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Gov. Reeves claims ‘best year in state history.’ His 2023 challenger says he’s moved state in ‘wrong direction’

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Gov. Reeves claims ‘best year in state history.’ His 2023 challenger says he’s moved state in ‘wrong direction’

The opening salvos of the 2023 governor’s race were fired on Monday as Gov. Tate Reeves delivered his annual of the State address and his opponent Brandon Presley offered the Democratic Party’s response.

“2022 was perhaps the best year in Mississippi history,” Reeves declared on the south steps of the Mississippi State Capitol on Monday evening. “… Today, it’s a cold-hard-fact that really, really good things are happening in Mississippi. And it’s my honor to stand before you today and announce that the state of our state is stronger than ever.”

Reeves, the first-term Republican governor, focused much of his speech on economic development and touted state government’s nearly $4 billion budget surplus as an example of good times under his watch.

“Our conservative reforms and sound budget management have laid the foundation for this economic boom,” Reeves said. “It’s the policies of yesterday that have paved the pathway to today’s prosperity.”

READ MORE: Transcript: Gov. Tate Reeves delivers 2023 State of the State address

Presley, a Democratic public service commissioner who announced a 2023 challenge of Reeves earlier this month, delivered a response to the State of the State. He blasted the governor’s leadership over the past four years, saying the state is “moving in the wrong direction” under Reeves’ leadership.

“While he brags about a budget surplus, family budgets are running out,” Presley said. “And while you’re careful with your money, he’s throwing your tax dollars away. He’s been caught in the middle of the largest public corruption scandal in our state’s history. $77 million dollars of taxpayer money that should have gone to working families that are struggling instead went to help build a volleyball court… a volleyball court! … Some was even given to Tate Reeves’ own personal trainer. And you should tune in because we are only just now learning how bad and possibly illegal all of this activity was.”

Standing for a recorded in an abandoned hospital in Newton County, Presley also panned Reeves for refusing to address the state’s hospital crisis.

“We have a solution. By extending Medicaid to the working people of our state, we can keep hospitals across Mississippi from experiencing the same fate as this one,” Presley said. “All Tate Reeves has to do is lift his hand, take an ink pen, and sign on a line. Instead, he lacks the backbone and he will sit on his hands while people lose their jobs, some lose their lives and our hospitals suffer. When Tate Reeves finally wakes up and asks why hospitals are closing, he should look in the mirror.”

READ MORE: Transcript: Brandon Presley offers Democratic response to 2023 State of the State address

Reeves, though, said in his speech that his plan to solve the state’s health care crisis and pending hospital closures is to encourage competition in health care, innovation and technology. He urged lawmakers to “think outside the box” on improving health care and to not expand Medicaid coverage to the working poor.

“Don’t simply cave under the pressure of Democrats and their allies in the media who are pushing for the expansion of Obamacare, welfare, and socialized medicine,” Reeves said. “Instead, seek innovative free market solutions that disrupt traditional delivery models, increase competition, and lead to better health outcomes for . Do not settle for something that won’t solve the problem because it could potentially and only temporarily remove the liberal media’s target on your back. You have my word that if you stand up to the left’s push for endless government-run healthcare, I will stand with you.”

The candidates’ contrast in outlook on state of the state sets up what is expected to be among the most expensive and bitter governor’s races in state history. Reeves will continue boasting what he says are accomplishments and gains the state has made under his leadership, while Presley will continue critiquing the governor’s positions on major issues facing the state.

In a 45-minute speech on Monday, Reeves laid out the accomplishments he said had been achieved.

He said the state set a record economic pace during his governorship, including a $2.5 billion aluminum plant announced near Columbus, for which lawmakers at Reeves’ behest pledged $247 million in incentives.

The favorable economic conditions, Reeves said, “led to investing a historic amount in jobs training, and … resulted in a record $6 billion in new capital investment in 2022, which is more than seven times the previous average of approximately $900 million a year before I became governor.”

Reeves said that wages in Mississippi are rising, by more than $7,000 or 18% per capita since 2019 and the state is seeing “the lowest unemployment rate in our state’s history.”

But despite Reeves’ rosy portrait of the state’s economy, he omitted several key statistics about the state’s economy. Mississippi had the lowest per capita income for 2021 at $45,881, according to the St. Louis office of the Federal Reserve. The average of Mississippi’s four contiguous states, was $52,780.

And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the third quarter of 2022, Mississippi’s personal income increased by 3.8%. Eight states saw their personal income increase less than Mississippi’s during the period.

And, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Mississippi added only 500 net jobs between December 2021 and 2022, meaning its job growth for the year was essentially flat, or statistically 0%. All other states had jobs growth of at least 1%, with some exceeding 6%.

Presley, in his response, highlighted some other economic problems the state has faced.

“Mississippi is at the bottom of the nation for economic growth,” Presley said. “We’re one of only three states that lost population, and the numbers recently released by the bureau of labor statistics show zero job growth in Mississippi. We are one of only seven states that taxes groceries.”

Reeves reiterated his vow to eliminate the state’s personal income tax — a proposal lawmakers debated at length last year but defeated, although they did pass the largest income tax cut in state history, which is still being implemented. He did not mention eliminating the grocery tax.

Reeves also said the state has seen historic improvement in education in recent years. He said reforms he helped pass as lieutenant governor about a decade ago have brought much success in public education.

“A little over a week ago we announced – for the third time since I’ve been governor – that Mississippi’s high school graduation rate hit an all-time high and continues to be better than the national average,” Reeves said.

The governor also focused heavily on red-meat conservative issues — in response to what Reeves called “the radical left’s war on our values.”

Reeves reiterated his support for a “Parents Bill of Rights,” similar to legislation being passed or debated in many other GOP-led states that would force public school teachers to share lesson plans and administrators to adhere to the will of parents on things like names, pronouns and other health matters.

Reeves also lamented “a dangerous and radical movement that is now being pushed upon America’s kids” regarding treatment of transgender people and vowed to fight such movements. Legislation is pending this year in Mississippi and other states to ban gender affirming procedures and drugs for anyone 18 or under.

“Across the country, activists are advancing untested experiments and persuading kids that they can live as a girl if they’re a boy, and that they can live as a boy if they’re a girl,” Reeves said. “And they’re telling them to pursue expensive, radical medical procedures to advance that lie.”

To deal with an expected increase in child deliveries from the overturning of rights, Reeves said the state should cut red tape and make adoption easier, create child care tax credits and allow parents to write off child care supplies on tax returns and increase support for pregnancy resource centers. He said the state should strengthen its child support laws and force more fathers to support children.

Reeves vowed to help fight in the capital city of Jackson and statewide. He also vowed to go after government corruption, such as the state’s massive welfare scandal.”

“That’s why this session, I’m calling on the legislature to make further investment into our Capitol by giving them the 150 officers and equipment they need to continue fulfilling their mission and continue pushing back on lawlessness in Jackson,” Reeves said.

And in a statement that directly addresses one of Presley’s points about Reeves involvement in the welfare scandal, the governor vowed that “my administration will go after all crime within our jurisdiction.”

“Regardless of the crime committed, regardless of who did it, regardless if it happened on the street or in an office building, my administration is and will continue to hold criminals accountable,” Reeves said. “That’s why my administration remains committed to delivering justice and recouping every dollar possible from those who stole from Mississippians through the of TANF (welfare) dollars.”

Throughout both speeches, the contrast in perspectives between Reeves and Presley were on full display.

“Mississippi is winning, and our state is on the rise,” Reeves said. “I urge all of you here today to stand with me and call out the lies when they are thrown at all of us. We can never give into the cynics who seek to tear down our great state. We can never give into Joe Biden and the national Democrats who seek to force feed us an unhealthy dose of progressivism because they view Mississippians as neanderthals. And we can never give into those who want us to live in a perpetual state of self-condemnation.”

Presley, though critical of Reeves and his leadership, did present a positive outlook on the state’s future.

“Together, we can build a Mississippi that focuses on the future, not the past,” Presley said. “We can build an economy that works for everybody… We should fund the police, increase healthcare, and invest in education. Together, we are going to end the insane grocery tax. We’re going to make sure folks from Walnut on the Tennessee line to Waveland on the Gulf Coast can walk with pride because they have a job and hope for their children’s future.”

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

Transcript: Brandon Presley offers Democratic response to 2023 State of the State address

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Transcript: Brandon Presley offers Democratic response to 2023 State of the State address

Brandon Presley, a Democratic public service commissioner, gave the official Democratic Party response to Gov. Tate Reeves’ Jan. 30 of the State address.

Below is the transcript of Presley’s response, which aired on Mississippi Public Broadcasting immediately following Reeves’ address.

Editor’s note: This transcript was submitted by Presley’s campaign and has not been formatted to match Mississippi Today’s style.

: Watch Brandon Presley’s State of the State response here.


Good evening, I’m Brandon Presley. And as you might be able to tell, I am speaking to you this evening from inside a closed-down emergency room in a shutdown hospital. But before I tell you why I’m standing here tonight, I want to tell you a little bit about where I’m from and who I am.

