My grandfather’s legacy serves as the foundation of this campaign. Born as the son of slaves, Thomas Jefferson Huddleston rose to relative affluence amidst the failed promise of federal Reconstruction. Except for the period of slavery, he lived in perhaps the most dangerous time to be an African-American in Mississippi. Yet he defied the odds and led his community with courage and resolve. Under the organizing theme of “group economics” he built a health insurance company; thirty-six funeral homes; a newspaper that boasted a circulation of 100,000 subscribers, and a hospital, in which my twin sister and I were born.
He didn’t foster guilt, or let hate overcome him. And he refused to let his emotions and the conditions of his time destroy the goals he envisioned for his community. He simply had too much work to do.
Similarly, the selfless example of my father, Henry Espy Sr., still serves useful purpose for me. Dad was the ultimate agriculturist, graduating as the protégé of Dr. George Washington Carver, of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. After graduation he became one of the first black USDA County Extension agents in Arkansas.
On my first day as United States Secretary of Agriculture, one of my staffers went to the basement vault and unearthed my Dad’s reports. As I silently read, I recognized that his refrains still echo forward into modern times: he felt that the agriculture agency in Washington was too large and slow, and that the stodgy bureaucracy didn’t treat farmers as priority “clients”, as it should have; he bemoaned the high costs of production, and believed that the farmers were not being offered enough support through the federal farm programs to secure markets for the crops grown by farmers under his tutelage.
Dad soon left USDA to move to Mississippi to take over the funeral homes from my aging grandfather. Cutting the grass, driving the family cars, comforting the bereaved, and “making” the funerals on weekends, I did almost every job required to sustain our small business. It is during this formative period that I learned the value of hard work, of being responsible, and of having to make a payroll.
Our parents, Jean and Henry Espy, passed on to each of their seven children certain beliefs that I continue to hold today- beliefs that I pledge to pursue and defend on behalf of every Mississippian if privileged to become your next United States Senator:
I believe in the worth of every Mississippian regardless of age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or varying levels of disability. God made us all in his image. My role as a public official is not to judge, but to assist every person to reach his or her God given potential. And this I will do.
I believe in the dignity of work and the life changing benefits of homeownership and asset development. For the last twenty-five years I have worked in the private and non-profit sectors to create jobs; to provide affordable housing; and to build grocery stores in low-income communities offering options for nutritious foods. I have worked to promote broadband technology in our rural schools, libraries and communities, and to keep our struggling health clinics open and solvent.
I stand firmly for civil rights, voting rights and women’s rights because I know that these precious rights were not attained without generational struggle. So many in Mississippi and throughout the nation were killed, bloodied, maimed, and jailed for the simple right to cast a ballot for the candidate of their choice- a right far too many take for granted today. I stand for our Constitutional guarantees- all of them.
And I will focus on the youth and young graduates, hoping to foster within them a greater sense of respect for themselves and for others- but most of all to give them the certain knowledge that after graduation there will be good paying jobs if they would only choose to remain in Mississippi, where they can build a family and enjoy a prosperous life.
Mississippi has world-class shipyards that reliably supply nuclear powered vessels and defense armaments to the finest military that have ever existed on the globe. I will be in every fight against anyone who would reduce our security standards or who would attempt to shift resources from our soldiers and sailors to other lesser causes.
I understand the pressures of farm life, as my father clearly described. As former Secretary of USDA, I appreciate the anxious ramifications of low prices, high costs and collapsing markets. On behalf of the United States and for the benefit of Mississippi farmers, I personally negotiated multinational agricultural treaties to restore balance, stability and continuity to our national farm programs as we compete for important global markets.
Many candidates for political office talk incessantly about the federal debt and deficit and what they would do to curtail it. For me such talk is idle because I have actually done it.
As a congressman, I served on the House Budget Committee where I worked with others to reduce the burgeoning deficit. As head of USDA I authored a landmark bill to reform and to restrain the growth of my own agency- a law that remains in force today. During the time of my oversight, USDA agencies were merged, terminated, co-located, and thousands of employees were offered inducements to retire. Efforts were made to change the culture of the Department to create an atmosphere where farmers and consumers of food and fiber were truly considered as the highest priority of the USDA.
As a freshman in Congress, I was proud to author a bill that President Ronald Reagan signed into law- The Lower Mississippi Delta Development Act. Working across the aisle and reaching over to the Senate chamber my bill created and funded a regional economic development district to advance industry, improve infrastructure, promote job training and heighten classroom performance.
I know what it takes to have to fight for a good name- because I had to fight for mine. When false accusations are leveled I believe you have no choice but to fight. For me it took four long years before the record was finally corrected- but it was, and in the end I emerged triumphant. This ordeal made me stronger, wiser, and more humble and faithful- and I discovered that in Mississippi, unlike Washington, people who know you best would give you the benefit of the doubt. My respect and admiration for the hospitable nature and charitable spirit of Mississippians is something for which I will be forever grateful.
As a state, often we are defamed, dismissed and disregarded. Many of these criticisms are cynical, petty, and unfounded. But some criticisms ring true. Where we can do better, I will offer mature leadership- but where hostility is without merit, I will vigorously defend the communities and the causes of our state.
Lastly, mine will be an independent voice in Washington. As is known, on occasion I have crossed party lines to vote for the candidate who in my estimation would do the best job for Mississippi. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, I cast such an independent vote. My view then remains my view now- whatever is best for Mississippi is where I will be.
If elected to this important position, I will work everyday to be a shining example of the positive qualities of our state- and I will work to unify this state like no one before me ever has. I am asking for your votes, your prayers and your confidence as we work to push Mississippi forward- and to rise above the fray.
We can do better. We have to do better. There is no more time for disunity and dysfunction. We simply have too much work to do.