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Transcript: Rep. Robert Johnson’s Democratic response to 2024 State of the State address

House Minority Leader Robert Johnson issued the Democratic response to Gov. Reeves' State of the State address on Monday

House Minority Leader Robert Johnson delivered the Democrat response to Monday’s State of the State address.

Below is a transcript provided by Johnson’s staff. To watch the Democratic response in its entirety, scroll to the bottom of the article.

Good Evening, I’m Rep. Robert Johnson, Democratic Leader in the Mississippi House of Representatives. 

At his inauguration, Gov. Reeves kicked off his second term with a speech centered on how he’d strive to be a governor for “all Mississippi.” He told us that there is “no black Mississippi or white Mississippi. There is no red Mississippi or blue Mississippi,” while he outlined a vision for his second term that, frankly, belied his entire career in public office. 

But after a contentious election cycle, and with Mississippi’s big problems not going anywhere – and many getting worse – it was a welcome message. Since then, however, we’ve watched the governor go right back to what we’ve come to expect from him – red-meat rhetoric and a refusal to confront the very real problems facing our state. 

Tonight you heard from a governor who only wants you to hear one side of the story. Because for every economic development project the governor celebrates, our employment rate remains stagnant. 

For every corporate handout we dole out for one of those projects, our schools remain underfunded by billions of dollars. 

And for every politically-motivated “plan” to address the hospital crisis, hundreds of thousands of working Mississippians are still without access to healthcare. 

A real leader doesn’t see telling the full story as a problem, because a real leader knows being honest isn’t a weakness; it’s a necessity. Embracing the complexities of a situation, engaging in earnest debate, collaborating with experts and advocates – that’s what a leader does. Simply saying “no” isn’t policymaking. Deflection and distraction isn’t leadership. 

Leadership looks like what Gov. Reeves claimed he was working toward in his inaugural address. But unfortunately, you can’t just say you’re a governor for all Mississippi. You have to show it. And Gov. Reeves’ actions speak much louder than his words. 

In the six weeks since the governor proclaimed that “everything we do, we do together,” he has quickly returned to his conservative buzzword approach to governance, saying whatever it takes to get him booked consistently on Fox News. 

He’s blocked nearly $40 million in federal funds to feed more than 300,000 hungry Mississippi children during the summer and help their struggling families. 

And he has continued to downplay the severity of the healthcare crisis – ignoring the long-term damage our large uninsured population will have on an already strained healthcare system – even as his own party moves to address that problem without him.

I’m proud that House Democrats have continued to lead on addressing the healthcare crisis. Mississippi’s healthcare landscape has been decimated by refusing to implement expansion in a timely fashion, and with an eye toward improving health outcomes in a cost-effective way, we’ve developed a pragmatic, practical, and easily implemented plan to get this conversation off the ground. 

Our plan, HB 1146, would insure Mississippians up to 200% of the federal poverty level – those are individuals making roughly $30,000 a year. Traditional Medicaid expansion would only insure individuals who are at or below 138% of the federal poverty level. 

This hybrid plan – a 50/50 combination of traditional Medicaid expansion with private options and premium assistance – will provide insurance coverage to the people that need it most, make insurance coverage more affordable for working families, and would help address the myriad issues facing the healthcare system in our state. 

By expanding the number of individuals covered, our plan will improve access to care in a way that traditional Medicaid expansion on its own could not. Greater access to care leads to better management of chronic conditions, and the prevention of chronic disease. A healthier population will have increasingly positive long-term impacts on the affordability of healthcare across the board, and on the overall strength of our state’s healthcare system. 

Mississippi’s struggling healthcare workforce will also benefit from insuring more individuals. We’re facing a dangerous provider shortage, and as a result of financial returns that hospitals and providers will receive due to expanding Medicaid, we’ll see improved physician retention. 

Physicians, especially primary care providers and general internists, are more likely to locate themselves or stay in a state that has expanded Medicaid. 

For Mississippians who are uninsured, or who have a job but don’t have insurance through that job, they will be put on an individual qualified health plan and have the majority of their total costs subsidized to make it more affordable. 

And for people who are working and have employer health insurance coverage, the state would subsidize their premiums and most of the cost sharing requirements for them. This will both make health insurance more affordable, and incentivize small businesses to offer a group health insurance plan. 

Across the country, the Affordable Care Act has helped stabilize health costs for many small businesses that provide coverage, with the rate of small-business premium increases falling by half after implementation of the law. 

