The University of Southern Mississippi’s Speech and Debate team plans to host a congressional debate in the Thad Cochran Center Ballroom 1 on Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m. On stage, Mississippi Congressional candidates Mark Gladney and Ric McCluskey will debate for the United States house of representatives district four seat.
Incumbent for District Four U.S. House of Representatives Steven Palazzo’s name was removed from the press release published by Southern Miss now.
Assistant Professor and Director of Forensics Paul Strait the press release was temporarily removed so that it could be edited for minor errors.
“[The press release] listed the university, rather than the Speech & Debate Society, as the host of the event, and second, it listed Seth Fendley as a master’s student rather than a PhD student,” Strait said. “As far as I know, a revised press release is available now.”
Strait said Palazzo’s campaign manager would have to be contacted for information about why he is not participating.
“They didn’t give a reason except to say that he would not be available for either debate event – there are two events, one at the Hattiesburg campus on Wednesday, and a second on the Gulf Park campus on Thursday,” Strait said.
Gladney said Palazzo used his influence to get the press release removed, but he is more upset with his alma mater for giving in.
“I’m really more upset that the administration at USM would allow that to happen,” Gladney said. “That doesn’t say much for our educational institutions, especially when we’re supposed to be one of debate and intellectual prowess.”
Gladney said Palazzo’s refusal to be in the debate is part of the problem with his accessibility to the voters.
“Steven Palazzo is a dodger,” Gladney said. “I said this in a couple of news conferences. I [told] him that he dodges all the constituents, he dodges any hard questions, he dodges hard decisions and he dodges any chance that he might actually be responsible to the voters.”
Gladney said he and McCluskey will proceed with the debate.
McCluskey said he knew Palazzo would not debate and that Palazzo did not want to appear incompetent.
“What has happened, and this is seen a lot in two-party politics system he seeks in the insulation of the incumbency,” McCluskey said. “We knew that Steven was not going to debate. It was not because he was afraid of Gladney – in the state of Mississippi it’s easier to defend an attack from the left. What’s harder to defend is an attack from the right, he doesn’t want to get on stage and seem incompetent. I’m going to hit him in the proverbial mouth.”
McCluskey said he did not expect Palazzo would try to sabotage the debate.
“I did not know that he would call the University of Southern Mississippi to take down the press release,” McCluskey said. “There was no reason for him to take down the press release.”
Palazzo and his office could not be reached for comment at time of publication.
McCluskey said Palazzo will show up to donor meetings, but he will not respond to a message.
“What really upsets me because the Speech and Debate team put a lot of time and effort to set this event up,” McCluskey said. “They rely on things like this to raise money to be able to show ‘the involvement’ they have and say hey we actually put on a congressional debate. You have a three-term incumbent trying to suppress the attendance and the marketing of that debate simply because he lacks the intestinal fortitude to show up and stand on his own merit. It’s the act of a coward.”
McCluskey said he did not foresee or predict that Palazzo would pull favors from the university to try to suppress the debate.
“You have students trying to put on an event for the community,” McCluskey said. “And the voters are trying to partake in the democratic process and your sitting congressman refuses to take part in that process with them. I would love for congressman Palazzo to meet me face to face and explain this. He’s a marine just like myself. We were always taught “First to Fight,” and I will stand up and fight. I wish he would remember that.”
The story will be updated as more information emerges.