Barbs flew in Wednesday’s debate between incumbent Republican Governor Tate Reeves and his Democratic challenger Brandon Presley, but here were no fatal blunders and neither candidate scored a knockout.
While the Texas Rangers were busy winning the World Series last night, a different kind of swinging for the fences was occurring in Jackson.
Incumbent Republican Governor Tate Reeves and his Democratic challenger Brandon Presley shared the stage at the Jackson studio of WAPT for the only debate of this election cycle. It didn’t take long Wednesday night for the war of words to commence in the battle for Mississippi’s Governor.
Early in the debate, Presley could be heard off camera attempting to talk over Reeves as the Governor answered questions posed by WAPT moderators Megan West and Troy Johnson. Within the first few minutes, each side had insulted the other. It was to become a theme.
Presley accused Reeves of playing a part in the TANF scandal that was exposed during his predecessor’s administration and of being transactional with donors.
Reeves repeatedly called out Presley for what he perceived as lies and argued that Presley was beholden to liberal donors in New York, California and Washington, D.C. He contended that Presley, as a Public Service Commissioner, had committed the same offense – taking money from a regulated public utility – that had sent three other Public Service Commissioners to prison.
Neither Reeves nor Presley have been charged with any crimes.
Beyond all the invective thrown about during the debate, there were really only two well-explored policy discussions: Medicaid expansion and tax policy.
The main talking point for Presley during this campaign has been his support for Medicaid expansion. On Wednesday, the issue was the first question. Presley contends that adding 200,000 to 300,000 more to the welfare rolls will not only help low-income Mississippians, but provide additional revenue for those hospitals struggling to meet their financial obligations.
“This is not about politics, it’s about people. We have lost a billion dollars a year by not expanding Medicaid in Mississippi. It is an idea that’s time has come,” Presley said. “It’s past time to do it, and as governor I would take steps on day one to expand Medicaid, join 40 other states, take the billion dollars a year, save 34 rural hospitals, get insurance to 230,000 working Mississippians and create 16,000 good healthcare jobs.”
Governor Reeves vehemently disagreed, saying expanding Medicaid was not the answer in Mississippi.
“It does not make sense for the people of Mississippi. It does not make sense for people of Mississippi because if we were to add 300,000 people to the Medicaid rolls, about 100,000 of those individuals would actually be currently on private insurance,” Reeves said. “That’s taking 100,000 people that are currently on private insurance and putting them on the government rolls. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”
Reeves added that those currently on private insurance could lose it under Presley’s plan.
At present, there are over 837,000 Mississippians receiving some Medicaid benefit at a total cost of over $7.2 billion to the state and federal government. The Kaiser Family Foundation has projected that Medicaid expansion in Mississippi would add 231,000 people to the rolls at a total cost of an additional $1.8 billion a year.
In the states that have expanded Medicaid, original projections for additions to the Medicaid rolls was for 8.6 million new enrollees. The actual increase has been 19 million. If a similar pattern played out in Mississippi, Medicaid rolls would increase by nearly half a million people at a total cost of $3.85 billion a year.
The Democratic nominee claimed that there is a majority of lawmakers in the supermajority Republican Legislature that would expand Medicaid “right now” and Reeves was standing in the way. He also argued that the program would pay for itself.
Reeves wasn’t having it.
“Brandon Presley now twice has tried to convince the people that are viewing tonight that he knows what conservative Republicans think. He’s lying to the people yet again. The fact of the matter is expanding Medicaid is not the best policy for rural hospitals,” Reeves rebutted, adding, “It is not the financial windfall that Brandon Presley would have you believe. It costs taxpayers about $300 million a year. It takes individuals that are currently on private insurance and puts them on government insurance. And for all of those reasons, it’s often the case when Democrats talk about expanding government services, there are unintended consequences.”
Reeves said when individuals are moved off of private insurance onto government insurance, it’s bad for rural hospitals because the reimbursement rates are lower when they go on Medicaid, saying, “That’s why the financial scheme doesn’t work.”
Presley said there was a reason the Mississippi Hospital Association (MHA) supported him, saying, “that’s first and foremost,” and it was because he would expand Medicaid. However, MHA’s decision to back the Democrat caused a split in the organization that resulted in large hospital systems leaving and the longtime MHA president eventually resigning over the internal strife.
The two then moved on to discuss tax cuts.
Reeves continues to push for the full elimination of the state income tax after the historic cuts made during this first term while Presley is calling for cuts to the sales tax on groceries.
“If you earn income and you make a living in this state, we’ve cut your taxes. You have more money in your pocket because of conservative leadership in the Mississippi Legislature and in the governor’s office,” Reeves said, pointing to $1.2 billion in tax cuts. “If we were to turn Mississippi blue, we would never see another tax cut in the state of Mississippi.”
Presley shot back that Reeves can talk about “whatever numbers he wants to use.”
“Ladies and gentlemen of Mississippi, you still pay the highest sales tax on groceries in America. Tate Reeves has had 12 years to do something about it, he’s done nothing,” the Democrat said.
Reeves snapped back, saying the very policies that have driven grocery prices up 19.7% since Joe Biden was elected President “are the very policies Brandon Presley would like to enact.”
“He talks about the grocery tax, which is 7%. Prices are up 19.7% because Brandon Presley and his solar panel buddies have tried to run the oil business out of America, and it’s cost people at the grocery store, bottom line,” Reeves said.
Despite the barbs, in the end, neither candidate made any fatal blunders during the debate and neither scored a knockout.
For all of the night’s action, you can watch the full debate here courtesy of WAPT.
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