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Democrat Brandon Presley is running for governor

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Democrat Brandon Presley is running for governor

Brandon Presley, a Democrat who has spent the past 15 years regulating utility companies on the 's Public Service Commission, will announce today that he is running for governor in 2023.

Presley is among the most notable Democrats to run for the state's highest office this century, and his candidacy is expected to inspire one of the most expensive and bitter campaigns in state history.

The 45-year-old Nettleton native will launch his campaign and introduce himself to many Mississippians this week with a three-minute video that includes a blistering critique of current Gov. Tate Reeves, the first-term Republican who announced last week he will seek reelection.

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“I'm running for governor because I know Mississippi can do better,” Presley says in the video. “We've got a state filled with good people but horrible politicians — and that includes our governor. Tate Reeves is a man with zero conviction and maximum corruption. He looks out for himself and his rich friends instead of the people that put him into office. And he's been caught in the middle of the largest public corruption scandal in state history.”

Presley, whose early campaign strategy will target the state's sprawling welfare scandal and other corruption in , has built a modest brand over the years as a politician focused on apolitical priorities like expanding high speed internet access across the state and regulating the rates that electric and companies charge Mississippians.

Advisers close to Presley hope his background, demeanor and ideas appeal to many Mississippians. A relative of legendary performer Elvis, Presley speaks in a deep Southern drawl. He was raised in a small town by a single mother who worked in a factory while struggling to pay bills, and he has long dwelled on those early lessons in his public life.

But to wage a winning campaign in 2023, Presley has his work cut out for him. He's a Democrat running in Mississippi, one of the most reliably Republican electorates in the nation that has grown ever resistant to values championed by many modern liberals. The last Democrat to win the governorship was Ronnie Musgrove in 1999, and the GOP has tightened its grip on the state's political complex since.

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Still, Presley believes he has a compelling case to make to every Mississippi voter, including . A political moderate who self describes as pro-life and pro-Second Amendment, he's worked closely and successfully with GOP . As Nettleton from 2001-2007, he championed tax cuts and brought in jobs and infamously crossed over to vote for Republican George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election. Several high-profile Republicans have given to his campaign in recent weeks, including a handful of members of Reeves' 2019 gubernatorial campaign finance committee.

READ MORE: The notable Republicans among Brandon Presley's campaign donors

Late last year, a Presley supporter even printed out bumper stickers that read: “Republicans for Presley: Let's go Brandon!” Dozens of supporters requested the stickers when Presley posted a photo of the sticker to Facebook.

But while Presley courts support from independent or right-leaning voters, his principal task will be shoring up support from loyal Mississippi Democrats, who traditionally make up between 40-45% of the state's electorate. About 75% of the state's Democratic base of voters are Black, and Presley will have to speak to and appeal to them — a failed objective for many recent white statewide Democrats.

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Helping his cause, though, Presley has worked for years to develop relationships with several of the state's top Black Democratic leaders. Presley has become particularly close with U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the state's most powerful Democrat boasting a decades-old political network and heavy influence with Black Mississippians. Presley says his campaign will hire several political operatives within Thompson's circle.

Though other candidates have until Feb. 1 to announce their candidacies, politicos forecast Presley and Reeves will square off in the November general election. Though Reeves, the first-term Republican governor, has consistently polled as one of the most unpopular governors in the nation, he will enjoy the platform of incumbency and the historically fat campaign checkbook that along with it.

He'll have access to a massive campaign staff with decades of statewide election experience and a robust Mississippi Republican Party infrastructure already built up and ready to roll. And Reeves' strongest base of support is along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a population center and geographically farthest from Presley's home turf.

Presley, on the other hand, will have to spend considerable cash to increase his name ID among everyday Mississippians — and particularly on the Coast, where few people are familiar with his political brand. While he'll likely earn the support of national Democrats and have millions of dollars to spend, he is not expected to match Reeves' fundraising prowess.

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But on calls with advisers and friends in recent days, Presley has been focused on the importance of the 2023 election for the future of the state — not the tough politics of the moment.

