Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann speaks to a crowd of supporters after winning the race for lieutenant governor on Tues. Nov. 5, 2019.
Alissa Zhu, The Clarion-Ledger
Throughout the 2019 election season, three issues kept surfacing in debates, ads and speeches — expanding Medicaid, increasing the gas tax, and raising teacher pay.
Now that the elections are over, which of these issues can Mississippians expect their newly elected leaders to tackle?
Mississippi’s new governor, Republican Tate Reeves, spent eight years presiding over the Senate as lieutenant governor. Here’s what happened then:
- Medicaid was not expanded;
- Average teacher pay ranked last in the nation;
- Infrastructure was addressed in a 2018 special session, but critics say much more needs to be done.
However, these issues could all be addressed over the next few years.
Mississippi Governor-elect Tate Reeves addresses his supporters, as his wife, Elee Reeves, right, listens, at a state GOP election night party Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, in Jackson, Miss. Reeves, the current lieutenant governor, defeated Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood in the race for governor (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) (Photo: Rogelio V. Solis, AP)
Is change coming?
A big reason why these these issues could be tackled is that Reeves is no longer lieutenant governor.
Even though he’s now governor, Reeves constitutionally had more power during his two terms as lieutenant governor.
The governor is the face of the state. They can use their pulpit to advocate or push for an agenda. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of lawmaking, the lieutenant governor has real power.
A lieutenant governor whose party also controls the Senate can effectively decide what bills make it out of committee, what bills will die, and how the money flows.
A governor may sign the laws, but it’s the lieutenant governor and House speaker who control what bills end up on the governor’s desk.
Who’s the next lieutenant governor?
Republican Delbert Hosemann, who’s been secretary of state for 12 years, cruised to victory Tuesday night.
Reeves endorsed Hosemann for lieutenant governor, but Hosemann did not endorse Reeves.
While the Republican candidates for treasurer, insurance commissioner, agricultural commissioner and auditor held their watch parties with Reeves at the Westin Hotel in downtown Jackson, Hosemann held a separate watch party.
While Reeves railed against the national Democratic party and praised President Donald Trump, Hosemann focused inward, talking about Mississippi issues.
Hosemann advocated raising teacher pay every year, exploring Medicaid expansion, and allowing individual counties to levy their own gas taxes to pay for infrastructure improvements.
Those are all issues Reeves has resisted in the past or outright rejected. Now, they’ll have to work together for the next four years, and compromises are likely to come.
Teacher pay raises likely
After presiding over a Legislature that shot down a $4,000 teacher pay raise and settled on $1,500 this year, Reeves issued a plan for a $4,300 raise late in his campaign.
Reeves’s opponent in the Republican primary runoff for governor, retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., made teacher pay raises a central plank of his campaign platform.
Similarly, Hood had ambitious goals for increasing education spending that included more teacher pay. He tried to court teachers as a voting bloc.
It was less than a month before the general election that Reeves rolled out his plan for raising teacher pay.
Both Hosemann and his Democratic challenger Rep. Jay Hughes campaigned on raising teacher pay. Hosemann promised to increase it every year he’s in office.
If teacher pay is not raised next year, it will mean Hosemann and Reeves will be going back on a major campaign promise.
Gas tax coming?
Mississippi’s gas tax stands at 18.4 cents a gallon, same as the federal rate. Neither has been raised for decades. Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, leaders in business and in the Republican party have supported a gas tax to fix the state’s crumbling infrastructure.
Reeves made clear during the campaign that he was against raising the gas tax to pay for repairs to roads and bridges. His ads even falsely accused Hood of supporting a gas tax, a position that Hood left open, but never endorsed.
Hosemann has said he is against a statewide gas tax hike, but he does have a plan that will raise gas taxes for at least some Mississippians.
Under Hosemann’s plan, counties would be allowed to raise their own gas tax to pay for specific infrastructure projects. The money would stay in the counties, Hosemann said, and all the tax increases would have a sunset clause.
Given his staunch opposition to any gas tax, ti’s unclear if Reeves would be willing to support Hosemann’s plan.
Will Reeves soften on Medicaid expansion?
During the campaign, Reeves said he was unequivocally against expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress.
Mississippi is one of 14 states that has not expanded Medicaid. Expansion requires states to chip in money, but would also bring billions of dollars of federal money and insurance coverage to lower-income residents.
“I’m opposed to Obamacare expansion in Mississippi. I’m opposed to Obamacare expansion in Mississippi. I’m opposed to Obamacare expansion in Mississippi,” Reeves told reporters in January. “I don’t know how many ways I can explain this to y’all but I’m opposed to Obamacare expansion in Mississippi because it is not in the best interest of taxpayers.”
But Hosemann, who has said he supports expanding Medicaid in some form, might already be having an effect on Reeves.
When a reporter asked Reeves about Medicaid expansion Tuesday night — and how he would work with Hosemann on it — Reeves did something unusual. He did not immediately denounce “Obamacare.”
“We’re gonna work with the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the house on every issue that’s out there,” Reeves said.
Contact Giacomo “Jack” Bologna at 601-961-7282 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @gbolognaCL.
Read or Share this story: https://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/politics/2019/11/07/mississippi-election-whats-next-roads-health-care-teacher-pay/2507496001/