Reeves says he’s looking for talented people: ‘We have started the process of building our team’

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Tate Reeves and his wife Elee Reeves walk into Liberty Baptist Church in Flowood to vote during Election Day.

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, holding his first news conference since his Nov. 5 victory in his campaign for governor, said Monday he is looking for Mississippians “with a heart for service” to work in his new administration.

“We need talented people from all backgrounds. We need driven people with all levels of experience…We have started the process of building our team,” said a conciliatory Reeves during an about 20-minute news conference in the press briefing room in the governor’s offices in the Sillers office building. The press briefing room has not been used often during the administration of outgoing Gov. Phil Bryant but was used routinely during the eight-year tenure of Bryant’s predecessor Haley Barbour.

Reeves, who currently is transitioning in offices in another Jackson state office building, Woolfolk, said he planned to be accessible to the press as governor. His inauguration is slated for Jan.14.

Reeves garnered 52 percent of the vote to defeat Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood Nov. 5 in the state’s first competitive governor’s election since 2003. At Monday’s news conference, Reeves announced a web site for people interested in applying for a post in his administration: https://www.dfa.ms.gov/reevestransition/.

There will be vacancies not only in the governor’s office but also in state agencies controlled by the governor, such as Medicaid, the Department of Human Services, Public Safety and others.

“You are talking about hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of individuals,” Reeves said. “But the reality is we are not going to see the kinds of turnout where you can assume there will be 1,000 positions we are going to fill.”

He said the vast number of employees currently in those positions are “capable and competent and do their job well and we are going to try to keep those who fit those criteria.”

The only appointee Reeves has named thus far is Brad White, who was serving as chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and before then to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, to head up his transition. When asked, Reeves admitted there is a strong possibility White would serve in the governor’s office perhaps as chief of staff.

Reeves said he remains committed to the four-year plan he proposed during his campaign to increase teacher pay by $4,300 and hopes to pass that legislation during the 2020 session. As of proposals to provide a pay raise for other state employees, he said he is open to looking at that issue.

Of the three gubernatorial elections held this November, Kentucky and Louisiana in addition to Mississippi, Reeves was the only Republican to win.

President Donald Trump campaigned for all three Republican gubernatorial candidates. Reeves pointed out that Trump won both Kentucky and Louisiana in 2016 by larger margins than he won Mississippi. Vice President Mike Pence also campaigned for Reeves.

“I am especially thankful President Trump and Vice President Pence took an active role in our campaign and certainly…it was helpful to our campaign,” he said. “More importantly to that, I believe the relationship we built during the campaign with the president and his administration is going to help us govern when we go to Washington” to talk about issues related to Mississippi.

Reeves added, “As I said repeatedly over the last 12 months it was my intent to earn the vote and support of every single Mississippians. While we did not get to 100 percent, we were successful in an environment when other capable, competent Republicans were not.”