Gov. Tate Reeves has appointed one of his top campaign donors to the Mississippi Gaming Commission, growing a list of Reeves insiders who have received government jobs in his first term in office.
Reeves appointed Kent Nicaud, the president and CEO of Gulfport Memorial Hospital, to serve the remainder of the term of former Gaming Commissioner Al Hopkins, who died in February.
If Nicaud is confirmed, he would join another major Reeves donor on the three-member Gaming Commission. The governor appointed Franc Lee, a consumer loan magnate and Reeves’ largest individual donor, to the commission in 2021.
Gaming commissioners receive a modest salary from taxpayers — $40 per day — and are reimbursed by the state for travel and meals. The commission is tasked with regulating the casino gaming industry, which brings the state hundreds of millions in tax revenue each year. That revenue has become necessary to fund basic public services across Mississippi.
Nicaud has been one of Reeves’ top donors over the past few years, writing checks totaling more than $100,000, including $41,000 in 2022 alone. Nicaud’s fundraising influence led Reeves to appoint him to his gubernatorial campaign finance committee in 2019.
Reeves also appointed Nicaud’s wife Jenny Nicaud as an administrative law judge for the Mississippi Workers Compensation Commission in 2021. Kent and Jenny Nicaud’s son Jourdan Nicaud has also been a campaign donor to the governor, giving at least $36,000 to Reeves since 2018.
With the appointments, Reeves is growing the list of his personal campaign donors who have later been appointed to taxpayer-funded government positions by the governor.
Another one of Reeves’ pending appointments is Gerard Gibert, the host of a conservative Supertalk Mississippi radio show and regular campaign donor of Reeves. Gibert, first appointed to the Mississippi Lottery Corporation board by former Gov. Phil Bryant, was reappointed by Reeves this year after writing several checks to Reeves’ campaign accounts since 2017.
In 2021, Reeves appointed three campaign donors to the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees — among the state’s most coveted government appointments — and two campaign donors to the Mississippi Community College Board.
Businessman Johnny McRight gave Reeves $50,000 in the four years before his 2021 IHL appointment. Businessman Luke Montgomery gave Reeves $14,500 in the years before his 2021 MCBB appointment.
Gregg Rader, a Columbus businessman, gave Reeves $85,000 in the months leading up to his 2021 IHL appointment. And Rader has continued the flow of money to Reeves’ campaign coffers even after his appointment, writing another $30,000 check to the governor in 2022.
William Symmes, a Gulfport lawyer appointed by Reeves to the MCCB in 2021 after a small 2020 donation to the governor, acknowledged in an interview at the time that his personal connections to Reeves led to his appointment, but said it is logical the governor would pick people who know and support him.
“Obama said it best: ‘Elections have consequences,’” Symmes told Mississippi Today in 2021. “I think that one of those consequences is you’re able to put people around you that you feel comfortable and work well with.”
Mississippi Today reached out to Reeves’ office before this story published and asked why the governor appointed Nicaud to the Gaming Commission. We also asked what Reeves would say to taxpayers who are funding his campaign insider appointments during his first term as governor.
“Mississippi Today is not a news organization, it is an unregistered Democrat super PAC and obviously acting like one again today,” Reeves’ deputy chief of staff Cory Custer said in an emailed statement, declining to answer the questions.
Nicaud faces Senate confirmation before he can assume the Gaming Commission post. He would finish out the term of Alben “Al” Hopkins, who was first appointed to the commission by former Gov. Phil Bryant in 2015 and died in February 2023.
In 2022, Reeves reappointed Hopkins, who faced some political heat in the Senate before ultimately being confirmed for a new term.
Just a few months before Reeves reappointed Hopkins, the Reeves campaign cashed a check: $1,000 from Alben Hopkins LLC.
Correction on March 27, 2023: An earlier version of this story mislabeled the nature of Franc Lee’s business. It has been corrected.