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PHILADELPHIA — The 2019 governor’s race was on most everyone’s mind at the Neshoba County Fair on Wednesday — even if the qualifying deadline is still 19 months away.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Attorney General Jim Hood – both seriously mulling bids for governor in 2019 – squared off in back-to-back speeches that capped the day’s political speechmaking.
Reeves, the powerful Republican leader of the Senate since 2012, slammed the attorney general’s politics and party when he spoke under the pavilion on Founder’s Square. It took Reeves one minute and 20 seconds to first mention Hood, and in the course of his 15-minute speech, he invoked Hood’s name six times.
“The more he talked, the more I’m convinced the heat has gotten to him,” said Reeves, who spoke immediately after Hood. “His vision is blurry, and he’s just not making any sense. Can somebody track General Hood down and keep him hydrated today? I began to worry about him and his friends in the media. Bless their bleeding little hearts.”
“Do you remember what government was like when Jim Hood’s crowd ran it?” Reeves continued. “Their government was hungry. It had an endless appetite for your hard-earned dollars. They only know how to feed the beast of government with more taxes to get more spending to create more government.”
“Your Republican leadership, however, has taken on the status quo, and we have the bullet holes to show for it. In fact, sometimes we’ve even gotten shot in the back,” Reeves said.
Hood, the state’s only statewide elected Democrat, has served as attorney general since 2004. In his remarks Hood strongly questioned the spending tactics of legislative leadership, though without specifically using the lieutenant governor’s name.
“All the cuts we’ve had in our state have created such a problem that the Legislature is not facing the issues we need to face,” Hood said. “We have examples of all those tax cuts to large, international corporations, giving away our state treasury when we need it most to protect those with mental health issues and others. There’s a pattern to that.”
“It’s happened in Kansas,” Hood continued. “It’s a complete failure. In Louisiana, Bobby Jindal left them with a $2 billion deficit trying the same things, giving all this money to big corporations.”
“The state of Mississippi’s borrowing has doubled,” Hood told the throng. “We owe $4.3 billion in bonds – it’s like we’re running on a credit card. It’s frustrating to see that.”
Both Reeves and Hood, in interviews with reporters after the speeches, talked about their potential gubernatorial bids.
Reeves, whose years-long trajectory makes him a presumed Republican party favorite among many Mississippi politicos, didn’t tip his hand either way when asked about a run.
Hood, who Democratic operatives are strongly nudging toward running, said more than he’s said before about a potential run – that he’s touring the state and fundraising – but he concluded the thought with, “We just haven’t made the decision yet.”
In his speech, Reeves touted the state’s graduation rate increasing by about 10 percentage points since 2012, and he touched on his leadership in continuing work to write a new public education funding formula.
He also spoke several different times about the 2016 tax cut he spearheaded – the largest in state history – that largely cuts taxes for corporations in the state with help also coming for the 3 percent personal income tax bracket and those who are self-employed.
“I’m proud we passed the largest tax cut in history,” Reeves said. “These tax cuts are likely to boost the state’s economic output in the long-term. More importantly, they acknowledge something Republicans have long recognized: The money you earn belongs to you, not the government. Cutting taxes gives you more power for your future.”
Hood in his speech highlighted the importance of focusing on opioid abuse in Mississippi, calling it worse than the crack or heroin epidemics. In the same breath, he mentioned the need for more mental health coverage and decried the lack of financial support for those initiatives from the Legislature.
Hood also detailed the need for a greater focus on Mississippi’s younger generations, citing recent census statistics that show Mississippi is losing millennials at a faster rate than any other state. He pitched a plan in which the state would pay community college tuition for any state resident who needed it, similar to a policy recently implemented in Tennessee.
“Focusing on our young people is our way out,” Hood said. “It ain’t going to be some big company to move in here to create these jobs. It’s going to our young people who are getting out of school, they’re thinking about technology.”
“If we capture those kids and don’t let them leave and give them the capital where they don’t have to go to Austin to startup a business and they don’t owe $70,000, that’s our saving grace,” he said.
Notable quotes from interviews with Reeves and Hood:
Reeves on taking direct shots at Hood in his speech:
“I just think it’s important for Mississippians to know there’s a huge difference between what Republicans believe in and what Democrats believe in. There’s a huge difference in a party that is led by President Donald Trump and a party that is led by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.”
“Mississippians that run for statewide office as Democrats try to make people forget that. They try not to talk about issues that matter to Mississippians. They want to talk about other things because they know they’re wrong on so many issues as it relates to Mississippians.”
“I just think it’s important that the people of our state recognize that and have an opportunity to hear what those differences are. A prime example: I believe that the fact we passed the largest tax cut in Mississippi history is a good thing.”
“Democrats believe we ought not enact those tax cuts. They believe that truck drivers, realtors and our pastors don’t deserve a tax break. I believe our people know better how to spend their money than the government ever will know how to spend their money.”
“There are very stark differences between what Republicans and Democrats believe, and I thought it was important to take this opportunity at the Fair and talk about that.”
Hood on what he thought about Reeves taking shots:
“I didn’t hear what he said. But you know, when I get up there to speak, I’m just stating the facts as I see them. I’m not up there criticizing any particular individual.”
“But the direction we’re going, it’s already happened in Kansas. This whole theory of giving these large, out-of-state tax cuts to corporations isn’t helping Mississippi’s main street businesses. And it’s failed in Kansas, it’s failed in Louisiana. There’s a record, there’s proof, there’s evidence. I’m just stating the facts.”
“It’s an honor to think somebody thinks you’re worthy as actually serving as governor. That office is something I’m really considering.
“Most (voters) are independents – they vote for who they like, they’re business people before they’re partisan, and they know that our state is not moving forward right now unless we make some changes. We are number 50 in our economic forecast because of the debt they run up on the credit card. They claim they didn’t raise taxes, but they’ve doubled our debt, we owe $4.3 billion.”
“It ends bad, and so many people see that. Now my wife Debbie’s got to deal with all of that. She’s a good Christian lady and worries about the least among us. She sees the poverty and what we need to do in our state. That’s two years down the road, and that’s a decision we’ll make.”