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Mississippi Decides: Jim Hood wins Democratic nod for governor; Tate Reeves, Bill Waller Jr. in GOP runoff

Reeves’s commanding margin in Republican race not enough to avoid runoff

JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves will face former Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr. in an August 27 runoff for the Republican nomination for governor, with the winner taking on Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood in November.

Reeves took 49 percent in Tuesday’s GOP primary, just short of the majority he needed to avoid a runoff. Waller came in second place at 33 percent.

State Rep. Robert Foster from DeSoto County, who received national press attention during the campaign after refusing to travel alone with a female reporter, finished third with 18 percent.

Hood, as expected, won his primary over seven lesser-known challengers, taking 69 percent of the vote and setting up what is likely to be the Magnolia State’s most competitive governor’s race in two decades to replace incumbent Republican Governor Phil Bryant, who is term limited.

In down ballot statewide races, Republicans settled on nominees for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and state treasurer, but the GOP race for the open attorney generalship is also headed to a runoff.

Tate Reeves and Bill Waller Jr. advance to runoff in Republican race for governor

Reeves, 45, has served two terms as lieutenant governor after two terms as state treasurer, an office he first won when he was just 29 years old. In the runoff, he will face Waller, 67, who served 21 years on the state’s high court — an elected but non-partisan position — before resigning to run for governor.

Waller is trying to follow in the footsteps of his late father, Bill Waller Sr., who served as governor as a Democrat from 1972 to 1976.

During the campaign, Foster drew national media attention after refusing to let a female reporter for the website Mississippi Today accompany him on the campaign trail because of a rule he has of not being alone with any woman other than his wife.

Foster defended the practice, followed by the late evangelist Billy Graham and Vice President Mike Pence, and used the controversy to raise money and appeal to religious conservative voters after he was criticized for it in national media outlets. But in the end, he carried only his home county of DeSoto and Tate County to the south.

Waller won the counties in metro Jackson; Reeves carried most of the rest of the state, including Hattiesburg and the populous Gulf Coast counties.

Hood, 57, the only Democrat holding statewide office in Mississippi, has been attorney general since 2004. He has parted ways with national Democrats by taking more conservative positions on criminal justice and legal abortion, which he opposes. He has also made expanding Medicaid in Mississippi — long blocked by Republicans in Jackson — a centerpiece of his campaign.

Mississippi has not elected a Democrat as governor since 1999.

Of the eight elected statewide executive posts, five are open in 2019. Tate and Hood’s campaigns for governor opened up their positions as lieutenant governor and attorney general; Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann gave up his post to run for lieutenant governor; and State Treasurer Lynn Fitch left hers to run for attorney general.

Hoseman who his primary with 86 percent of the vote. Fitch made the Republican runoff for attorney general, taking 44 percent; in the runoff, she will face Andy Taggart, a former Madison County supervisor who narrowly edged out State Rep. Mark Baker from Brandon for second place.

In the Republican race for secretary of state, State Senator Michael Watson from Hurley defeated Public Service Commissioner Sam Britton from Laurel by a 54 to 46 percent margin.

The winner of the Republican primary for state treasurer was Ridgeland attorney David McRae, who took 62 percent to 38 percent for State Senator Buck Clarke from Hollandale.

In the only other contested statewide Democratic primary race, former Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, the party’s nominee for governor in 2011, defeated Maryra Hunt to win the nomination for secretary of state. He will face Watson in November.

Mississippi is one of three Southern states holding off-year elections for governor and other state office in 2019,  joining Kentucky and Louisiana.

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Decision 2019: All eyes on GOP race for governor in Mississippi primary

Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves leads Republican field; Attorney General Jim Hood expected to win Democratic nod

JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Voters in Mississippi head to the polls Tuesday to decide statewide races up for grabs in off-year party primaries.

With incumbent Republican Governor Phil Bryant term limited, a field of three Republicans and eight Democrats are vying to replace him. Also on the ballot are competitive primaries for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general and state treasurer, as well as state legislative seats.

Polls close at 7 p.m. CT.

The race that has drawn the most attention is the Republican primary for governor, where polls have shown Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves holding a commanding lead, though likely not enough to avoid a runoff against the second-place finisher. The two candidates competing for the other runoff slot are former Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr. and State Rep. Robert Foster from DeSoto County.

