Hosemann and Hughes seek most powerful office in Mississippi – lieutenant governor

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Supporters  of lieutenant governor candidates Delbert Hosemann and Jay Hughes hold signs during the Neshoba County Fair Wednesday, July 31, 2019.

Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Democratic state Rep. Jay Hughes are running on similar issues as they seek to become the next lieutenant governor, what many consider the most powerful position in Mississippi state government.

Both Hosemann and Hughes have said they want to work across party lines to expand Medicaid, give public school teachers large pay increases, address the state’s road and bridge crisis and increase legislative transparency.

“We still were able to work together without people talking about each other,” Hosemann said of the previous political era when Democrats controlled government. “We’d talk to each other. We were able to go back through the process of having conversations about a common goal… You’ll see us working with everyone to get things done on education, health care, infrastructure and all the things Mississippi needs to address. We’ll solve those issues.”

Delbert Hosemann (left) and Jay Hughes

Hughes commonly uses the line “people over party” on the campaign trail.

“I want to join people together,” Hughes said in a Sept. 5 debate. “I believe in compromise, humility and respect, not my way or the highway. When I was down there in Jackson, I realized that’s not how it’s running. So I want to do that. I want to work on policies instead of working on the best headline for the next day.”

Hosemann, 72, says his first legislative priority will be funding public school teacher pay raises. He has also discussed the desire to fully fund pre-kindergarten initiatives – an idea of current Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Gov. Phil Bryant that escaped completion during their terms.

Hughes, 56, has crisscrossed the state for three years focusing his campaign efforts on public school educators. His campaign slogan, “It All Starts With Education,” is plastered on his campaign RV and his campaign materials. He has long pushed for higher public school teacher salaries.

Hosemann told Mississippi Today he met with one of the architects of the Arkansas Medicaid expansion plan. In 2013, Arkansas drafted a plan to use federal Medicaid dollars to help uninsured people buy private health insurance; later, Arkansas added work requirements and cost sharing for certain Medicaid beneficiaries.

Hughes also wants to expand Medicaid in the state by accepting additional federal funds to provide health coverage for primarily the working poor.

Hosemann and Hughes also support some version of a gas tax increase. Hosemann has pitched a plan that would let the state’s 82 counties decide for themselves whether or not to increase the gas tax in those counties. Hughes has said the state gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon should be increased, but that he would aim to offset that increase with income tax cuts.

And both candidates support some increase of transparency at the Capitol. Hosemann proposed live-streaming committee meetings instead of the deliberations on the floors of the Senate and House. Hughes has pointed out that he’s filed more than a dozen bills the past four years to increase transparency at the Capitol, including live streaming committee meetings and making lawmakers’ phone calls and emails subject to the Open Records Act.

Both candidates’ policy ideas and rhetoric about working across party lines have been seen by some as a shot at Reeves, the outgoing lieutenant governor who is the Republican nominee for governor. Reeves’ heavy-handed leadership style during his eight years as lieutenant governor regularly generated legislative battles, including within his own Republican party.

Hosemann, who has not endorsed Reeves in the governor’s race, has downplayed the notion of supporting policies that might not have support from the Governor’s Mansion should Reeves win on Nov. 5. Hughes has also butted heads with Reeves the past four years, particularly over education policy that Hughes championed.

The lieutenant governor’s office is widely considered the most powerful in state government. The position’s broad definition in the state Constitution gives it legitimate power in both the executive and legislative branches of government.

The lieutenant governor is second in the line of succession for the governorship, and the lieutenant governor serves as acting governor whenever the governor is out of state.

Because the state Constitution doesn’t spell out limits of the lieutenant governor’s office, Senate rules dictate the office’s powers. Those rules make the lieutenant governor president of the Senate, granting its office the power to assign committees and committee chairs. With control of the committee assignments, the lieutenant governor routinely has the power to push or kill any piece of legislation he wants.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Sullivan, dissenting from a monumental 1987 ruling that affirmed the constitutionality of the office’s broad powers, wrote that the lieutenant governor is  “a powerful legislative creature, a super-senator, vested with sufficient legislative authority to virtually dominate the entire Senate.”

“All men must tread softly in the presence of such power,” Sullivan wrote. “Mississippians would also be well advised to determine from their candidates for the office of state senator, if those candidates would serve the electorate or the lieutenant governor. (The 1987 Supreme Court) decision implies that a senator may be unable to function effectively unless he chooses to serve the latter.”

For information on all candidates running for statewide office, view our #MSElex Voter Guide.