Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley held a press conference to discuss ethics and corruption on Aug. 17, 2023, in downtown Jackson near the City Centre building. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Brandon Presley, the Democratic nominee for governor, hammered Republican Gov. Tate Reeves on Thursday for not doing enough to prevent the state’s massive welfare scandal while Reeves served eight years as lieutenant governor. 

Speaking in front of the state Department of Human Services building in downtown Jackson, Presley told reporters that Reeves could have used the lieutenant governor’s role as state Senate president to push lawmakers to conduct more robust hearings over state agencies, including MDHS, which was at the center of the scandal. 

“Because it’s politically convenient for him, Tate Reeves now wants to deflect blame on his own failure to protect millions of dollars that were under his so-called watch as lieutenant governor,” Presley said. “He will say or do anything to get elected.” 

Reeves’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but the governor has repeatedly said that he had no role in the roughly $77 million previous state agency leaders squandered and that the misspending occurred before he was elected governor. 

READ MORE: Gov. Tate Reeves airs ad responding to Brandon Presley welfare scandal attack

But Presley said the very fact that the misspending occurred before Reeves entered the Governor’s Mansion deserves an explanation on why elected officials within the state Capitol never discovered the impropriety. 

“When he first ran for lieutenant governor, Tate Reeves said a watchdog is exactly what they’re about to get,” Presley said. “The truth of the matter is, in 12 years of Tate Reeves’ reign in state government, he’s been a lapdog for his buddies, special interests and his campaign contributors.” 

State and federal prosecutors have not charged the first-term governor with a crime. But as lieutenant governor between 2012-2020, Reeves served a pivotal leadership role in the Legislature — including during the years of 2017-2020, when the bulk of the known welfare misspending happened.

Legislative committee leaders have broad power to conduct oversight of state agencies and compel state agency leaders to testify about their organizations. 

To date, no legislative committee has held a hearing to scrutinize the actions of the state welfare agency, though some Democratic lawmakers have organized their own hearings. 

Though Reeves was never a member of the legislative committee created by state law to provide oversight of the Department of Human Services, he has often boasted about his direct control of the state budget during his time at the Capitol. Reeves served as chair or vice chair of the powerful Legislative Budget Committee that does provide oversight of agency budgets. 

Presley has seized on the state’s welfare scandal and used it as a focal point of his gubernatorial campaign. He previously said he would call lawmakers into a special legislative session to reform state ethics laws to prevent a similar scandal from occurring in the future.

READ MORE: New Brandon Presley ad claims Tate Reeves helped ‘rich friends’ in welfare scandal

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Taylor, a native of Grenada, covers state government and statewide elections. He is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and Holmes Community College. Before joining Mississippi Today, Taylor reported on state and local government for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, where he received an award for his coverage of the federal government’s lawsuit against the state’s mental health system.