September 25, 2011 1:00:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Experience. There's no substitute.
Ocean Springs Mayor and Democratic State Treasurer candidate Connie Moran hopes her message to voters helps fend off Republican opponent Lynn Fitch in the general election in November. Moran was unopposed in the August primaries.
The election has landmark potential to change the landscape of Mississippi politics, as Republicans make a push to gain majority in the Mississippi House of Representatives, as well as win the Governor and Attorney General races. The GOP hasn't controlled the Mississippi house in more than 120 years.
The treasurer sits on 12 different boards and commissions that approve bond funding and infrastructure spending in the state. Being outnumbered by Republicans would hinder Moran's ideas from ever getting off the ground.
She knows what she's up against, as close to 20 elected Democrats in the state have switched to Republican since 2008.
"I would like for people to judge me, not by party label but by the programs and projects I've been able to get going in Ocean Springs," Moran said Sept. 20 on a campaign visit to Starkville. "Look at my background, educational experience and my values."
As she sipped coffee in a cafe in downtown Starkville, Moran referenced similarities between her push to pass a bond referendum for a municipal complex in Ocean Springs and Starkville's upcoming justice complex referendum. Moran was able to get a 2-percent levy on restaurants and lounges, which helped fund a new police station, jail, court room and sportsplex in 2007. Moran reduced costs by acquiring a grant for the land and avoided using bonds.
"We were desperate to get that done," Moran said. "Our facilities were deplorable."
The municipal complex referendum is one in a string of revitalization projects Moran has overseen in her six years as Ocean Springs mayor. She took over just weeks before Hurricane Katrina and helped Ocean Springs restore its waterfront by pursuing every federal grant possible. She was instrumental in acquiring the necessary grants to help MDOT construct a walking track on the new Biloxi Bay bridge.
Ocean Springs' downtown has boomed, too, as the number of restaurants and lounges have jumped from 63 in 2007 to 105.
"We're becoming a dining mecca," Moran said.
Moran said her work in Ocean Springs' rebound from Hurricane Katrina can help the current statewide debt crisis. While the treasurer doesn't balance the budget, he/she does impact all investments.
Moran hopes to avoid cuts to the current Mississippi Public Employees Retirement System and help regulate disaster insurance costs, a hindrance to economic development on the coast.
Like the rest of the country, Moran's top priority is job creation. On the campaign trail, she's seen the impact of factories relocating overseas.
While it's hard to compete with countries that don't have environmental laws or wage regulations, Moran is confident the quality of life in Mississippi and resources can provide balance. But it takes "smart" tax incentives to lure industry, Moran said.
"There's no silver bullet, but on national level we have to strive for fair trade and giving tax incentives to companies," Moran said. "If you give them cash deductions, do they invest to build in Mississippi or build in India? Or are they investing to train here or in our of state?"
"A lot of factories we helped bring in the late '80s and '90s when I worked in the state have flown off. We have to take a better look at what incentives we're offering."
Moran's diverse economic background includes stints with the World Trade Organization in Geneva and as head of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation. She's helped Ocean Springs cut its budget by 13 percent for 2011 and 15 percent in 2010. She obtained grants four times greater than the city's municipal fund, and Ocean Springs has the highest bond rating of any city on coast.
Moran said her experience in Europe would help her recruit foreign businesses to Mississippi.
"So far, people seem to be impressed with that breadth of experience," Moran said. "I've brought back a lot of ideas and experience to the state. I know a lot of people in economic development circles at the county level around the state and different mayors. My connections outside Jackson are my base."
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