Palazzo, Taylor fireworks don’t materialize during candidates forum in Gautier

GAUTIER, Mississippi — Those who may have come to Thursday night’s Republican candidates forum at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College hoping for fireworks between incumbent Steven Palazzo and challenger Gene Taylor came away disappointed.

Palazzo, who has spurned Taylor’s challenges to debate, spoke first and left quickly, ostensibly for another engagement. Taylor, speaking last amongst the five candidates for U.S. Representative, noted Palazzo abrupt departure.

“I thank the (Jackson County) Republican Club for getting Mr. Palazzo here,” Taylor said, “because he won’t debate us. I’m sorry he’s already gone.”

Taylor, 60, spent 21 years in congress — all as a Democrat — before being unseated by Palazzo in 2010. When he announced his bid to take back the seat from Palazzo, he also announced a switch to the Republican party. The two will meet in the Republican primary on June 3.

Although the Palazzo-Taylor rematch gets most of the attention, there are three other candidates are in the race: Tom Carter, Ron Vincent and Tavish Kelly, all of whom were in attendance at Thursday forum, which was attended by about 60 people.

Taylor took Palazzo to task on multiple issues, including his vote against Hurricane Sandy relief.

“After what the rest of the country did for us after (Hurricane) Katrina,” he said, “when a bill went to the floor just to pay the flood claims of the victims of Sandy, he voted no.”

Although he did not mention his former life as a Democrat specifically, Taylor noted he has always championed conservative values, noting that his first speech on the floor of the House of Representatives in 1989, he urged his colleagues to work towards a country that “lives within its means, values human life — including the unborn — and supports its military.”

As noted, Palazzo spoke first. He never mentioned Taylor, nor any of his other challengers, but touted his accomplishments in Congress.

“I was elected four years ago to fight the liberal agenda of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barack Obama,” Palazzo said, adding that one of his top priorities is a repeal of Obamacare.

“I won’t quit until we get that done,” he said.

Palazzo said he introduced a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution two years ago which passed in the House, but was defeated in the Senate.

“I’m working hard for you and your families,” Palazzo said. “I went to Washington, D.C., to work. That’s why I’m on three committees — all of which are important to south Mississippi.”