By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Senate President Pro Tem and lieutenant governor candidate Billy Hewes on Monday questioned the self-described “watchdog” credentials of his opponent, State Treasurer Tate Reeves.
Reeves responded by accusing Hewes of contributing to the state’s debt burden as a long-time member of the Legislature.
The exchange was the most direct skirmish yet between the two Republican candidates for the state’s No. 2 office.
Hewes held a news conference at the state Capitol demanding Reeves pull his new television ad in which he claims he had been the “taxpayer’s watchdog” on state bonds that must be paid off over a period of years.
Hewes stood in front of a sign claiming Reeves had voted in favor of 415 bond proposals during his eight years as treasurer and voted against only three. Those bonds Reeves approved totaled $3.8 billion, Hewes said.
“If he is a a watchdog, then who is he watching out for?” Hewes asked.
Reeves responded, “After 20 years in the Legislature and hundreds of votes for more spending and billions more in debt, it’s heart-warming to know that Sen. Hewes has now finally realized, with 50 days to go in this campaign, that we need to reduce our debt burden.”
Hewes, R-Gulfport, who has been in the Senate since 1992, is running his first statewide campaign. Reeves, a Jackson resident, has been elected twice to the statewide treasurer post.
The winner of the Aug. 2 Republican primary will face nominal opposition in November from Reform Party candidate Tracella Lou O’Hara Hill of Terry.
In Mississippi, the Legislature approves bonds. But it is up to the three-member Bond Commission, which consists of the governor, attorney general and treasurer, to actually issue the bonds.
Reeves responded that Hewes was criticizing him and Gov. Haley Barbour for “issuing the debt (Hewes) voted to authorize.”
In the commercial, Reeves said the Legislature had been issuing bonds and thus incurring debt to pay for items that should be paid for through regular state appropriations. In recent years, legislators from both parties have bemoaned the fact that, because of budget woes, bonds have been issued to do routine repair and renovation.
Hewes said, if anything, Reeves was a willing participant in approving the debt he is now criticizing in the commercials. Hewes also admitted that he probably voted for most of the bond bills, but he was not claiming otherwise in televised commercials.
Hewes said, “He is telling the voters that he has been a staunch voice for decreasing government debt. But the record shows a drastically different Tate Reeves. One would think our treasurer would be a little more accurate about his numbers.”
Hewes did vote against the bond bills that were approved during the 2011 session. He said he voted no because the total – close to $500 million – would add to the debt. In recent years, the Legislature has tried not to issue more debt than the state was paying off.
This year, Hewes said, the state was paying off about $200 million in debt, but issuing more than $400 million in new bonds.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.