Gov. Tate Reeves speaks during Mississippi Economic Council's 2023 Hobnob at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

Welcome to The Homestretch, a daily blog featuring the most comprehensive coverage of the 2023 Mississippi governor’s race. This page, curated by the Mississippi Today politics team, will feature the biggest storylines of the 2023 governor’s race at 7 a.m. every day between now and the Nov. 7 election.

Gov. Tate Reeves has long struggled to justify his opposition to Medicaid expansion.

Numerous economic experts say the expansion program would bring $1.5 billion in new revenue to Mississippi in year one, create more than 10,000 new jobs per year, and provide health insurance to at least 200,000 working Mississippians who can’t otherwise afford it. The financial benefits to the state, the economists project, would more than cover the state’s share of the expansion program’s costs. 

Forty other states, including numerous Republican-led ones, have expanded Medicaid to great success.

But Reeves has blocked it for years. And as he’s running for reelection in 2023, he’s struggling to explain his rationale on the issue that would help so many Mississippians who need it, that an overwhelming majority of voters support, that hospital leaders have begged for, and that his Democratic opponent Brandon Presley has made central to his 2023 campaign.

Here’s the exchange from Thursday on the campaign trail, which occurred at the end of an interview gaggle with reporters:

Ross Adams, WAPT-TV reporter: “What do you say to working class people — people working at McDonald’s and Walmart who can’t afford private health insurance who could benefit from Medicaid expansion?”

Gov. Tate Reeves: “What I would say to you is we are going to continue to work to invest in creating more jobs in our state. We’re going to continue to work to create more opportunities in our state. We’re going to continue to invest in our people.”

Adams: “What about the people—”

Reeves: “We’re going to continue to invest in our people. We’re going to continue to invest in our people through workforce development and workforce training because we want upward mobility for our people. Having a job matters. Having a job brings dignity and respect — upward mobility, not only for the parents but for their kids, as well, and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”

The governor then put a hand between himself and Adams, uttered a quick “thank y’all very much” and walked away from reporters. Video of the exchange has been seen by tens of thousands of people on social media.

Reeves, serving his first term in the Governor’s Mansion and seeking a second this November, is hardly the first governor to care about job creation. One could argue a governor’s most important job is selling the state to employers, and Reeves’ focus there is a worthy one.

But a major reason Reeves has struggled defending his stance on Medicaid expansion is because job creation on its own is not a working solution to the health care challenges so many face. If it were, the state’s health outcomes would have long been improved and more people would have the ability to afford trips to the doctor.

The reality is that today, thousands of jobs available to Mississippians — among the poorest, unhealthiest and least educated people in America — are just like the ones the governor was asked about on Thursday. They don’t offer health insurance, and they don’t pay enough to lift people out of staggering financial difficulties.

Data from the state’s employment agency, which Reeves as governor directly oversees, tells it all.

Take, for instance, the McDonald’s workers that Reeves was asked about this week. “Food preparation and serving related occupations” is the fourth-most common in Mississippi as of April 2023. More than 105,000 Mississippians — almost 10% of the state’s entire workforce — hold these jobs. Another 37,000 Mississippians are counted in “fast food” job categories. Very, very few of the employers in these industries offer health insurance to their employees.

The average hourly wage for food service workers in Mississippi is $11.43. If those workers put in 40 hours per week, they’d make $1,828.80 per month before taxes, or $23,780 per year. Factoring in rent, groceries, gas and other necessary expenses, that’s barely enough to survive, let alone afford private health insurance. That annual pre-tax salary is actually under the federal poverty line if the household has more than two people in it.

But despite all those factors, the food service worker who makes $23,780 annually does not qualify for Medicaid under Mississippi’s current program. They make too much, according to the state’s policymakers, to qualify for the government program. But if those leaders chose to expand Medicaid, that same working person would qualify for government-paid health care coverage.

Reeves, though, has never publicly acknowledged these realities. He’s instead chosen to dwell only on his focus on economic development and job creation. He wants working people who are barely scraping by to go out and learn new skills, find better paying jobs that offer health insurance and lift themselves out of an impossible position. It’s not a terrible hope to have for people, but it’s a completely unrealistic one — especially if you’re not providing them all the help you have at your disposal.

On the same day Reeves literally walked away from an earnest conversation about this problem, Presley laid out a completely different message when asked about the issue.

“(Medicaid expansion) is common sense for us to do in Mississippi … I’m most concerned about the 230,000 Mississippians who don’t have access to health care,” Presley told reporters at the same event. “… Tate Reeves insults working people by saying they’re on welfare. He insults people who sack groceries for a living, he insults people who roof for a living. He wouldn’t take those jobs, but he insults those people who are out working. He calls it welfare. That’s how out of touch he is.”

Reeves, with holes in his logic and an unwillingness to even acknowledge the reality so many Mississippians face, is teeing up Presley perfectly on this issue. How might voters respond in November?

Headlines From The Trail

Several GOP consultants share predictions about runoff between Tate Reeves, Brandon Presley

Mississippi labor unions rally for Brandon Presley ahead of governor’s race

Elvis Presley’s cousin is getting Mississippi voters all shook up

Inside the Democratic Party’s coordinated effort to turn out Black voters for the Nov. 7 election

How a Tate Reeves victory would place him in Mississippi history books

What We’re Watching

1) Debate, debate, debate. Voters have been calling for it for months, and on Nov. 1, they’re going to get it. If you’re wondering how it might go, read some of the quotes from Reeves and Presley about one another from Thursday’s annual Hobnob event. Mississippi Today’s Geoff Pender has the full story.

2) If you’re in the Jackson metro area on Nov. 1, come to Hal & Mal’s for a Mississippi Today watch party. We’ll stream the debate live at 7 p.m. on the big screen, and we’ll host some live analysis as soon as it ends. We hope to see you there!

3) “The road goes on forever, and the party never ends.” The Robert Earl Keen classic is a great road trip tune, but the second part of the line is probably getting left off by the candidates and campaigns this weekend. Reeves and Presley continue to tear up the trail, with both scheduled to touch essentially all corners of the state over the next few days.

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.