Sen. Billy Hewes said his opponent, Treasurer Tate Reeves, has no leadership experience, particularly when it comes to the legislative process and a poor record of controlling the state's debt. Reeves said he and Gov. Haley Barbour are most responsible for curtailing the state's debt. One of the two Republicans, who exchanged barbs during a forum last weekend at the Mississippi Press Association's convention in Biloxi, will be Mississippi's next lieutenant governor.
Their race, curiously absent of a Democrat, is the most compelling of the statewide contests.
The governor's race has four interesting competitors - Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Coast businessman Dave Dennis-R; and Democrats Bill Luckett, best known for his business partnership with actor Morgan Freeman including the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, and Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree. Most political experts view the race as a relative yawner, however, as everything appears set up for Bryant to win with ease.
The lieutenant governor's race, on the other hand, is shaping up to be a barn-burner, at least on the campaign trail, as was evidenced last weekend in Biloxi.
“My opponent – he’s not a bad guy,” said the 37-year-old Reeves of Flowood. “In fact, he’s done some good things in our state. He’s done some things that are conservative in our state. Unfortunately, when it comes to spending and debt, it’s not where he’s been conservative.”
Hewes, the State Senate President Pro Tempore, countered saying as a leader in the legislature, he has helped craft state budgets and cut spending.
Hewes, 49, of Gulfport, said he was serving in the Legislature in the 1990s while “Tate was still in school.”
“When you’re on that senate floor, the only currency you have is your credibility,” said Hewes, who was among the statewide candidates that attended the recent Republican rally in Pittsboro. Reeves did not attend.
Reeves said on the Coast the state debt skyrocketed the first 12 years Hewes was in the Senate, but that growth slowed considerably when he and Gov. Haley Barbour took office in 2004.
Hewes suggested the slowed debt was more reflective of Barbour than anything the state treasurer was doing, but the primary reason was Republicans taking over the Senate majority.
Hewes said Reeves, who serves on the state Bond Commission with the governor and attorney general, approved more than 400 bonds accounting for $3.8 billion of state debt. Reeves said that’s “misleading” because Mississippi had $3.1 billion in debt when he took office.
Reeves said Hewes has used all his advertisements to attack him, which he won’t do because “Mississippi voters deserve better.” Hewes said he believes voters deserve to hear the truth, rather than the inconsistencies promoted in Reeves’ political ads.
Hewes also took aim at Reeves “misuse” of funds related to the state college tuition investment program he has promoted.
“He didn’t talk about the $2.3 million of advertising of their money, of other people’s money, that he spent on self-promoting advertisements across the state.”
Reeves didn’t offer a response.
Both candidates were adminant about their conservative beliefs, but Hewes thought Reeves was a bit too self-proclaiming.
“I think I stopped counting after about 50 times he mentioned the word ‘conservative,’” Hewes said. “Well, I don’t have to out-conservative my opponent. He’s no more conservative than I am.”
Reeves explained that he believed his economics and finance background are better qualifications for the next lt. governor.
“I think someone independent of the legislature is better,” said Reeves, the first ever Republican elected state treasurer. “We’ve come a long way under Gov. Barbour, but there’s a whole lot more we need to do.”
Hewes said his “experience is the major difference” between the two – a difference he believes is vital for Mississippi.
“Lieutenant governor is not like any other office out there,” Hewes said. “You have to be able to lead, to herd those cats, as Trent Lott said. My opponent has never had to sit down with agency heads and talk about cutting budgets. He’s never dealt with the tough decisions on the senate floor. It takes more than an educational degree to lead.”
Both agreed redistricting will be the most important issue for the new lt. governor and said they expect the position to be a critical seat of power without Haley Barbour in the governor’s mansion.
Which one will be in that seat?
Reeves has raised more money. Hewes has earned the experience. The voters will ultimately determine which is more important.
You may email Joel McNeece at firstname.lastname@example.org