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Reeves, Presley spar in Mississippi governor debate

The first and only debate between Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and Democratic challenger Brandon Presley took place on Wednesday night in Jackson with each candidate sharing their plan for the state if voters were to elect them to Mississippi’s highest office.

While pokes were on full display – with Reeves and Presley not only interrupting but attacking each other on multiple occasions – policies were also shared throughout the one-hour event. With the general election just five days away, here’s a list of the main topics discussed.

Medicaid expansion

The first question of the night from WAPT’s Megan West and Troy Johnson was, to the surprise of few, about the possibility of Mississippi joining 40 other states in expanding Medicaid amid an ongoing healthcare crisis.

Reeves and Presley, who have remained on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to expansion, stuck to their guns and further explained why.

“As governor, I would take steps on day one to expand Medicaid…take the billions of dollars a year, save 34 rural hospitals, get insurance to 230,000 working Mississippians, and create 16,000 good healthcare jobs,” Presley said.

Reeves, previously referring to the idea as “expanding welfare,” argued that Medicaid expansion is not the right route for Mississippi as it could result in thousands being taken off private insurance and forced on Medicaid rolls.

“At the end of the day, we have determined that it does not make sense for the people of Mississippi,” Reeves said. “Taking 100,000 people that are currently on private insurance and putting them on government rolls, that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

The GOP incumbent went on to claim that Presley would not have the authority “to do anything on the first day in office” regarding Medicaid expansion, leading his challenger to cite a Section 1115 Medicaid demonstration waiver. The waiver, in theory, would offer the state an avenue to test new approaches in Medicaid such as expansion.

“The truth of the matter is, Tate, there is a majority of the House and Senate of Democrats and Republicans right now that want to expand Medicaid and you are standing in the way of 230,000 working people that have jobs that you are too good to do yourself,” Presley said.

Later in the debate, Reeves pointed to his recently announced Medicaid reimbursement reforms as a suitable alternative to full-on expansion. If approved by the Centers for Medicaid Division Services, the reimbursements could offer a tradeoff of a higher bed tax for up to $690 million for the state’s struggling hospitals.

Nixing taxes

As taxes remain on the forefront of both candidates’ platforms, Reeves reminded residents that the state has seen monumental personal income tax cuts during his first four years in office while assuring more cuts if reelected.

“We’ve cut over $1.2 billion for the people of this state. I do believe eliminating income tax is the best policy for the state,” Reeves said. “If you earn income and you make a living in this state, we have cut your taxes. You have more money in your pocket because of conservative leadership.”

Presley, on the other hand, did not mention future income tax cuts. Instead, the longtime public service commissioner and former Nettleton mayor vouched for slashing the nation’s highest grocery tax and reducing car tag fees by half.

“If you go out and buy feed for a hog or feed for a cow, you pay zero sales tax to feed that hog or that cow. But if you want to feed your baby or you want to feed your family, you pay the highest sales tax in America,” he said. “Now Tate Reeves wants to talk about being such a tax-cutter…he could have gotten the sales tax off groceries. He could have cut car tag fees in half.”


On the subject of education, Reeves continued to tout what the New York Times has dubbed the “Mississippi Miracle” as the state has gone from having some of the nation’s lowest-performing reading scores to having its most improved.

The Republican also brought up a recent teacher pay raise, which Presley went on to question the legitimacy of.

“One teacher told me last week in north Mississippi that she netted out at $23 a month in teacher pay and he brags about the teacher pay raises,” Presley said. “We need to get teacher pay to the national average to keep, retain, and attract schoolteachers to Mississippi. It’s why the [Mississippi Association of Educators] endorsed me over Tate Reeves in this campaign.”

Reeves called Presley’s story “a lie,” saying it would be impossible for a teacher to net such a small amount after lawmakers passed a bill in 2022 raising the base salary for educators by an average of $5,140 with additional incentives included.

“Every teacher in Mississippi makes at least $6,100 more per year today than they did when I became governor,” Reeves fired back. “There is no possible way that a teacher netted $23 a month on a $6,100 pay raise. Brandon Presley lies really well, but he can’t do math.”

Supporting law enforcement

Both candidates voiced their support of law enforcement, with Reeves pointing to an increase in state-supplied officers in Jackson as a nod to his commitment to reducing crime.

“We moved Capitol Police from an entity that just looked over state buildings to a real police force,” Reeves said. “We have hired over 150 police officers, and there is no doubt in my mind that Jackson is safer today because of the men and women of Capitol Police.”

Presley, referencing his time as a dispatcher in Lee and Monroe counties, agreed that crime needs to be addressed in the capital city. However, he also presented a plan to make sure other parts of the state aren’t left behind when it comes to reducing criminal activity.

“Jackson has a crime problem, but Jackson isn’t the only city that’s got a crime problem,” Presley explained. “As governor, I would plan to make sure we had a 24-hour patrol in all counties, a minimum of two deputies patrolling in all counties, and create a program where we put more cops on the street.”

He added that the program could be implemented by the governor’s office and the legislature working closely with city and county officials.


One of the few topics that both candidates aligned on, Reeves and Presley each took time when asked to condemn abortion in Mississippi.

“I’m proud that the state of Mississippi led the charge to overturn Roe v. Wade. That is a decision that individual states ought to make as to what their abortion laws look like,” Reeves said.

Presley, a pro-life Democrat, pointed to his religion as to why he stands against abortion.

“I’m a Christian,” he said. “My faith teaches me to be pro-life and I support exceptions in our law for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. But I’m pro-life and I have been forever.”

Still, Reeves called out Presley for accepting a donation from pro-abortion political action committee EMILY’s List to which Presley responded, “Anybody who donates money to me can hang it up if they think they can tell Brandon Presley what to do.”

Corruption claims

While policies were discussed on and off, the bulk of the night was spent by candidates going after each other’s campaign contributions and even morals.

As Presley continued to allege that Reeves was involved in the state’s largest-ever public welfare scandal – which resulted in $77 million in funds intended for needy families being misused from 2016 to 2019 – the incumbent denied any wrongdoing and instead blamed his challenger for accepting what he believes to be “illegal” contributions from solar companies.

“You would have to believe in time travel to believe that I was involved in the DHS scandal,” Reeves said repeatedly, adding “Three public service commissioners in the state of Mississippi have gone to jail for doing exactly what he has done.”

Presley denied any misconduct on his side as well, and in response, said Reeves has been a roadblock in recovering the stolen welfare funds.

“He wants to talk about time travel. You don’t have to travel too far back, Tate. You fired the independent investigator in this case when he got a little too close to your buddies, a little too close to your campaign contributors, a little too close to those who finance your way of life.”

Reeves followed up by saying that every person involved in the welfare scandal is currently being sued by the state and hiring a new law firm to investigate was needed to make that happen.

The full debate can be watched here.

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