And since 2010, the increase in small-business healthcare premiums has been at their lowest level in years, following regular double-digit increases prior to the law’s enactment.

Small businesses are the backbone of our state’s economy. And without a healthy workforce, our local economies suffer. We literally cannot afford to keep kicking the can down the road. 

We’re glad to see that all of us working toward a solution in the Capitol aren’t being held back by a governor who is more interested in dismissing our effort to come up with a solution, than to offer up an alternative solution himself. 

Year after year, House and Senate Democrats have offered up concrete ideas and common-sense solutions to move Mississippi forward. We’ve authored legislation to address the increasingly dangerous healthcare crisis, raise the minimum wage, fix our state’s crumbling infrastructure, fully fund public education, make voting easier and more convenient, and increase transparency in government. 

We have consistently led the charge on increasing teacher pay and a raise for state employees — and not just when it was politically beneficial to do so. 

We’ve also sounded the alarm on ensuring equity in economic development, so that all corners of our state have the opportunity to flourish. And now, as the governor touts these so-called major economic development projects, and celebrates it being “Mississippi’s time,” it’s hard not to look around at the areas west of I-55 – where the bulk of Mississippi’s Black population resides – and say “for who, governor?” 

Mississippi has the lowest per capita income in the country. We have the highest rate of poverty in the country – nearly 20%. And both of those statistics are doubled or disproportionately worse in the Mississippi Delta and southwest Mississippi. Those numbers simply don’t improve without intentional, equitable economic development. 

So if the issue is an educated workforce, then fund our schools. If the issue is infrastructure, then put more money into our chronically underfunded roads and bridges. If you can spend millions of dollars on site readiness east of I-55, then why can’t you spend millions readying sites west of I-55? 

Refusing to prioritize equitable economic development is a choice. And the people of this state deserve to know why they have a governor who seems perfectly happy to let a significant number of his constituents flail while others continue to flourish. 

During last year’s State of the State and in every public appearance he made on the campaign trail, the governor has told us that “Mississippi continues to be in the best financial shape in its history.” 

And yet, 30% of Mississippi children are living in poverty. One in six women of childbearing age is uninsured. State employees – the men and women who keep our state running – are, on average, paid thousands of dollars less than their counterparts in all of our surrounding states.

Our long-neglected roadways continue to cost Mississippians, on average, $800 in vehicle damage annually. 

When you’re driving to your child’s baseball tournament in Vicksburg or you’re on your way to the Coast for a long weekend — can you honestly say that what you see as you’re looking out the window makes you stop and think “Yes. This is a state in the best financial shape it’s ever been in. This is a state that is trying to keep our best and brightest. This is a state that is working for everyone who’s trying their best to make a life here?”

So, I’m asking you: Is your life any different than it was this time last year? Are you wealthier? Are you healthier? 

The governor will tell you that “when it comes to delivering a quality education for our children, we are getting the job done”; but we know there are classrooms that don’t have pencils and chalk, or a full set of textbooks. 

He’ll tell you that “Mississippi is the safest place for the unborn”; but we know that Mississippi babies are more likely to die before their first birthday than anywhere else in the country. 

He’ll tell you “it’s the strongest our economy has ever been”; and we ask “for who?” Who are you going to believe, Mississippi? The governor or your lying eyes? 

It’s one thing to have different approaches to solving our state’s problems. It is quite another to refuse to acknowledge your citizens’ concerns and ignore many of Mississippi’s issues outright – all while telling us over and over again just how great everything is. 

Mississippians share more values and principles than not. We care about what happens to our neighbors because that’s just who we are. We want our families to prosper and for our children to have a better future and more opportunities than we did. 

Our state is in desperate need of a leader who sees all of that and governs based on it. 

We deserve a governor who has respect for his fellow Mississippian, someone who will lead with honesty and empathy and compassion, and who can make the best decisions for everyone, not just a select few. We deserve a leader who will not only hear people, but listen to them. 

It’s up to us to demand better. Things won’t get better in this state if we continue to let the governor — or any other elected leader — get away with lip service. It’s not enough to just say you’re a governor for all Mississippi. You need to show us what that looks like in practice. 

We’re a better place when we work together and overcome our differences for the good of the people we represent. We need leaders who bring people together, who acknowledge the problems we face and try to understand the causes of those problems alongside the people most affected. 

That’s what leadership looks like. That’s what Mississippi needs from its governor.

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