Gubernatorial candidates throw punches from the podium at annual Hobnob forum

Published: Oct. 26, 2023 at 6:40 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - With just twelve days before Mississippians choose the state’s next governor, the state’s two gubernatorial candidates took jabs at each other’s record, business abilities and campaign support, with economic leaders and reporters watching it all.

The speeches served as the highlight of the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Hobnob event, where business leaders and lawmakers got to hear from most candidates running for statewide office.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves touted several of the state’s successes before the crowd, successes that all happened while he was in office.

Those include teacher pay raises and a historic infrastructure package that he believes will lead to more economic development.

His opponent, Democrat Brandon Presley, cut through the positivity, saying Mississippi has serious problems in healthcare and what he calls a crisis of corruption, claiming Reeves had a role in the state’s welfare scandal.

Reeves has not been implicated or charged.

Perhaps the biggest divide between the two candidates is the debate over Medicaid expansion, and whether that action would actually help Mississippi’s rural healthcare system.

“The failure to expand Medicaid is one of the dumbest decisions the state of Mississippi has ever made. No wonder Tate Reeves got out of the investment banking business and got in politics,” Presley said. “If you don’t have enough sense to know that investing a dime getting you back 90 cents is a good deal, invest one dollar, get back nine dollars... that’s a good deal. No wonder he had to leave investment banking and get in politics. Can’t do that simple math.”

Reeves fired back.

“Adding 300,000 able-bodied adults to the welfare rolls is not the right thing to do. It’s not the right thing to do from Mississippi. And what I would submit to you is, these individuals, like my opponent, 1.1 million on Medicaid is not going to satisfy them,” Reeves said. “1.1 million is not going to be enough. They want everybody to have government-run health care. That is their ultimate goal.”

Reeves claims his plan to increase reimbursements for Mississippi hospitals will help many who are struggling financially.

Presley’s position is just the opposite.

The Democrat from north Mississippi said he believes expanding Medicaid will do more to save those rural hospitals at risk of closure than anything the governor has done.

“He has painted himself in such a political corner and ran his mouth so much that he’s called Medicaid expansion ‘welfare’ and all these crazy things that he can’t come out of that corner,” Presley said. “So you see him come forward with things like this farce in hospital taxes that are going to cost hospitals $200 million, which they’re only going to pass down to consumers and insurance companies and calls it a grand solution. It doesn’t help one single rural hospital.”

Reeves also took aim at coverage he claimed was one-sided from members of the press, accusing reporters of writing stories that highlight other states that have expanded Medicaid without showing the impact it actually had on rural hospitals.

“You look at the report and say, between 65 and 70 percent of rural hospitals in Mississippi are at risk of closure. But for some reason, y’all can’t seem to write that between 65 and 70 percent of rural hospitals in Louisiana are at risk of closure. Y’all can’t seem to write between 65 and 70 percent of rural hospitals in Arkansas are at risk of closure in the very same report,” Reeves said.

Reeves believes there will be no financial windfall from expanding Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of Mississippians and touted his plan as the only answer.

Presley ended his interviews Thursday with a prediction of what the governor’s speech would include.

“He’ll get up and talk about New York and California and ‘liberals are out to get you in there. Somebody’s gonna come invade your community or any silliness that he can come up with to divert from the fact that he has a record as one of the most corrupt governors our state’s ever had,” Presley said. “He won’t address the fact that he shakes down businesses for campaign contributions.”

Presley’s prediction proved true. Shortly after his remarks to reporters, Reeves threw out those familiar political talking points to the room.

“On Tuesday, November 7, we’re gonna have the opportunity to go to the polls, and we’re gonna make a choice. There’s no doubt that the billionaires in California, New York, and Washington, D.C. have made their choice. Millions and millions and millions of dollars have flown into our state. Over a third of my opponent’s money has come from out of state,” Reeves said. “Over 80 percent of my opponent’s money has come from the national liberals. The question I have to leave you with is, ‘What do they think they’re buying?’”

Both men will face off only once in a debate next Wednesday, which will be broadcast on Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

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