While most of the nation is focused on who will get the Democratic presidential nomination, the people of South Mississippi have their eyes glued to what is turning into an ugly race for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Incumbent Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) has a reputation for being absent. Local papers have repeatedly pointed out Palazzo refuses to hold town hall meetings or meet with constituents publicly, earning him the nickname of “No Show Palazzo.”
The Congressman doesn’t debate, either. He has turned down every request for a debate since being elected in 2010. In fact, he rarely acknowledges the existence of Republican Primary Election opponents. Biloxi’s Sun Herald Newspaper reported in 2018 Palazzo refused to acknowledge the Primary even existed, telling voters his next election was in November, when it was really in just a few weeks.
But this year is different. No, he is not debating any of the three Republican challengers, but he is acknowledging and attacking one of them in Facebook ads and mailers. A recent ad depicted Robert Deming III, a Biloxi City Councilman, on a wanted poster with several accusations of Deming having been arrested, delinquent in debt, and behind in child support.
Deming isn’t having it. “It’s a sad day for America when a sitting U.S. Congressman spreads pure slander just to keep his taxpayer paycheck and retirement plan in place,” Deming fired back in a recent press release. “Steven Palazzo can’t defend his voting record, so instead he has to resort to political lies in hopes that he can keep his job.”
Deming went on to explain he was in fact arrested at the age of 22 for having a suspended license for an unpaid ticket, something he says is “not even a crime in Mississippi anymore.” Deming says the attack ad is hypocritical, because Palazzo was once arrested for driving under the influence. “If the Congressman thinks what happened to me 20 years ago when I was about the same age as him when he was arrested for putting people’s lives in danger by Driving Under the Influence (DUI) at twice the legal limit, then let’s compare both incidents,” he wrote.
Deming says the rest of Palazzo’s ad is pure fiction. “What really makes me mad is that Palazzo is such a liar in stooping to claim that I don’t take care of my kids or that I am somehow financially delinquent,” Deming said. “These lies are pure slander. I don’t owe a penny in child support, and I’m not delinquent with one penny to anyone. These last minute political hit jobs are pure lies and show that Palazzo is nothing more than an unscrupulous Washington DC Swamp Creature. When President Trump talked about Draining the Swamp, he was talking about Steven Palazzo.”
Last month, another challenger accused Palazzo of violating Federal Election Commission rules. Carl Boyanton said the Congressman used campaign donations to pay the mortgage of a Perkinson, MS farm owned by Green Acres, LLC, a limited liability company owned solely owned by Palazzo. “That’s just him utilizing his campaign finance money for personal gain,” Boyanton said. “It’s Mississippi’s own swamp creature that we keep sending back to Congress. We keep electing the same guy that’s just enriching himself.”
Boyanton also points out Palazzo is renting an office owned by his attorney for $6,000 a month. He says Palzzo’s other district only cost $345 and $800. Boyanton described the discrepancy as a possible “kick back scheme.”
Palazzo is no stranger to controversy. Prior to the 2016 general election, Libertarian challenger Ric McCluskey accused Palazzo of not being truthful about his service in the National Guard, claiming Palazzo failed to show up for mandatory drills. Mississippi State Representative David Baria, a Democrat, sent a letter to the National Guard inquiring them to looking into Palazzo’s hours of service. Baria said the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was investigating the claims.
Palazzo denied the claims, stating, “This is a ridiculous accusation and a desperate attempt to smear a soldier’s service solely for political gain.”
In 2017, Republican challenger E. Brian Rose presented documents he said raised questions about Palazzo’s military service record. Rose claimed the documents revealed Palazzo fraudulently sought discharge from the National Guard, based on false claims of financial, family, and community hardships. ABC affiliate WLOX verified Rose’s documents, stating, “WLOX has verified through an independent source that the documents are authentic.” Palazzo acknowledged the documents by saying, “Not once have I ever denied that I requested this waiver more than a decade ago”, but went on to call the revelation a “disgusting” attack on his family and his character.
Rep Palazzo did not respond to our email for clarification in time for this publication.
The 2020 Mississippi Republican Primary Election will be held Tuesday March 10th. On the ballot for Mississippi’s Fourth Congressional District are Steven Palazzo, Robert Deming III, Carl Boyanton, and Samuel Hickman.