Gov. Tate Reeves is sworn into office during his inauguration ceremony inside the House chamber at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020.

On Tuesday, Gov. Tate Reeves delivered a brief, conciliatory inauguration speech where he promised to unify the state and to work to improve the beleaguered prisons and foster care system as he was sworn in as Mississippi’s 65th governor.

Reeves’ swearing-in ceremony, like outgoing Gov. Phil Bryant’s first inauguration in 2012, was moved from the south steps of the state Capitol to a crowded House chamber due to heavy rain. Weather affected the entire day, as it forced cancellation of the inaugural parade.

Much like his Republican forebears, Reeves used his 13-minute speech before legislators, state office holders, family and friends to state a commitment to growing the state’s economy, improving public education and adding more jobs to the workforce. He also said he would clean up the state’s embattled corrections system, which this month has been subject to outbreaks of violence, inmate deaths and last-minute contracts to transfer inmates to safer facilities.

Reeves also said he was committed to “elevating our public schools” with a pledge to increase the number of national board certified teachers, and a pay raise for every teacher.

Mississippi teachers receive a $6,000 salary supplement if they earn national board certification, and a handful of districts provide an additional $4,000 as an added incentive. Currently 4,336 teachers have earned this certification, according to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. In 2019, the state slipped two spots since 2018 with a ninth-place ranking in the number of certified teachers. On Tuesday, Reeves said it was his mission to move the state up to No. 1.

When it comes to teacher pay, Mississippi teachers are still some of the lowest paid in the nation. The average salary during the 2018-19 school year was $45,105, according to the Mississippi Department of Education. Last year the Legislature passed a $1,500 pay raise into law, but many educators and advocates said the amount was not enough. The issue of teacher pay was a constant talking point during the 2019 election, which Reeves acknowledged was “a full contact campaign.”

Reeves said it was time to bring the state together after a contentious election.
It was the first inauguration in modern times where Republicans held all statewide offices, as a result of the November general election and super majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

“He talked about compromise, but that has not been my experience for the past eight years,” said state Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, who has been in the House for the past two terms while Reeves was lieutenant governor presiding over the Senate.
“He said it would be good for everybody to work together to move Mississippi forward. That is good. I just want to see it happen,” Johnson said.

Johnson praised Reeves for speaking of the need to grow home-grown businesses.

“While we rebuild the way we train our workforce, from kindergarten beyond high school, we will travel the world to find the job creators who want to be our partners,” Reeves said. “We will do everything in our power to make sure this is the easiest place to start and to grow a business.”

Johnson cited roadbuilders as home-grown Mississippi businesses that could help the state grow. He said a comprehensive road program would spur the economy.

“We could do us a favor (as a state) and them a favor by putting them to work building roads,” Johnson said. “Some of them are fourth generation Mississippi businesses.”

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.

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.