Gubernatorial runoff offers clear choices

By WYATT EMMERICH,

I never get  tired of seeing true democracy in action and that’s what we’ve got in this year’s Mississippi gubernatorial runoff.

We have two strong candidates, both with tons of experience, each with a differing viewpoint as to how to approach the pressing issues of the day. Now Mississippi Republicans have a choice.

It’s great to see an issues-based runoff. Both Tate Reeves and Bill Waller are Republican conservatives, but they differ in their assessment of what constitutes a legitimate function of government.

Waller believes government needs to properly fund highway maintenance, our hospitals and teacher pay. He is willing to embrace a gas tax and accept federal money to do so. He is more of a pragmatist.

Reeves is more on the Tea Party ideological side. He wants to see government shrink and shuns any sort of tax hike no matter how legitimate the purpose. He is more of a ideologue.

Both men have an excellent background of experience. Reeves, a Rankin County resident, has been state treasurer for eight years and lieutenant governor for eight years. During that time, taxes were cut, mainly for corporations, and the state spending, adjusted for inflation, was decreased. He has played an integral part in turning around runaway spending and balancing the budget.

Waller, a Jackson resident, served on the Mississippi Supreme Court for 21 years, the last 10 as chief justice. He’s been an adjutant general in the Mississippi National Guard, the highest rank. Waller has played a big role in the introduction of drug courts and the automation of the civil justice system. As a supreme court judge, he has been able to see first-hand how the laws of the state fail or succeed in real-life situations. As a general, he has intimate knowledge of the military and its role at both the state and federal level.

I have known both men casually for decades and I can tell you both of them are honest, upright and completely fit for high office. Waller and his extended Jackson family are well loved in the community. Reeves has displayed honesty and integrity during his 16 years in office. Both are super smart.

Reeves has earned a reputation for being prickly, arrogant and vengeful. I think that’s unfair. Given his ideology of cutting government as a priority, it would be impossible to serve in office that long without making people mad. Waller, as a judge, faces the same issues, but not as visibly as a lieutenant governor. That being said, Waller does have a warm, friendly, effusive personality which will serve him well in office.

Despite having voted for Reeves just about every time he’s run, I think Waller is my man this time around. One of my conservative friends was ribbing me about this and I asked him this question: Would you buy a car with an accelerator and no brake? Would you buy a car with a brake and no accelerator?

Of course not. A car needs both a brake and an accelerator. Some times you need to speed up. Then at other times, you need to slow down.

When the Republicans took over Mississippi a decade or so ago, our state had a spending problem. Combined federal and state spending was increasing three times faster than inflation adjusted for population growth. This had been going on for two decades. Our state was struggling to balance its budget.

Since then the opposite has occurred. Inflation adjusted for population in Mississippi is up 17 percent, but total state spending is up only four percent. In other words, we’ve cut our government in real dollars.

How has this worked out? Well, the Republicans certainly balanced the budget. Good for them. But the real measure of the health of our state is growth. From 1990 to 2000, Mississippi population grew 10.5 percent. Then from 2000 to 2010, Mississippi grew 4.3 percent. From 2010 to 2018, according to the Census Bureau, Mississippi’s population growth rate was a measly half of one percent. State GDP hasn’t fared any better.

The dream of making Mississippi a low-tax, minimal government free enterprise haven and then waiting for national corporations to flock here has not panned out. Waving a state flag that scares outsiders away hasn’t helped any. Maybe we just need more time.

Meanwhile, the old playbook of letting the feds help our lower income families is looking pretty good. Yet Reeves wants to keep turning down a billion dollars a year in federal money that would help lower income working families get medical coverage at no cost to the state. Arkansas, Louisiana have expanded Medicaid and it is working great. Population and tax revenues are growing. Not so in Mississippi, now one of only 14 states that is still turning its nose away from a cool billion dollars a year.

Critics of Medicaid rightly criticize the entire concept of socialized medicine. I get that. A more market-oriented system would be far superior. But Mississippi doesn’t get to make that choice. The question is what we do with the cards we are dealt. The thought that my beloved state has now missed out on 10 billion dollars of federal money makes my skin crawl.

Then there are the state highways and bridges. I have made the case for raising the gas tax for the first time in 30 years in this paper in great detail. Mississippi is only one of three states that haven’t done so. This is a no brainer. If you don’t maintain your roads, they will end up costing five times more to completely rebuild. Not to mention all the bent rims and tire realignments. This is not politics, just common sense.

Bill Waller is in line with my thinking on both these issues as are the Mississippi voters by far, according to polls. If Reeves wins the Republican nomination, we may be looking at the first Democratic governor in the state

of Mississippi in 28 years.

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