PHILADELPHIA — In a year lacking the drama of statewide elections, speeches Wednesday at the Neshoba County Fair mostly served as a recap of the legislative session — with one notable exception.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves struck a decidedly political tone in attacking state Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, as well as President Obama, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Supreme Court and what he called the liberal media.
“The liberal media isn’t very pleased with our pro-Mississippi, pro-family agenda,” said Reeves, referring to the religious-freedom bill (HB 1523) that is now under appeal after being blocked by a U.S. District judge.
Reeves took a swipe at that judge, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves (no relation to the lieutenant governor), calling him an “Obama appointee” who in a previous ruling wouldn’t let Brandon High School play the Christian song “How Great Thou Art” during football halftime performances.
Of Hood, perhaps previewing a future head-to-head statewide race, Reeves said: “He’s even equated Mississippians with fools. Sounds to me like he’s auditioning to be Hillary Clinton’s next (attorney general).”
Reeves wrapped up the political speeches Wednesday morning, speaking just after Hood. Just seconds after Hood walked off the stage, Reeves began blasting the attorney general.
“I’m glad to be in Philadelphia, Mississippi, for the second day in a row,” Reeves said. “The previous speaker was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, yesterday, supporting Hillary Clinton.”
Before Reeves served up that red meat to the mostly conservative audience here, many other speakers also touched on the religious-objections bill, which allows government officials and business to cite religion in refusing marriage-related services to individuals.
The speakers also addressed the passage of a $415 million tax-cut, the failure of a proposal to inject additional funding into state road and highway improvements, and legislation that moved so-called special funds from individual state agencies to the state’s general fund.
“Different agencies came to my office and said, what does this mean. It swept trust funds and special funds,” Hood said in his speech. “About $79 millon couldn’t go toward filling a budget hole. Then we heard about the $56 million error they made when creating the budget. So that means we have about a $130 million budget hole. The bill is creating a lot of issues. If you don’t believe me, ask Mike Chaney, Lynn Fitch, Delbert Hosemann.”
Hood spoke before Reeves and did not mention the lieutenant governor by name in his remarks. All the speakers were limited to 10 minutes.
Dick Hall, chairman of the Mississippi Transportation Commission, gave what at times felt like a corporate earnings call in explaining the need for a highway bill.
Hall argued that the 18-cent gas tax, established three decades ago and which still provides a bulk of funding for roads projects, should be increased because costs have increased some 488 percent over the intervening years.
“It is time to repair what we have. And it is time to build what we need,” Hall told the audience.
Rep. Michael Evans, D-Preston, struck a similar chord, saying that he was embarrassed that the Legislature neglected working Mississippians. Evans criticized the the tax cuts, the lion’s share of which he said would go to banks and multinational corporations.
“That is slam greedy and slam embarrassing that we gave Walmart all these tax cuts,” Evans said. “We got to start doing what’s right for the working people of Mississippi.”