On the Democratic side, Attorney General Jim Hood — the only Democrat holding statewide office in the Magnolia State — is expected to win his primary over seven challengers in his quest to become the first Democrat in 20 years to win the state’s top job.

Reeves, 45, has served two terms as lieutenant governor after two terms as state treasurer, an office he first won when he was just 29 years old.

Waller, 67, served 21 years on the state’s high court — an elected but non-partisan position — before resigning to run for governor. He is trying to follow in the footsteps of his late father, Bill Waller Sr., who served as governor as a Democrat from 1972 to 1976.

Foster, 36, was elected to the House in 2015. During the campaign, he drew national media attention after refusing to let a female reporter for the website Mississippi Today accompany him on the campaign trail because of a rule he has of not being alone with any woman other than his wife.

Foster defended the practice, followed by the late evangelist Billy Graham and Vice President Mike Pence, and used the controversy to raise money after he was criticized for it in national media outlets.

Hood, 57, has been attorney general since 2004. He has parted with his fellow Democrats by taking more conservative positions on criminal justice and legal abortion, which he opposes. He has also made expanding Medicaid in Mississippi — long blocked by Republicans in Jackson — a centerpiece of his campaign.

If no one wins a majority in Tuesday’s first round of voting, a runoff will be held in three weeks on August 27.

Of the eight elected statewide executive posts, five are open in 2019. Tate and Hood’s campaigns for governor opened up their positions as lieutenant governor and attorney general; Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann gave up his post to run for lieutenant governor; and State Treasurer Lynn Fitch left hers to run for attorney general.

Republicans have competitive primaries for lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and state treasurer. Democrats’ only competitive primary is for secretary of state.

Among the lower-tier races, the one that has gotten the most attention is the Republican race for attorney general, pitting Fitch against State Rep. Mark Baker from Brandon and Andy Taggart, a former Madison County supervisor who has served as an advisor to several Republican governors.

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Insight: Are the politics of Obamacare changing in the South?

Cracks are starting to show in the wall of Southern opposition to Medicaid expansion

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

After Obamacare made its way through Congress in 2009, triggering the Tea Party rebellion, Republican-controlled Southern statehouses became a redoubt of opposition to what critics saw as meddlesome socialist overreach.

ChickenFriedPolitics editor Rich Shumate

When, three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Obama administration couldn’t force states to enact a key Obamacare provision — expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income residents — most Southern states took advantage of the decision and didn’t.

Today, nine of the 14 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid are in the South, leaving more than 2.3 million low-income Southerners who would qualify for Medicaid without health care coverage, according to researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But there are some signs that the blanket opposition to expanding Medicaid in the South may be retreating, albeit slightly and slowly.

Louisiana and Virginia expanded Medicaid after electing Democratic governors in 2017. In Arkansas and Kentucky, where expansion passed under Democratic governors, it has endured despite their replacement by more skeptical Republicans.

In Florida and Oklahoma, petition drives are underway to put expansion on the ballot in 2020, doing an end-run around recalcitrant GOP leaders. And in Mississippi, a Democrat is trying to use expansion as a wedge issue to end a 16-year Republican lock on the governor’s office.

In states with expanded Medicaid, low-income people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $17,000 for an individual — can get coverage. In states without expansion, the income limit for a family of three is just under $9,000; single people are excluded entirely.

Most of the singles and families who are not eligible for traditional Medicaid don’t make enough money to get the tax credits they need to buy insurance on the Obamacare insurance exchanges. According to estimates from Kaiser, 92 percent of all Americans who fall into this coverage gap live in Southern states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, including nearly 800,000 people in Texas, 450,000 in Florida, 275,000 in Georgia, and 225,000 in North Carolina.

The federal government pays 90 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion; states must pick up the rest. Republican leaders who oppose the idea have balked at making a financial commitment to such an open-ended entitlement, which Congress could change at any time.

But that argument didn’t hold in Virginia after Democrats campaigning on expansion nearly took control of the legislature in 2017. When expansion came up for a vote, 18 House Republicans who survived that blue wave joined Democrats to pass it.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, who issued an executive order on his first day in office to expand Medicaid, is now running for re-election touting that decision; voters will give their verdict in October.

