arrests since 2008, ranging from simple possession, to sale of cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine.

    “Everybody has seen on t.v.  methamphetamine. We have been fighting hard against that methamphetamine. It is an epidemic, our whole county is in the middle of it. In the last two or three week we have taken down three or four or five people for possession of meth. We are stopping them coming from Memphis with the pseudoephedrine pills. Drugs are a number one priority for me and my department,” the sheriff continued.

    Humphreys then listed his accomplishments as sheriff, including starting the Yalobusha County Crime Stoppers Program.

    “This program has paid out thousands of dollars to average citizens, just like you,” Humphreys said. The information has been used to solve a bank robbery, catch meth labs and solve other crimes.

    Humphreys also said he has been able to obtain a D.U.I. grant for the last two years that allows an additional deputy for D.U.I. enforcement.

    “I know nobody likes to get a D.U.I. But nobody’s family likes to have a family member get hit head-on. It happened to one of my deputies. He is standing right back there. He got hit head-on in a patrol car by a drunk driver .”

    Humphreys concluded, providing his phone number and telling the crowd his office is always open.

    Check next week’s Herald for the rest of the candidates’ speeches.

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