After a 30-year career in public service with the Hattiesburg Public School District Board of Trustees, the Forrest County Board of Supervisors and mayor of the City of Hattiesburg, Johnny DuPree is looking to continue his political career with a run in the upcoming election for Mississippi’s 4th Congressional District.
DuPree, a Democrat, recently qualified for the election, which is scheduled for Nov. 8, 2022. The seat is currently held by longtime incumbent Steven Palazzo and includes Forrest, George, Greene, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Jones, Lamar, Marion, Pearl River, Perry, Stone, and Wayne counties, along with a portion of Clarke County.
“I’ve always been motivated to not only try to move Hattiesburg forward, but Mississippi forward as well,” DuPree said. “I just think that there’s no diversity of thought from the representation that we have.
“We continually, on all levels that a state is judged by, we’re on the bottom of the totem pole, and we’ve got to have some change of thought to (fix) that. The things that Mississippi is needful of seem to be all rooted against from our representative. We’ve got to change some of that if we’re ever going to climb out of the bottom.”
So far, seven other candidates have qualified for the seat: Democrat David Sellers; Republicans Carl Boyanton, Raymond Brooks, Mike Ezell and Clay Wagner; Libertarian Alden Johnson; and Independent Graham Hudson.
“Health care, jobs, child care, minimum wage, education – (our current representative) votes against it, then they come home and talk about what they brought to us,” DuPree said. “You can look at our economy, our health care, our education, poverty, and we’re at the bottom of all those categories. That means we’re doing something different from all the other states.
“It’s not like if we vote against something, the other states are not going to get it; they’re going to get it. But we don’t get it, and we continue to vote the same way; there’s got to be some diversity of thought, and this is not Republican or Democrat. This is for Mississippi.”
To address those issues, DuPree said if elected, he would champion healthcare, education and first responders, among other measures.
“That’s not only fire and police, but our doctors and nurses,” he said. “Our teachers need to be paid as professionals, and we need to be recruiting jobs to Mississippi.
“But we can’t do that until we can address the poverty in Mississippi – the poverty, the education, and the healthcare. People are not going to come like we would like for them to come, and relocate to Mississippi, when we have this aura around us that everything is bad. We’ve got to change that.”
DuPree was appointed to the school board in 1987 ; he served in that role until 1991. In that same year, he was elected to the Forrest County Board of Supervisors.
DuPree served on that board until he was elected as the first Black mayor of Hattiesburg in 2001. He kept that position for four terms until 2017, when he won the Democratic nomination for mayor, but lost in the general election to current Mayor Toby Barker.
DuPree also had unsuccessful bids for governor and secretary of state.
“Boots on the ground – that’s what you have here,” DuPree said. “I bet you, three out of four days, I get a call from somebody who needs something, whether it’s help with their veteran benefits, their housing needs, or payments with their house because they’re about to be evicted, or education and how they can get in school. You name it; it’s as if I’m still in office, but I’m not the one who should be doing constituency relationships and services, because that should be somebody else.
“Being a mayor and supervisor and school board, you’re talking about local government and meeting the needs of people you can’t hide from. You can’t go to Washington and get away from it – it’s here on Main Street where I live.”
Palazzo has served as the representative for the 4th Congressional District since 2011, after defeating 10-term incumbent Gene Taylor to win the seat. He represented District 16 in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 2006 to 2011.