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With Mississippi’s Republican Party’s State House supermajority hanging in the balance, we consider the District 102 race to be of particular significance. That’s why we’re endorsing Kathryn Rehner – a Democrat – for the race to replace newly elected Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker.

1. She believes in a ‘People First’ approach

“People ask me what that means when I say that I want to put people first,” Kathryn Rehenr said at the District 102 debate in August. “And for me, it means that I believe each person has value and deserves access to the resources and opportunities that would make them successful. Whether you are black or white, whether you are rich or poor, people deserve access to things like affordable healthcare, to quality public education, and to economic opportunities. And those things are what help shape and grow a healthy community.”

2. She’s reduced the uninsured rate in Mississippi communities

As the program coordinator for the city of Hattiesburg’s E3 Health Initiative, Kathryn Rehner helped reduce the number of uninsured children and families in Hattiesburg and brought in $2.5 million in health access funding. In the Lillie Burney, Rowan, and Hawkins school districts, the uninsured rate fell by 12 percent.

Though the uninsured rate in Mississippi has dropped thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Mississippi remains the 6th least insured state in the country at 12.7 percent as of 2015, while the national uninsured rate sits at an all-time low of 8.6%. To catch up, Mississippi needs legislators like Kathryn.

Census Bureau data on the uninsured rate by state (2015)

3. She’s already fighting for the rest of the state, too

Kathryn Rehner is currently the Project Director for the Mississippi Health Access Collaborative (MHAC), which operates out of the University of Southern Mississippi School of Social Work. MHAC seeks to help residents of Mississippi’s lower 24 counties obtain access to health coverage.

4. She will fight for public education

As lawmakers take the knife to funding for public education funding – from kindergarten to university – Kathryn is arguing for fully funding it.

“The reality is that we don’t prioritize education in Mississippi,” Kathryn said at the District 102 debate in August. Not only should we fully fund education, she said, but we should have mandatory, fully funded pre-K so that all children will have “the same opportunity for success.”

“We have the money to fully fund public education,” she said. “We have the money to fund public education from pre-K to college . . . Right now, we are spending this money – we’re giving this money away to foreign corporations. And that’s money that could be spent on public education. That could be spent to increase teacher salaries. That could be spent to address the fact that teachers have to buy school supplies.

5. She’s worked with returning soldiers and vets

While working on her master’s thesis in Social Work, she spent time at Walter Reed National Military Center in the patient psych unit. There, she gained firsthand knowledge of the needs and concerns of returning veterans and active duty military members and their families. “Veterans’ issues” are more than just a campaign slogan for her.

6. She’s leading in the fight against the opioid epidemic

For the past year, Kathryn has been involved in a project called ReNewMS. The project, a collaboration among local and state agencies as well as numerous organizations, helps pregnant women with substance abuse disorders find treatment and care.

The door knocking team. Photo via the official Kathryn Rehner for District 102 Facebook page.

7. She champions diversity and supports equal rights for all

Kathryn’s Facebook profile history reveals a lot about her positions. On June 26 – the day the United States Supreme Court legalized marriage equality – she changed her profile picture to one that reads “Y’all Means ALL” to show support for the advancement of LGBT rights.

She also coordinates the El Grito Latin Festival in Hattiesburg, a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month in Hattiesburg.

8. She’ll be a voice for mental health in Mississippi

In a state whose leaders year-after-year cut millions from its mental health care budget in order to pay for tax cuts for corporations, we need voices who will speak out for healthcare access for the mentally ill. As a social worker, Kathryn understands not only the importance of healthcare access, but the particular necessity of providing treatment options for the mentally ill. We desperately need legislators with a social worker’s understanding of these issues.

9. She’ll end the Republican supermajority

Whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or an independent, it’s never good for one political party to have such outsize power over a legislative body as the Republican Party does in the Mississippi House. With its supermajority, Republicans in the House can do just about anything they want when it comes to taxes and funding without any input from the opposing party. If Kathryn is elected to replace a former Republican legislator, she would break the Republicans’ stranglehold on state government. They’d still have a majority, but they’d have more incentive to work with Democrats than in the past.

10. She’s a Persister

After Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced during the debate over the confirmation hearings of controversial Senator Jeff Sessions to lead the Justice Department, Kathryn made a statement on Facebook by uploading a profile picture with the slogan, “Nevertheless, She Persisted.”

The slogan became a feminist rallying cry after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell explained his silencing of Warren by claiming she violated the rules when she criticized a sitting senator (the nominee, Jeff Sessions).

“Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” McConnell said. “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

Mississippi needs women in Jackson who will persist in the face of the good old boy system. Kathryn Rehner would be such a legislator.

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