Attorney General Lynn Fitch and Gov. Tate Reeves have had a roller coaster relationship during the period their political careers have overlapped.
During much of Reeves’ term as governor, the two statewide elected officials have been working well together. That is why speculation that Fitch is considering a challenge of Reeves in the 2023 Republican gubernatorial primary is so surprising.
For his part Reeves seems to be expecting a crowded primary for governor. During an October meeting of the state’s eight statewide officials — all Republican — he reportedly joked that his fellow officeholders probably would run for re-election unopposed while he would face multiple contenders.
Whether one of those contenders will be Fitch is an intriguing question.
While Reeves and Fitch seem on the same page now, that has not always been the case. Fitch replaced Reeves as treasurer when he captured the open seat of lieutenant governor in 2011. From almost the beginning of her tenure as treasurer, Fitch clashed with her predecessor.
It most likely began when Fitch shut down new enrollment in the state’s college savings plan for about a year because of concerns by actuaries that it was not financially sound.
The Mississippi Prepaid Affordable College Tuition Plan, where people can purchase a college education for children at today’s prices, was not created by Reeves, but he was a vocal advocate for the program. During his tenure as treasurer, two key House members, Appropriations Chair Johnny Stringer and Cecil Brown, a former state fiscal officer, met with Reeves to express concerns about the plan’s financial soundness. He neglected those concerns.
When Fitch shut the program down, Reeves was angered. But she stuck by her guns and opened it up about a year later after making significant changes, including increasing the cost to participate in the program.
And later, Fitch got on Reeves’ bad side when she sent a letter to the state’s political leadership expressing concern at what she described as the high level of state borrowing and the wisdom of some of the projects the Legislature was funding with the borrowing.
Reeves, loaded for bear, was prepared to confront Fitch about the letter at a meeting scheduled between the treasurer’s office and legislative leaders. But alas, Fitch did not attend, leaving it to one of her deputies to absorb Reeves’ wrath.
But in their new positions, Reeves and Fitch have been, well, simpatico.
The first any person noticed of the new relationship was when Speaker Philip Gunn, also viewed as a possible opponent for Reeves in the 2023 Republican primary, sued the governor when he partially vetoed an appropriations bill in 2020. Gunn charged the Constitution did not allow the governor to partially veto the bill in the manner that he did.
The attorney general is the state’s lawyer. But the AG always has the discretion not to participate in a case for various reason, such as believing the state’s case is legally wrong or choosing not to take sides between two powerful politicians — in this case the speaker and the governor.
But Fitch chose to take the side of Gov. Reeves and oppose Speaker Gunn. The governor’s side prevailed incidentally.
In more recent days, Reeves has hitched his political wagon to Fitch’s efforts to overturn the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that established a woman’s right to an abortion.
The court case originated from a 2018 law passed by the Mississippi Legislature banning abortions after 15 weeks. Under previous court rulings, the right to abortion in most instances is guaranteed until around the 22nd week.
In asking the high court to uphold the 15-week ban, Fitch went a step further requesting that the court completely overturn Roe v. Wade.
Reeves has appeared on multiple national news shows in recent week arguing that Roe v. Wade should be overturned. On a national level, at least, he is the Mississippi politician most closely affiliated with the effort to overturn Roe.
And true, Reeves was lieutenant governor, presiding over the Senate, when the bill was passed and signed into law by then-Gov. Phil Bryant. But it was a House bill, not a Senate bill.
Interestingly, the multiple bills introduced in the Senate in 2018 — including some that also would have banned abortion after 15 weeks — all died in committee in the Senate where Reeves exercised considerable control.
It was only after the 15-week abortion bill, authored primarily by Rep. Becky Currie of Brookhaven, passed the House and made it to the Senate that the Senate leadership ultimately took up and passed the legislation.
And now Lynn Fitch and Tate Reeves are in lock step touting the virtue of that legislation. Will they remain on the same page in 2023 after the deadline for candidates to qualify to run for statewide office?