I grew up in North Mississippi, in a small town called Nettleton. It’s not a one-stoplight town, it’s a no-stoplight town. It’s a little dot on the map and like many towns in Mississippi, it’s the kind of place that Tate Reeves probably doesn’t know exists and doesn’t care about.

When I was growing up in Nettleton, my momma worked at the local garment factory before it shut down, then she became a preschool teacher at the local church up the street. She raised me, my brother, and sister in the house that I still live in. Back then, you could see straight through the floor to the dirt, but with my mama’s trust in God, we never felt as poor as we really were.

My daddy was an alcoholic who never made it to recovery. On my first day of 3rd grade, he was murdered in cold blood. My life, like many of yours, has had its share of tragedies, but with that faith in God that my mama taught me, I have been able to push through bad times, just like so many of you watching tonight. I’ve been there and so I know how you feel as you struggle to pay the bills, get the groceries and just hope that maybe you can make it to the next paycheck.

But thanks to the values I learned in that old house, I did push through. I went to college. I became mayor of Nettleton to fight for my neighbors and the folks who helped me become who I am today. We got Nettleton moving again. We cut taxes twice and balanced the budget. Since then, I’ve served on the public service commission to fight for families and against special interests who, too often, rule the roost in state government. We opened up closed-door meetings where the public was shut out and brought transparency to our state agency. I voted against boondoggles like the Kemper power plant and saved taxpayers over six billion dollars. Many times when I had to stand alone.

It takes guts and backbone to stand by yourself when the lobbyists and folks with big campaign checks oppose you. That’s called leadership. We don’t have it with Tate Reeves and that’s exactly why I’m running for Governor.

But, tonight isn’t about me and my story – it’s about you and your story, your family’s story, and your community’s story. It’s about the Mississippi that we want to build together. So, I ask you, do we want to keep goin’ down the same path that got us here, or do we want to start winning again?

Because tonight, I listened to ’ State of the State address. I’ve watched his “leadership” over the years, and I know and see what you know and see. Mississippi is full of good people, but we are led by horrible politicians and it’s time for that to change.

The reality is, under Tate Reeves’ leadership, we are moving in the wrong direction. Nothing makes that clearer than where I am tonight. I’m at what once was Pioneer Community Hospital in Newton, which employed over 200 people. Now, it’s shut down for good. No doctors roaming the halls, no nurses tending to patients, no ambulances outside, no cars in the parking lot. Right now, there are thirty-eight more rural hospitals just like the one I’m standing in, and they are on the brink of shutting their doors. If hospitals continue to close, the impact will be catastrophic. Jobs lost and for thousands gutted.

Every time we close a rural hospital, folks have to drive farther and farther to see a doctor and the true, sad fact is that some will die. This is the reality that Tate Reeves has chosen to put us in. Make no mistake, he made this choice. We have a solution. By extending to the working people of our state, we can keep hospitals across Mississippi from experiencing the same fate as this one. All Tate Reeves has to do is lift his hand, take an ink pen, and sign on a line. Instead, he lacks the backbone and he will sit on his hands while people lose their jobs, some lose their lives and our hospitals suffer. When Tate Reeves finally wakes up and asks why hospitals are closing, he should look in the mirror. And this hospital is just one example of how Tate Reeves and his policies are hurting our families.

Mississippi is at the bottom of the nation for economic growth. We’re one of only three states that lost population, and the numbers recently released by the bureau of labor statistics show ZERO job growth in Mississippi. We are one of only seven states that taxes groceries. In the Delta, there is one pediatrician for every 4,000 kids. It’s no surprise we lead the nation in deaths for children under the age of one, how is that pro-life? What does all that tell you? That Tate Reeves is only pro-life until you’re born and then he’s done caring about you.

While he brags about a budget surplus, family budgets are running out. And while you’re careful with your money, he’s throwing your tax dollars away. He’s been caught in the middle of the largest public corruption scandal in our state’s history. $77 million dollars of taxpayer money that should have gone to working families that are struggling instead went to help build a volleyball court… a volleyball court! And paid for speeches by famous people that were never given. Some was even given to Tate Reeves’ own personal trainer. And you should tune in because we are only just now learning how bad and possibly illegal all of this activity was.

But, I’m done talking about Tate Reeves. I want to listen to you. I want to fight for you. Together, we can build a Mississippi that focuses on the future, not the past. We can build an that works for everybody.

