Civil rights leader: Senate runoff about policy, not politics

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for AmericaRev. William Barber II speaks during a Poor People’s Campaign event at Greater Mt. Calvary Baptist Church Wednesday, October 24 in Jackson.
An ill-fated quip about sitting on the “first row” at a “public hanging” from one of Mississippi’s sitting U.S. senators was “ugly,” national civil rights figure Rev. William Barber II said Wednesday.
But not as ugly as policies that hinder people from voting, ensure that hundreds of thousands of Mississippians lack access to health care, or support a growing wage gap between the rich and poor, he stressed.
“The comments bother me but what bothers me more is the policy,” Barber said during a press conference at Christ Tabernacle Church as part of the Poor People Campaign’s “National Call for Moral Revival.”
“People will make stupid comments, racist comments. And that is bothersome, but we have to even go deeper, and the deeper thing is, ‘What are they going to do on policy?’ Because real racism is not what you say, it’s what you do.”
More than half a million people in Mississippi — the state with the highest African American population in the country — live in poverty. More than 350,000 do not have health insurance. Mississippi’s leaders chose not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to provide insurance to 130,000 poor residents.
The state’s minimum wage reflects the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour; it is a right-to-work state with minimal worker protections. And in nearly half of its counties, there are more unemployed people than jobs.
Appointed U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., right, and Democrat Mike Espy shake hands following their televised Mississippi U.S. Senate debate in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. 
Viewers of the Tuesday Mississippi U.S. Senate runoff debate between Republican incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democratic candidate Mike Espy heard