Mississippi GOP Primary Runoff Pits Scalise-Endorsed Incumbent Against Local Sheriff

By Nathan Worcester
Nathan Worcester
Nathan Worcester
Nathan Worcester is an environmental reporter at The Epoch Times. He can be reached at nathan.worcester@epochtimes.us. Follow Nathan on Twitter @nnworcester
June 22, 2022 Updated: June 22, 2022

The Republican contest over Mississippi’s fourth district is heating up, with incumbent Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) hoping to improve on his performance in the June 7 primary against Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell in a June 28 runoff election.

That election will come days after a pivotal debate between the two scheduled for June 24 at 7 PM CST.

First elected in 2011, Palazzo’s 31.6 percent of the vote in the June 7 primary was above Ezell’s 25.1 percent.

All the other GOP candidates in that primary subsequently endorsed Ezell, as reported by Mississippi Today and other outlets.

In a June 21 interview with The Epoch Times, Ezell argued that Palazzo’s inaccessibility to locals helps account for that broad support for a change in leadership—Palazzo’s opponents have taken to calling him “no-show Palazzo.”

Voters, he said, “want to know that if they call, that you’re going to be accessible—that you will be responsible to their needs and try to help them with their problems.”

He said that out on the campaign trail, people tell him that Palazzo won’t return their calls.

Yet in his own June 21 interview with The Epoch Times, Palazzo counter-argued that attacks on his availability show Ezell “doesn’t understand how Congress works.”

“South Mississippi hired me to go up there and fight the woke Biden agenda, and that requires me to be in DC two to three weeks out of the month,” he said, adding that he had “a limited amount of time” to cover all of the districts when he is in Mississippi.

He maintains that Ezell’s victory in the June 7 primary can be chalked up to low voter turnout.

Ezell, who won the Jackson County Sheriff post in a 2014 special election following the resignation of scandal-plagued incumbent Mike Byrd, is running on his four-decade-plus record in law enforcement.

He said he wants to help push legislation or act in other ways through Congress, including the power of the purse, to protect police officers throughout the United States.

“Some of these DAs [district attorneys] around the country are just going soft on crime,” he said, adding that he hopes to serve on the House’s Homeland Security Committee.

Endorsed by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Palazzo thinks his service on the influential Appropriations Committee and its subcommittee for homeland security help illustrate why South Mississippians should vote for him again.

In an interview on WDAM, Palazzo said he expects he could chair that subcommittee if Republicans gain control over the House of Representatives in November.

He told The Epoch Times that Ezell “isn’t going to be on any of the committees that are influential in helping South Mississippi families.”

Palazzo is running on what he says is a strong record of delivering results, including $1.4 billion in 2019 for President Trump’s border wall he helped obtain while on the appropriations subcommittee for homeland security.

In terms of more local results, he cited money he secured for Ingalls Shipbuilding, a large employer in Pascagoula responsible for roughly 70 percent of the United States’ current Navy surface warship fleet.

He also claims to have helped many Mississippi veterans by assisting them in securing benefits and obtaining Purple Hearts.

Ezell has a different perspective.

“The leaders of this state and this country are not going to let [Ingalls] shipyard go away,” he said, arguing that funding would continue regardless of who represents the district in Congress.

He said local military veterans have told him Palazzo is not easily accessible.

Ezell said he thinks an investigation of Palazzo that started in the Office of Congressional Ethics would prevent him from serving in any leadership roles during the upcoming Congress.

“That’s a cloud that’s been hanging over his head for over a year,” he said.

report from the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) found there was “substantial reason to believe” Palazzo illegally spent campaign money on his private riverfront property.

It also alleged that he used his clout to help his brother, Kyle Palazzo, reenlist in the military with an upgraded enlistment code.

The House Committee on Ethics reportedly has not created a subcommittee to investigate the accusations further, leading the attorney representing the group that first filed a complaint against Palazzo to believe the charges may “just sort of evaporate,” as reported by Mississippi Today.

Such investigations can take multiple Congresses to complete. For example, the House Committee on Ethics only closed an investigation into Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ (R-Wash.) recordkeeping and mixing of unrelated funds in 2019, after it began with a 2013 OCE report. (She was reproved through the committee’s 2019 report and asked to refund $7,575.95.)

Echoing his comments in that article, Palazzo told The Epoch Times he would be glad to have the allegations resolved by that committee.

“It’s a simply a false political attack by my opponents,” he said.

As for a leadership role: “I’m already in the leadership—I serve on the Republican Whip team, [and] I was nominated by the Speaker to serve on the Board of Visitors from the Naval Academy.”

While Palazzo received Trump’s endorsement in 2020, neither he nor Ezell have secured his endorsement this cycle.

The House Committee on Ethics did not comment.

Nathan Worcester is an environmental reporter at The Epoch Times. He can be reached at nathan.worcester@epochtimes.us. Follow Nathan on Twitter @nnworcester