Mississippi's two major party candidates for governor traded barbs and talked about the clear differences between them in their first debate of the campaign season. MPB's Desare Frazier reports.
An investigation by Mississippi Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood about his gubernatorial opponent Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves was the first question of the debate sponsored by WJTV. The investigation was based on reports by the Clarion Ledger that Reeves was trying to use taxpayer dollars to have a road built from his subdivision in Rankin County to a nearby shopping center. The project was shelved. Attorney General Jim Hood.
"The fact is the emails are there. The evidence is there. You can look on our website. You can see that what he did was abused his power to take advantage of a state agency. They had to have a special session because he killed their budget. I mean he went after that state agency to build a road to his gated community that would go to a shopping center," said Hood.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
"This was an abuse of power by the attorney general choosing to investigate his political opponent in the middle of a campaign. In fact, he released the report in what he believed to be the best time for him to help him in the campaign. Quite frankly his actions would probably make Hillary Clinton and James Comey blush," said Reeves.
On teacher pay-Reeves says he'll raise salaries over four years to reach the southeastern average which is nearly $51,000. Hood would raise salaries $3,000 over two years with annual increases to follow. Lt. Gov. Reeves
"What I have proposed and actually just proposed yesterday down in Gulfport with a large number of teachers standing behind me was an additional $4,300 increase that would get us to the southeastern average. I have a history of fiscal responsibility and I have told the people of Mississippi I'm not just going to make promises in a political campaign that I can't keep." said Reeves.
"From 2012 to today, they're making $900 less, not any $8,000 more. In fact, just in an election year he's decides that he's going to give them $500 and they oughta be happy with $500. Well, but for those in the legislature who are pro-education, they upped it to $1,500 but we need to do more. We need to get them to the southeastern average," said Hood.
Hood and Reeves are at opposite ends of the spectrum on expanding Medicaid. More than 300,000 Mississippians don't have health insurance. Hood says the expansion would save rural hospitals.
"Tate Reeves has turned down $5 billion that the federal government has offered us and that's to keep our rural hospitals open. Five have closed on his watch, five are in bankruptcy. You know we've got to fix the problems and the hospitals will provide the funding, the state's match. It won't cost us anything. It'll cover 300,000 working people. It will created 10,000 jobs," said Hood.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves outlines his plan.
"We stood with the state medical association and we have proposed having more physicians throughout the state. We've already spend $68 million on a new medical school. We believe we need more rural physician scholarship programs, we need more residency program in places not named Jackson, places like Hattiesburg, Mississippi and we also believe we need more telemedicine because we're a leader in that in our state," said Reeves.
On the issue of roads and bridges. Reeves says during the 2018 special session the legislature agreed to invest $1.2 billion more on infrastructure over time.
"Two-hundred-twenty-five million dollars a year is what was ultimately decided. We were able to do that without raising anybody's taxes. The first $250 million has already been allocated and we're going to fix 375 bridges across the state. They're already under contract. They're already being fixed throughout the state. We've got more work to do," said Reeves.
Hood says the state had the money until his opponent gave it away.
"This is a situation that has been created on his watch because he gave our money away. He gave away $7 billion in tax cuts and contracts and so many things. The legislature, they have been ready to vote for a road bill to maintain our highways for five years. He choked that off. I go over to the legislature. On the floor of the House or Senate, they'd come up to me a lot of them are Republicans, and they'd put their arm around my shoulder and go 'you know me and my family are for you but don't you tell it,'" said Hood.
Mississippi eight public universities don't fly the state flag with the confederate emblem. When asked if the flag should be changed this is what the candidates had to say. Jim Hood.
"You know a symbol should unite us and unfortunately right now our flag doesn't, about half of the people in our state don't like it and nobody's suggesting that they take people's flag away. It can be put in museums, on your truck, on your home. People can fly the flag but we need to have something that unites the people in our state," said Hood.
Lt. Gov. Reeves.
"I will tell you that the people of Mississippi voted in 2001 to keep the current flag. I am opposed to unilateral action by the legislature to change the flag. I am opposed to unilateral action by the governor to change the flag. If the flag needs to be changed and the people of Mississippi decide it needs to be changed the flag and at some point they might, then I think it oughta be changed by a vote of the people of Mississippi, not by the legislature and not by the governor," said Reeves.
Reeves says he supports the second amendment and wouldn't support a background check for all gun sales. Hood supports a background check on all purchases.