“We can build a Mississippi where we fight corruption, not embrace it,” Presley says in the announcement video. “Where we cut taxes, lower the cost of and create good jobs. A Mississippi where we finally focus on the future, not the past. A Mississippi where we with strength and courage and real backbone.

“And if you make me your governor, I promise you this: I'll never forget who I am, where I came from or who sent me.”

READ MORE: Can Presley be the statewide winner Democrats can't seem to find?

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This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Mississippi Today

Some state politicians may be moving beyond name-calling in health care

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Riding around curvy roads in northeast Mississippi campaigning for reelection in 2007, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour unveiled to a reporter his plan to create a state exchange where individuals and businesses could shop for insurance at a lower rate.

The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 had a feature strikingly similar to what Barbour proposed, which coincidentally already was being used in Massachusetts. The ACA gave states the option to piggyback off the federal exchange to create their own exchange. The federal subsidies offered through the ACA would be available to individuals insurance off the federal or a state exchange.

Barbour wanted to create a state exchange that would include features from the proposal he offered during his 2007 reelection campaign. State Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney also strongly supported a state exchange, saying his office would have more authority to shape a state exchange to fit the needs of Mississippians. But the ACA had by then morphed into “Obamacare,” which was meant to be a derisive term, and many Mississippi legislators, and then-Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, were opposed to being associated with any part of the landmark national touted and proposed by then-President Barack Obama.

In the end, there was no state exchange set up in Mississippi, though it could be argued that the national exchange has been a success in the state. About 270,000 Mississippians currently have insurance policies purchased off the national exchange.

Yet for 13 years now, most Mississippi politicians have continually demonized “Obamacare” and anything associated with the national law.

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They blocked Medicaid expansion that would health care for primarily the working poor in Mississippi, and they rejected a state- exchange. And along the way, Medicaid expansion and Obamacare became dirty words in the minds of many Mississippi politicians.

That demonization might be ending. On the same day in the Mississippi House last week, members by an overwhelming 98-20 margin voted to expand Medicaid. Soon after that vote, House Ways and Means Chair Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, offered a bill, which passed 112-5, to create a statewide exchange.

Under the bill, Mississippians will go to the state exchange to purchase their insurance policy, but importantly, the federal subsidies still will be available. Lamar is hoping by offering state tax incentives to private insurance companies to join the exchange that there will be more choices for Mississippians shopping for health care coverage. And he is hoping that by providing tax incentives to health care providers who accept patients who have exchange insurance coverage, that more of them will do so.

Hello, Haley Barbour and Mike Chaney from 2012.

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During the debate of the two bills in the House, no one uttered the word Obamacare. And in general, fewer and fewer Mississippi politicians are saying Obamacare in a derisive manner, though many go out of the way not to say the phrase Medicaid expansion when they are talking about — gulp — expanding Medicaid.

One politician, of course, continues to proudly and derisively use the term Obamacare. When arguing against expanding Medicaid, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves recently reposted a social media comment from former President Donald Trump proclaiming: “Obamacare sucks!!!”

When explaining the bill to expand Medicaid to fellow House members, Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg, did not about Obamacare. Instead, she talked about the fact that Mississippi has many of the nation's worst health care outcomes.

Mississippi has among the highest rates of infant mortality, diabetes deaths, cardio disease — and the list goes on.

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The bottom line is Mississippians have the shortest expectancy in the nation.

In terms of action by legislators to address those bad outcomes, she said, “‘No' is not a policy that has helped.”

Before this is over, Reeves may have to decide whether he wants to continue the demonization of Obamacare or sign into law Medicaid expansion in an effort to address those poor health care outcomes. There is a strong possibility the bill also will pass the Senate and reach his desk, where he must decide whether to sign it or veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

If so, Reeves will not be the first Mississippi governor to face some difficult decisions surrounding Medicaid.