In Mississippi, Attorney General Jim Hood is also making expanded Medicaid the centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign this year, arguing that his state, with the nation’s highest poverty rate, is cutting off its nose to spite its face by refusing to extend coverage to people who would benefit from it.

In Arkansas and Kentucky, where Democratic governors managed to push through expansion in 2014, the Republicans who replaced them have left the programs essentially intact, although they have fiddled at the edges by imposing premiums and work requirements on recipients. (Federal judges have blocked those changes.)

Die-hard Obamacare opponents have not been able to scuttle the program in either state — even in Arkansas, where the program has to be reauthorized annually by a three-fourths majority in both houses of the legislature.

In Florida and Oklahoma, supporters of expansion — including groups representing doctors, nurses and hospitals — are trying to put constitutional amendments expanding Medicaid coverage on the ballot in 2020.

Those ballot measures will be a key test of whether the public mood is more sympathetic to the idea of expansion than are the states’ conservative leaders, who have argued that the program is unaffordable and discourages people from seeking employment to secure health care.

However, the strategy of pursuing ballot initiatives is of limited use in the South because among states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, only Florida, Oklahoma and Mississippi allow the public to put measures on the ballot via petition. Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina do not.

In Florida, the ballot measure will also need to get approval from 60 percent of the voters to pass.

The question to be answered this year and next is whether the fiscal and philosophical arguments against expansion will hold against the argument that low-income Southerners — rural and urban, black and white — deserve health care coverage and will benefit from it, in spite of its association with Obamacare.

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Former Mississippi U.S. Senator Thad Cochran dies at 81

Cochran, the state’s first Republican senator since Reconstruction, served 45 years in Congress

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

OXFORD, Mississippi (CFP) — Former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, who became one of Mississippi’s most revered statesmen in a political career that spanned nine presidents, has died. He was 81.

Cochran died May 30 at a nursing home in Oxford. His death was announced by the office of his successor, U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. His daughter, Kate, told the Washington Post that the cause of death was renal failure.

Former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

Cochran retired in April 2018 because of ongoing health issues that had kept him away from the Senate for several months.

A funeral service will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at the State Capitol in Jackson. A second service will follow Tuesday at the Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson at 11 a.m.

Tributes for the late senator began pouring upon news of his death.

U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, who sat alongside Cochran representing Mississippi for a decade, said he “was a giant in the United States Senate and one of the greatest champions Mississippi has ever known.”

“When Thad Cochran left the Senate, I was reminded of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote, ‘Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime, and departing leave behind us footprints on the sands of time,'” Wicker said. “Thad Cochran’s footprints are all around us

“Mississippi and our nation have lost a true statesman in Thad Cochran,” said Governor Phil Bryant. “He was a legend in the United States Senate where he worked tirelessly to move his state and country forward.”

President Donald Trump expressed condolences on Twitter: “Very sad to hear the news on the passing of my friend, Senator Thad Cochran. He was a real Senator with incredible values – even flew back to Senate from Mississippi for important Healthcare Vote when he was desperately ill. Thad never let our Country (or me) down!”

Cochran was born in 1937 in Pontotoc, a small town in the state’s northeast corner. After graduating from Ole Miss in 1959, he served two years in the Navy before returning home to finish law school and begin practicing law in Jackson.

His first foray into politics came in the 1968 presidential race, when he became state chairman for Richard Nixon’s campaign. At the time, the Republican Party was virtually non-existent in Mississippi, and segregationist George Wallace would bury Nixon. But four years later, Cochran would be elected to Congress on Nixon’s coattails as a Republican.

Cochran served three terms in the House before being elected to the Senate in 1978, becoming the first Republican since Reconstruction to represent the Magnolia State in the Senate.

During his time in the Senate, Cochran chaired both the agriculture and appropriations committees, positions that allowed him to funnel billions of dollars in federal money to projects back home, earning him the nickname “King of Pork.”

Cochran routinely won re-election without breaking a sweat until 2014, when he was challenged in the Republican primary by State Senator Chris McDaniel, who tried to rally Tea Party support to dislodge Cochran.

McDaniel forced Cochran into a primary runoff, which is when the good will and political capital the senator had banked during his long career paid off — he narrowly beat McDaniel after encouraging Democratic voters, including African Americans and farmers, to cross over and vote for him in the runoff.

