HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi's Republican lieutenant governor and Democratic attorney general debated teacher pay raise plans, road repairs, health care and taxes as they clashed for the first debate in the governor's race.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Attorney General Jim Hood met Thursday at the University of Southern Mississippi as they compete in Mississippi's most competitive governor's race since 2003. The two are scheduled to meet in a second debate before votes are cast Nov. 5.
Hood argued Reeves had his chance to make improvements during his eight years as lieutenant governor and that voters shouldn't keep him, saying Mississippi's economic growth is lagging and people are leaving the state.
"What we're doing is not working. His leadership has failed," Hood said.
Reeves said Hood would raise taxes to fund an overly pricey agenda.
"I'm not going to make promises that I can't keep and I'm not going to spend money we don't have," Reeves said. He added that surplus state revenue already collected would pay for the first year of his pay raise plan that he unveiled Wednesday in Gulfport.
About 250 people in the 300-seat auditorium in Hattiesburg watched the debate, sponsored by Jackson television station WJTV-TV and broadcast statewide. Some spectators were supporters of each candidate, at times cheering and jeering despite effort by moderators at control.
Hood painted a picture of Reeves as giving tax breaks to the rich while not doing enough for working people. Hood said he would help pay for his agenda by reversing Reeves' mistakes, including his refusal to take federal money to expand the state-federal Medicaid program to provide health insurance for more people.
"We've been turning down a billion dollars a year," Hood said, touting a Medicaid expansion plan in which hospitals have pledged to put up matching money. He said it would help keep rural hospitals open.
Reeves pushed his plan to focus on training and deploying more doctors to rural areas, again repeating his pledge that he would never expand "Obamacare," using the name for health care reform that links the program to former Democratic President Barack Obama. That was just part of Reeves' effort to link Hood to forces unpopular with Mississippi's conservative majority, also accusing Hood of giving plaintiffs' lawyers the ability to sue companies in exchange for campaign contributions and noting he had endorsed Hillary Clinton.
"The business community in Mississippi is scared to death of having a trial lawyer as governor," Reeves said, arguing that's why he's been able to raise more than $11 million for his campaign.
The two traded charges over an aborted plan to build an access road to Reeves' Flowood subdivision. Hood said emails show Reeves pushed a road that would have benefited him.
"The fact is, the emails were there, the evidence is there," Hood said. "He went after a state agency to build a road from his gated subdivision."
Reeves said Hood conducted an improper political investigation in an election year.
"The attorney general abused his office investigating his political opponent and everybody knows it," Reeves said.
Reeves touted moves last year to spend more on roads and bridges, an effort that will aid city and county roads and bridges the most.
"We were able to do that without raising anybody's taxes," Reeves said.
Hood, though, accused Reeves choked off support for a broader overhaul.
"The votes will be in the Legislature, we will do a road bill first thing," Hood said, citing it as an example of how Republicans and Democrats could work together, a theme he's pushing to overcome GOP efforts to hold the line against him. Reeves though, said he wanted to "translate" that statement.
"He's going to raise the gas tax to pay for it," the lieutenant governor said.