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In 1969, then-Gov. John Bell Williams, who had voted against creating the original Medicaid program when he was in the U.S. House in 1964 and who had railed against it, called a special session to ask legislators to opt into the Medicaid program. Williams said the fact he opposed the program should not keep lawmakers from embracing a federal program that would help Mississippians.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Bill to shutter most of Parchman passes first committee hurdle

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After facing initial pushback, a proposal to close most of the Mississippi Penitentiary at Parchman passed its first hurdle in the Senate Corrections Committee Friday morning.

Senate Bill 2353 by Committee chair Juan Barnett, D-Heidelberg, proposes shutting down most operations at the state's oldest and most infamous prison by sending people, staff and programs to other facilities.

The vote days after the U.S. Department of Justice released a report slamming unconstitutional conditions at three Mississippi prisons. Parchman was not the focus of the , but Barnett said two years after the DOJ's initial report about Parchman, conditions there have not improved much.

“I know this bill is not the fix-all but we have to start somewhere,” he said. “… Even yesterday was too late and tomorrow will definitely be too late.”

A key point of the phase down plan is for the state to gain operation of the Tallahatchie Correctional Facility, which is located less than 10 miles away in Tutwiler and by CoreCivic.

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Earlier this , committee members asked for more information about how much it would cost for the state to gain operation of the Tutwiler prison and how that compares to the cost to repair Parchman.

On Friday, Barnett said there is not a contract or memorandum of understanding between the Department of Corrections and CoreCivic in writing yet, but the prison prison company gave an estimate of $14 million a year to lease Tallahatchie Correctional, the cost of maintenance and upkeep of the facility.

Sen. Angela Burks Hill, R-, said problems with violence and gang control are present beyond Parchman and failure to address staffing won't get the prisons under control.

“Moving the inmates seven miles up the road is not going to solve our problem,” she said before the committee approved the bill.

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Barnett agreed, but added that the reason why the prisons are that way is because money hasn't been invested to make sure they are secure.

He noted that during the riots at the end of 2019 and early 2020, about 1,000 inmates were transferred from Parchman to Tallahatchie Correctional, and there were no problems.

A committee substitute version of SB 2353 passed, including a name change for Parchman. In the meeting, Barnett said he consulted with members of the Delta delegation about renaming the prison because of its current and historical negative association.

As of Friday morning, a copy of the committee substitute was not available online.

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The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is to meet Tuesday. Appropriations Chair Briggs Hopson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After on prison conditions in 2019 by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica, the U.S. Department of Justice, at the urging of U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and others, began an investigation into four Mississippi prisons, starting with Parchman. It concluded in April 2022 that those imprisoned at Parchman were being subjected to violence, inadequate medical care and lack of suicide prevention.

In a 60-page report released this week, the Justice Department found the state is also violating the constitutional rights of those held in the other three prisons: the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, the South Mississippi Correctional Institution and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Trump endorses Roger Wicker for Senate reelection 

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Former Republican endorsed U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker's bid for reelection on Thursday, likely giving the incumbent senator a major boost weeks before Mississippi's party primaries. 

“Senator Roger Wicker is a fantastic Senator for the Great of Mississippi,” Trump wrote on social . “As the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Roger is working hard to Strengthen our Military, Defend our Country, and our .”

Wicker, a 72-year-old resident, has represented the Magnolia State in the U.S. Senate since 2007. Before the Senate, he served several terms in the U.S. House and in the Mississippi .

He is currently the top Republican serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over matters involving the U.S. military. If the GOP gains a majority in the Senate this year, Wicker could be the first Mississippian to lead that committee since former U.S. Sen. John .

“We are proud to have 's support for our campaign and re-election efforts,” Wicker campaign Jake Monssen said in a statement. “Republicans across Mississippi are excited to take back the Senate and the White House in 2024 and put an end to the radical Biden-Harris agenda.”

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Wicker will compete against state Rep. Dan Eubanks of DeSoto County and retired U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Ghannon Burton in the Republican primary on March 12. Civil rights attorney Ty Pinkins is the only candidate who qualified in the Democratic primary. 

The winner of the Republican primary will compete against Pinkins on November 5.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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