That campaign became extremely contentious, particularly after a McDaniel supporter sneaked into a nursing home to shoot video of Cochran’s late wife, Rose, who was suffering from dementia, which was part of a gambit to accuse the senator of having an improper relationship with an aide.

The hard feelings remained in 2018, when McDaniel ran to succeed Cochran and the Republican establishment pulled out all the stops for Hyde-Smith, who beat McDaniel easily.

Rose Cochran died in 2014. In 2015, the senator married Kay Webber, a longtime aide.

Cochran is survived by his wife, two children and three grandchildren.

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4 Southern GOP senators defy Trump on border emergency; North Carolina’s Thom Tillis makes about face to support president

Rubio, Paul, Wicker and Alexander break with Trump in voting to overturn emergency declaration

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — With the support of four Southern Republicans and all four Southern Democrats, the U.S. Senate has voted to overturn President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in order to find money for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis

But one GOP senator who had come out publicly in favor of overturning the declaration — Thom Tillis of North Carolina — reversed course and voted no, after intense lobbying from the White House and an avalanche of criticism from Trump partisans back home.

Trump has vowed to veto the resolution overturning the declaration, which passed by a 59-41 margin in the Republican-controlled Senate on March 14. The House passed it in late February by a vote of 254-182.

However, opponents of the declaration do not have enough support in either House to override Trump’s veto, which will be the first of his presidency.

The four Southern Republicans who broke the with president were Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

All four Southern Democrats in the Senate also voted yes — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Doug Jones of Alabama.

Frustrated by the unwillingness of the Democrat-controlled House to vote money for the border wall, Trump declared a national emergency on February 15, which will allow him to shift $8 billion from other federal programs and use it for wall construction. Most of the money will come from appropriations for military construction and drug interdiction.

Alexander

In a floor speech before the vote, Alexander said he objected to Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to provide border wall funding after Congress failed to appropriate the money.

“The problem with this is that after a Revolutionary War against a king, our nation’s founders gave to Congress the power to approve all spending so that the president would not have too much power. This check on the executive is a crucial source of our freedom,” Alexander said.

Rubio

Rubio said he agreed with Trump that an emergency exists at the border but said he objected to shifting money out of the military construction budget to finance the border barrier.

“This would create a precedent a future president may abuse to jumpstart programs like the Green New Deal, especially given the embrace of socialism we are seeing on the political left,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

Paul and Wicker also cited constitutional considerations as the reason for their vote to overturn the declaration.

Wicker

Paul

“I stand with President Trump on the need for a border wall and stronger border security, but the Constitution clearly states that money cannot be spent unless Congress has passed a law to do so,” Paul said in a statement.

Wicker said he regretted “that we were not able to find a solution that would have averted a challenge to the balance of power as defined by the Constitution.”

“The system of checks and balances established by the Founders has preserved our democracy. It is essential that we protect this balance even when it is frustrating or inconvenient,” he said in a statement.

Tillis made a splash when he published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on February 25 saying he would vote to overturn the emergency declaration because it would set a precedent that “future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms.”

Tillis faced an avalanche of criticism from the president’s supporters in the Tar Heel State and was facing the likelihood of a primary challenge in his 2020 re-election race.

“A lot has changed over the last three weeks — a discussion with the vice president, a number of senior administration officials … a serious discussion about changing the National Emergencies Act in a way that will have Congress speak on emergency actions in the future,” Tillis said.

Republican senators had considered changing the National Emergencies Act to make it more difficult to declare emergencies in the future, but the plan faltered when House Democrats came out against it.

Tillis said he concluded that the crisis at the border was sufficiently serious to warrant the emergency declaration.

“We have narcotics flooding our country, poisoning our children and adults of all ages, and a lot of it has to do with the porous border and the seemingly out of control crossings,” Tillis said.

But Democrats back home pounced on Tillis for his change of heart.

“Tillis again reminded the entire state who he is — a spineless politician who won’t keep his promises and looks out for himself instead of North Carolina,” said Democratic Party spokesman Robert Howard in a statement.

Rubio and Paul do not face re-election until 2022; Wicker’s current term lasts through 2024.

Among the Democrats who voted against Trump, Jones is the only one who is running for re-election in 2020. Warner isn’t up for re-election until 2022, and Manchin and Kaine’s current terms last through 2024.

Jones is considered among the most vulnerable Democrats up for election in 2020, in a state where Trump remains popular.