It starts in Jackson next year, with a strong ethics package to root out corruption and ensure our politicians are serving you rather than being sold off to the highest bidder. It is time to send a signal to the special interest that the party Is over and their day of complete control of our state has come to an end. It continues by funding rural hospitals and officers, not stealing from them. Yes, we should fund the police, increase healthcare, and invest in education. Together, we are going to end the insane grocery tax. We’re going to make sure folks from Walnut on the Tennessee line to Waveland on the gulf coast can walk with pride because they have a job and hope for their children’s future.

Mississippi, I love you. If you need me, you know where to find me – I won’t be in under the chandeliers tinkling glasses with the powerful, I’ll be with you. I’ll be on your side.

…The holes in the floor have been fixed in that old house I grew up in, but the values my momma taught me and the love that made it a home are still here. I don’t care who you’ve voted for, or what party you’re in. I know that we’re neighbors and we look out for each other.

May God bless you, and may God bless the great state of Mississippi.

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

This midterm party flip is not playing well for Republicans

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This midterm party flip is not playing well for Republicans

BILOXI — Most voters would say that a politician switching parties in the middle of a term is the ultimate betrayal of their trust.

Elected officials are, indeed, entrusted by voters to make decisions for them based on a set of shared, usually partisan principles. District lines are drawn, laws are passed, and judicial opinions are written to honor this cornerstone of American democracy. It’s intended to ensure all people are adequately represented in our government — one of the most important ideals to everyday Americans who feel that trust is their only connection with the leaders who serve them.

That’s why a midterm flip-flop at any level feels like a blindside to those who live within those representatives’ districts. The feeling is especially fresh on the minds of many East Biloxi residents this week.

Biloxi City Councilman Felix Gines recently had one word for his recent flip from the Mississippi Democratic Party to the Mississippi Republican Party: relief. But many constituents in his ward are using much different words for his decision: disappointment, anger and, yes, betrayal.

Gines is the latest in a string of Democratic defections as party dysfunction continues to cede power to Republicans. Mississippi Republicans wield immense political influence at the state, local and federal levels thanks, in large part, to flips.

But this latest conversion has turned more heads than usual because of its racial dynamics: Gines is the first GOP pick-up since state Republican Party leaders announced an initiative to attract Black candidates.

Biloxi City Councilman Felix Gines

“Coming into a predominantly Black district and making a bold change like this will allow people to not take their vote for granted,” Gines told Mississippi Today in a lengthy interview last week. “So often, we’ll give our votes away for whatever reason. Well who’s going to be best for our community? That’s what it’s got to come down to. This bold move will serve as a wake-up call to not just the Black community, but all communities across the state. And particularly in Biloxi.”

He was right about at least one thing: His constituents here in Biloxi are wide awake following his party switch — just not in the way he was hoping.

About 20% of Biloxi’s 50,000 residents are Black. Gines was elected as a Democrat to the city council to represent East Biloxi, a predominantly Black neighborhood. For years, he has been the city’s only Black elected official — the beneficiary of the codified notion that all Americans should be adequately represented in government.

history in Gines’ district runs deep. A series of wade-ins at Biloxi Beach in the 1960s helped integrate the Mississippi Gulf Coast and make it a vacation destination for Southern Blacks — a reality that continues to bolster the local . The main stretch of along the beach is named in honor of Dr. Gilbert R. Mason, who led the wade-ins and fought his whole life for rights and equal representation in government. Murals and other visible signs of the area’s commitment to political activism remain, and the Biloxi NAACP chapter is among the most active in the state.

Needless to say, Gines’ decision to pledge allegiance to the virtually all-white Mississippi Republican Party is not sitting well with many of his constituents.

“The Republican Party is the party that is everything anti-Black,” said Bill Stallworth, a community leader who formerly held Gines’ city council seat. “It’s the party of Strom Thurmond, of the Southern Strategy, of policies intended to keep Black folks down. To win, they’ve redrawn lines, disenfranchised so many voters and created lies about massive voter fraud. The effects are real, and they are deep.”

Putting Gines’ party switch bluntly, Stallworth said: “If we have to start throwing away our principles, if this is what we have to do to get elected, maybe we shouldn’t get elected.”

Gines told Mississippi Today no one factor led him to flip. When asked how he squared many of the modern Republican Party’s policies and principles that have worked against Black people, he harkened back to 19th century America.

“I’ve been using the term ‘going back home’ because this was once the party of Blacks,” Gines said. “Blacks once called the Republican Party the party of Lincoln. Look at the history: the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment. When you start talking about civil rights and freedom, one of the first groups to push civil rights in America was the Republican Party. Now what it’s become versus what it was is two different things.”

When pressed about the more modern policies of the Republican Party, Gines deflected and said, “I don’t think that there’s anything that everyone believes in 100% in either party.” When asked which Republican Party platforms he agreed with, he mentioned just one theme.

