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BILL CRAWFORD — 2019 will be a big year for Mississippi politics


It’s upon us, the new year, the much anticipated big political year for Mississippi. Yep, 2019 is the year when most state, regional, and local officials will be up for re-election and/or replacement. But, the really big thing will be the gubernatorial showdown between Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Attorney General Jim Hood.

Oh, that November confrontation is not a sure thing just yet. Both will have August primary challengers, though none so far with much money or name recognition.

Meanwhile, the big time jockeying for the Reeves vs. Hood battle has begun.

It started with Hood’s November proclamation that state retirees can serve as legislators and keep getting retirement benefits. PERS regulations require retirees to put benefits on hold should they become a state elected official.

While this has been a contested issue for years, Hood suddenly weighed in against PERS, arguing legislators are part-time employees so thousands of retirees, mostly retired teachers, can serve without giving up benefits. (There is one big flaw in Hood’s reasoning. PERS credits legislative service as full-time. Hood’s action would reduce that retirement credit to part-time. Otherwise legislative service would somehow be full-time and part-time at the same time).

PERS said it had not been consulted by Hood and has his ruling under advisement. It will be interesting to see if PERS revises its regulations, but more interesting to see if the Republican controlled legislature acts to undo Hood’s ruling.

You see, it’s pretty clear from the reaction of pro-education advocates that their hope is for many retired teachers of the Democrat persuasion to challenge Republican incumbents in next year’s elections. This would benefit Hood by increasing Democrat turnout next November. It could also undo the GOP super majorities in the house and senate and boost chances for increased school funding.

The jockeying continued in December with the revelation that Gov. Phil Bryant has been quietly looking into expanding Medicaid in Mississippi, a la the conservative approach then Governor, now Vice President, Mike Pence put in place in Indiana.

Expanding Medicaid has gained somewhat in popularity in Mississippi and is seen as one of Hood’s major campaign issues, as well as a potential financial rescue for many rural hospitals and clinics. Sliding a conservative version through the upcoming legislative session could boost Reeves.

So far, Bryant has not commented on the story published in Mississippi Today. If this moves forward it will be interesting to see if the GOP legislative majority will go along. There is also the possibility Bryant could expand Medicaid by executive order.

All this supports rumors that Bryant and Reeves have mended fences in order to hold off a Democrat surge in November.

In another December jockeying maneuver, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn told reporters that lawmakers will abandon attempts to rewrite the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) funding formula in the upcoming session. Changing the formula has been a major Republican goal since the defeat of the school funding referendum in 2015. Taking it off the table will tamp down an inflammatory issue for pro-school advocates and teachers, e.g., likely Hood supporters.

Intriguingly, Reeves, so far, has been quiet on Republican jockeying. No doubt because changing course on Medicaid and school funding won’t play well with part of his base.

Yes, 2019 will be a big year for Mississippi politics.

» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicate columnist from Meridian.


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