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8 Southerners named to panel to hash out deal on border security

Conference committee will have until February 15 to reach agreement to avoid another shutdown

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Congressional leaders have named eight Southerners to a 17-member conference committee that will try to come up with a border security compromise to avoid another government shutdown on February 15.

Six Republicans and two Democrats from the South were named to the joint House-Senate panel, which was set up to hash out an agreement after legislation to reopen the government passed on January 26.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby

The list of Senate conferees includes Richard Shelby of Alabama and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, both Republicans. None of the four Southern Democrats who serve in the Senate were selected.

On the House side, all four of the GOP conferees are from the South — Kay Granger of Texas, Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, Tom Graves of Georgia, and Steve Palazzo of Mississippi.

Two Southern Democrats are among the six Democrats picked for the panel by House Speaker Nancy PelosiDavid Price of North Carolina and Henry Cuellar of Texas.

The conference committee has seven members from the Senate (four Republicans and three Democrats) and 10 members from the House (six Democrats and four Republicans.)

All of the Southern members on the conference committee serve on either the House or Senate appropriations committee, which controls federal spending.

Shelby is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Granger is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, which is controlled by Democrats.

President Donald Trump and congressional leaders agreed to reopen the government until February 15 in order to come up with a compromise on funding for border security.

Trump has asked for $5.7 billion to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, an idea which Democratic leaders oppose.

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Change in party control of U.S. House diminishes Southern clout

Just five House committees in new Congress will have Southerners at the helm

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — When it comes to Southern clout in the U.S. House, what a difference an election makes.

In the recently departed Congress, with Republicans in control, 13 of the 22 committee chairs hailed from the 14 Southern states; in the newly installed Congress, with Democrats in charge, that number will fall to just five.

Five Southern Republican chairs retired, and one, Pete Sessions of Texas, went down to defeat in November. Those who stayed find themselves in the minority for the first time in eight years.

The switch in control has shifted power from the GOP, in which Southerners made up nearly half of the caucus, to the Democrats, where Southerners only make up a fifth. And that has led to reduced numbers of Southerners among committee chairs.

All five of the committees that will be chaired by Southern Democrats in the new Congress were chaired by Southern Republicans in the last Congress, so there will be no loss of influence on those panels.

Also, the outgoing majority whip, Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana, will be replaced by the incoming majority whip, Democrat Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. Both men remain the only Southern members in their party’s top leadership.

But eight other committees that had GOP chairmen will now be headed by lawmakers from outside the region. And that list contains a number of the most powerful and high-profile chairmanships in Washington, including Judiciary, Rules, Ways and Means, and Oversight and Reform.

The five Southern Democratic committee chairmen are John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Budget; Ted Deutch of Florida, Ethics; Bobby Scott of Virginia, Education and Labor; Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Homeland Security; and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, Science, Space and Technology.

Unlike Republicans, who select committee chairs by voting within the caucus, Democrats use seniority. All five of the Southern Democrats ascending to chairmanships had been the ranking Democratic member when Democrats were in the minority.

Scott, Thompson and Johnson, all members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are among eight new chairs who are African American or Latino. In the departing Republican Congress, all of the chairs were white, and 20 were men.

Southerners will make up a slight majority within the Republican caucus in the new Congress, which is reflected in the GOP’s new committee leadership. On 14 of the 22 House committees, the ranking Republican in the new Congress will be from the South.

Among the notable newcomers to that group are Kay Granger of Texas, who will be ranking member on Appropriations, and Doug Collins of Georgia, on Judiciary–the committee that would handle any impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Michael McCaul of Texas, who had been chairman of Homeland Security, has shifted to become the new ranking member of Foreign Affairs.

Six Southern Republicans who had been chairs of their committees will continue as ranking members in the new Congress–Mike Conaway of Texas, Agriculture; Mac Thornberry of Texas, Armed Services; Steve Womack of Arkansas, Budget; Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Education and Labor; Phil Roe of Tennessee, Veterans’ Affairs; and Kevin Brady of Texas, Ways and Means.

In addition to Granger and Collins, five other Southern Republicans were also newly named as ranking members–Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, Financial Services; Kenny Marchant of Texas, Ethics; Mike Rogers of Alabama, Homeland Security; Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Rules; and Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, Science, Space and Technology.

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