Jay Hughes and Delbert Hosemann

Both candidates for lieutenant governor – Democrat Jay Hughes and Republican Delbert Hosemann – said, if elected, they would not make it a priority to push through the Legislature a bill to change the state flag.

Both said the flag, which includes the controversial confederate battle emblem as part of its design, should be changed by a vote of the people, not by the Legislature.

By the same token at Thursday’s debate sponsored by WJTV in Jackson and carried live statewide, Hughes said the flag is a hindrance to economic development. Hosemann said he does not hear many concerns about the flag when talking to economic developers.

Hughes said the flag is like having “a tattoo on your neck,” something economic developers have to explain when trying to recruit industry to the state.

There was probably more areas where the candidates agreed on issues than where they disagreed. Both stressed the importance of pay raises for teachers.

“At the beginning of the year our teacher pay raise will start the (legislative) process” instead of the salary increase being passed at the end of the session, said Hosemann, a three term secretary of state. “…The amount depends on how much we have to spend, but there will be a significant raise every single year.”

Hughes, a freshman House member from Oxford, said, “The single greatest investment we can make is to public education.”

On the area of infrastructure, Hosemann proposed giving local counties the option to impose a motor fuel tax of between 2 cents and 6 cents to pay for road and bridge needs.

To address the issue, Hughes said the 7 percent tax collected on internet sales should be sent back to the county where the purchase originated. The U.S. Supreme Court has recently given the states the authority to collect the tax on internet sales. Hughes said the court ruling has been a boon for state revenue collections and should be returned to the local governments.

Hughes, attempting to highlight that he grew up in a poor family and has enjoyed economic success, said, “It’s life experiences. Not all of us were born with a silver spoon in our mouth. I was born with a plastic spoon in mine. It does not make Mr. Hosemann right or wrong. We just have different experiences. And that is what I want to bring.”

Hosemann shot back, “I think if he was born with plastic spoon in his mouth that was probably difficult for his mother…Everything we have done it is because we have worked hard. It is the same thing I have exhibited in the secretary of state’s office and will exhibit in the lieutenant governor’s office.”

Hosemann also proposed live streaming and archiving the major committee meetings of the Legislature to enhance transparency. Currently only the floor action of the two chambers is live streamed.

Hughes said he had proposed such actions for years and other measures to improve transparency.

Hosemann said he wanted to require all agencies with the exception of education, Child Protection Services and judiciary, to reduce their budgets by 1 percent and provide that money for a pay raise for state employees.

Hughes also said he supported a pay raise. He also said matter-of-factly he would support expanding Medicaid by accepting additional federal funds to provide health coverage for primarily the working poor. Hosemann was not as direct, but indicated he would work to expand access to health care and would “bring everybody to the table” to work on the issue.

“We have performed in our job. I think we will perform in the future,” Hosemann said.

While Hughes is a Democrat in what is expected to be a Republican majority Senate, he said could work across party lines.

“I am all about transparency,” he said.

After the debate, Hosemann was asked about working with Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, should he win the governor’s office this November, since Reeves has voiced strong opposition to a gasoline tax increase and to expanding Medicaid.

Hosemann said when he said he would work to bring everybody to the table that also included the governor whether it was Reeves or Democrat Jim Hood.

Hughes and Hosemann did disagree sharply on increasing the minimum wage. Hughes said he supported raising the $7.25 per hour minimum wage and that such an effort would help improve the state economically. Hosemann said it should be up to companies to decide whether to increase the minimum wage.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.