Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley said if he is elected this year, he would not work to reverse state laws placing restrictions on transgender Mississippians.
“Tate Reeves knows that I won’t work to overturn these laws, and this issue is settled in Mississippi, but he’s busy pushing the same old false political attacks to cover up his career of corruption,” Presley told Mississippi Today this week. “As a man of faith who is pro-life, I’ve never once had an issue disagreeing with my party when they’re wrong, so I’ll be clear: I don’t think boys should be playing against girls, and girls shouldn’t be playing against boys. I don’t think minors should be getting surgery to change their gender.”
Reeves has signed bills into law in recent years to ban trans women and girls from competing in women’s sports and to prohibit gender affirming health care for trans minors. The Republican governor has blistered his Democratic opponent this year for not addressing trans issues, which Reeves has made a focal point of his campaign.
“So far in Mississippi, my opponent — he won’t say a word,” Reeves told journalists in June. “Y’all spilled a lot of ink over the legislation when I signed it.”
Presley’s recent comments to Mississippi Today are an expansion of what he had said earlier in the campaign when asked about a Mississippi law that bans gender affirming health care for minors.
At that time, Presley said, “I trust families. I trust mamas, I trust daddies to deal with the health care of their children.”
When asked this week whether his recent comments squared with his previous ones, the Presley campaign said he stood by the earlier comments and that he was both opposed to gender affirming surgeries on minors and trusts parents.
Presley’s recent comments could perhaps address the politics of the state and the powers of a governor. The Republican supermajority in the Legislature that overwhelmingly passed the bills to ban the gender-affirming care for minors and to prohibit trans women from competing in women’s sports will still be in control the Capitol after the November elections. It is highly unlikely any governor could usher repeals of those same laws through the legislative process.
These issues have been heavy focuses in other states’ governor’s races. In Kansas and Kentucky, Republican gubernatorial candidates have criticized their Democratic counterparts for not supporting efforts to ban trans women from competing in women’s sports.
In Kansas, competitive swimmer Riley Gaines, who has been vocal in her opposition of having to compete against a trans woman, was featured in an ad opposing the Democratic incumbent in the 2022 election. Anti-trans ads also were run in Kentucky in the 2019 gubernatorial campaign.
In both states, the Republican candidates who were supposed to be boosted by the ads lost their elections.
Andy Beshear, Kentucky’s Democratic governor who is running for reelection this year, is again being attacked for his position on trans issues. This year, Beshear vetoed legislation prohibiting various gender affirming medical treatments for minors, but like Presley said he opposed gender affirming surgeries for minors.
According to the Louisville Courier Journal, there has been no such surgeries performed in Kentucky. Supporters of the Mississippi law dealing with banning gender affirming care for minors also could not cite any similar surgeries being performed in state on minors.
Presley, in the recent comments to Mississippi Today, chalks up Reeves’ focus on trans rights issues to political deflection.
“Tate Reeves will come up with any smokescreen to hide the fact that he’s at the center of the largest public corruption scandal in state history by directing $1.3 million dollars in illegal payments to his personal trainer and canceling his personal trainer’s deposition by firing the former federal prosecutor leading the investigation,” Presley said.
That statement is a reference to the ongoing welfare scandal investigation of the state’s misspending of at least $77 million in federal welfare funds that occurred while Reeves was lieutenant governor. Reeves, who has not been charged with any crime and denies any wrongdoing, has been a focus of public scrutiny in the scandal.
Well-known Mississippi fitness trainer Paul Lacoste, a close ally of Reeves, is being sued by the state to recoup $1.3 million in welfare funds he received. Mississippi Today reported in its “The Backchannel” investigation that Lacoste met in 2019 with Reeves and John Davis, the former state welfare director who has since pleaded guilty to charges related to the scandal. Two days after that meeting, Davis asked his deputy to find a way to fund Lacoste’s boot camp with welfare funds. Davis called the project in a text message “the Lt. Gov’s fitness issue.”
And the Reeves administration did not renew the contract of Brad Pigott, a former U.S. attorney who was hired by the state’s welfare agency to recoup the misspent money. The governor publicly accused Pigott, who was targeting many of Reeves’ campaign donors and supporters in the civil lawsuit, of having a “political agenda” in his handling of the case.
The state’s lawsuit to recover the funds is continuing under a new firm hired by the Reeves administration, and a federal investigation into the broader misspending continues.