“I grew up in a conservative household,” he said. “There were 11 kids, and we had to stretch a dollar. My dad knew how to budget his household. If he didn’t budget his household right, his kids would’ve had to go without. That is what we call true conservative living. Fiscal responsibility. That jumps right out.”

He did not directly answer a question about whether he felt he had properly managed the ’s spending during his previous two terms as a Democrat.

Just a few hours after he announced the party flip, there were broad talks of unseating Gines. For more than a week now, callers to WJZD owner Rip Daniels’ popular radio show “It’s a New Day” have blistered Gines for his party switch.

“Felix Gines’ values are just the same as all Republicans trying to move up — that is, they’re out for themselves,” Gwen Catchings, a retired professor and business owner who lives in Gines’ district, told Mississippi Today. “They’re willing to sell their soul to the devil in order to get where they want to go. What they fail to realize is that once you go down that slippery slope, you’ve lost all your integrity.”

The recent effort of GOP officials to attract Black elected officials may have flipped Gines, but it could prove difficult to sustain come election time. While generations of Black have fought and even died for better representation, Mississippi has never elected a Black candidate to statewide office. No legislative Republican is Black, and virtually all of the state’s Black elected officials are Democrats or independents.

GOP officials, though, say they will double down on their currently held values to try to appeal to a more diverse set of candidates.

“We know our plans and policies to reduce inflation, lower taxes, cut wasteful spending, secure our borders, invest in national defense, and restore American energy are appealing to all Americans,” Mississippi GOP Chairman Frank Bordeaux said in a statement. “We’re taking that message to communities where Republicans have not traditionally been as successful in order to recruit, train, and elect a more diverse group of candidates and bring thousands more freedom-loving Mississippians into our party. Felix Gines making the decision to join our party is a major win for us.”

But Black voters in Gines’ district do not appear moved to join him in the Republican Party — “the party of Donald Trump and insurrectionists,” as Daniels recently put it on his radio show.

“I know Dr. Gilbert R. Mason is turning over in his grave today,” Catchings said of Gines’ GOP flip. “If the Republican Party really wants to do something for Black folks in Mississippi, it wouldn’t be important if Felix Gines or anyone else was Republican or Democrat. They would already be doing it. If they didn’t do it while he was a Democrat, they aren’t going to do it when he’s a Republican. It’s just so obvious. Why should we fall for that? What we have is just like Georgia and Herschel Walker. The white folks have found them a Black boy. That’s all this is, and we aren’t going to fall for it.”

Dr. Gilbert R. Mason led the Biloxi Beach wade-ins and fought his whole life for voting rights and equal representation in government.

In 2019, Gines ran as a Democrat for a Biloxi-based House of Representatives seat as a Democrat. He came within about 150 votes of unseating incumbent state Rep. Randall Patterson, a Republican who himself was a Democrat until he flipped to the Republican Party midterm in 2014. Gines decried the lack of support from the Mississippi Democratic Party in the 2019 race and blamed his loss on state party dysfunction.

When Mississippi Today asked if Gines planned to for that House of Representatives seat in 2023, this time as a Republican, he let out an extended laugh before responding, “Right now, my job is to serve my constituents and do the best I can to serve them. But I won’t rule out any future runs.”

Patterson told Mississippi Today on Dec. 13 he had not yet decided whether he’ll run for a sixth term in the House, but he praised Gines for “having a good heart” and “doing a good job as Biloxi councilman.”

READ MORE: ‘I got absolutely no help’: Dysfunction within the Mississippi Democratic Party leads to historic 2019 loss

Regardless of Gines’ future plans, many of his council ward’s constituents are fuming. Stallworth, who served on the Biloxi City Council for 10 years and lost to Gines in the 2013 Democratic primary, said he was approached several times by the Republican Party with incentives to flip.

“All I had to do for more power was give up my integrity, to be loyal to the party, to be loyal to the money,” Stallworth said of those offers. “I didn’t do it because I’d rather be loyal to principles and to what my God says to be. I don’t plan on losing my soul. My integrity is the last thing I’ve got, and I’d fight with everything in my power to maintain that. I don’t have a lot to leave my children. But if I can leave them with a sense of integrity and honesty and fair play, if I can give them that, I will have done well.”

Stallworth continued: “I don’t mind anyone being a Democrat or Republican, but I do mind people being liars and cheats. I’d say that to Mr. Gines or any other politician. You’ve got to be honest with yourself at the end of the day. Anything less than that just isn’t acceptable.”

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

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