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Hemmins making Senate run

When Cristen Hemmins gets fired up about something, she puts her passion to action.

The 44-year-old Oxford mom and small business owner is making a run for the Senate District 9 seat on the Democratic ticket and wants to make a difference with several things: education, equal pay, living wages and women in office in Jackson.

Between having three children and having watched her mom teach kindergarten for 40 years, Hemmins developed a strong desire for education funding to be improved in Mississippi.

“I’m just very aware of the deficits our schools are passed along,” she said. “Here in Oxford we have the tax base to fill the gaps in funding, but if you go across the district to North Panola, for example, the inequities in funding are just glaringly obvious and I find it morally wrong that it depends on what your ZIP code is as to whether you’ll get a quality education or not, and that is the reason I’m running.”

She found her inspiration to run while watching the battle in Jackson on Initiative 42, the current initiative that will be on the ballot to amend the constitution of the state that makes lawmakers fully fund education through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which is the data-driven system that determines how much money school systems get.

“I fully support 42 for better schools. We’ve given our legislators 18 years to show that they support our schools and they’ve only adequately funded twice and I think that’s shameful,” Hemmins said. “42 for better schools seems to me to be the best way to make sure our kids get adequate funding in their schools. Our legislators have clearly shown they are not willing to follow their own law and when somebody breaks the law they get taken to court and this gives us, the citizens of Mississippi, a way of making them follow their law.

“The day I decided to run was the day I saw our current senator, Gray Tollison, on the Senate floor, leading, arguing, spearheading the effort to kill 42 and leaving the effort for 42 hanging. I just couldn’t bear to see him run unopposed.”

Hemmins said the lawmakers’ alternative to 42, 42A, is a decoy and said it is important for voters to selected candidates who are pro-education.

Three other platforms for Hemmins also revolve around equity, including equal pay for equal work for women.

“I think it’s wrong that a woman doing the same job gets 73 cents on a dollar that a man would, so that’s an issue for me,” she said. “Also just getting more women in office. I think Mississippians would be well-served to have more women representing us in Jackson. A third platform that is really important to me is a living wage. There are too many Mississipians that work multiple jobs and still can’t afford quality health care or decent housing, and it just seems wrong to me that hard-working Mississippians still live in severe poverty.”

Hemmins is no stranger to politics. While she has not held a seat in Jackson before, she helped lead the “No on 26” campaign against the Personhood Initiative in 2011, advocated for evidence-based sex education in 2012 and is the chairwoman of the Lafayette County Democratic Party and serves on the state executive committee.

“When I was in college I was a victim of a violent crime, a survivor of a violent crime, where I was abducted, raped and shot twice as I escaped,” she said.

“Surviving that just made advocating for what’s right in the world really important to me. It made me realize how much other people meant to me. Just made me realize how important a community is and how everyone is attached to one another.”

Hemmins stressed that she is not a career politician, that her campaign donations have been from individuals and that she is “beholden to the people who are trying to get me elected, and that the people of District 12 can use a representative that they can count on and they know where I stand on issues and I’m not going to flip-flop.”

She said while campaigning throughout Lafayette County the majority of the conversation has been on education, with a few people talking about the state flag. She said people are not happy about the state being last on national charts.

“Being the worst state for childhood poverty and the worst for poverty overall, I think education funding is the key to fixing so many of our problems,” she said and would like to see the elimination of charter schools and see a state-mandated pre-kindergarten enacted to combat some of the state’s woes.

“Our schools are the economic engines of our community and when you have a healthy, vibrant school, you have a healthy, vibrant community, and that’s why Oxford is the way it is — that’s what draws so many people to Oxford, Hemmins said. “The communities where you see the schools become segregated, unfunded and the tax base can’t fill the gaps, the communities suffer and you don’t have as much business, real estate.”

She said a lot of people aren’t aware of how bad the education and poverty situation is in the rest of the state and how badly 42 is needed. She said, too, 42 “is not changing the law, it is just giving us teeth to enforce the law.”

By law Mississippi’s constitution only guarantees a free education. Hemmins said that is not up to par with other states that mandate an “efficient, effective or quality” school system, and that’s another thing 42 tries to improve.

“When I moved here 22 years ago I just quickly realized this was where I wanted to come home and I intended to stay here indefinitely,” she said, and do that she is going to defend public schools and encourage people to get out and vote, because “their vote means something because races like this can be decided by so few votes.”