By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
BILOXI – The candidates for lieutenant governor did not resort to name calling, but took a few swipes at each other during Saturday’s debate at the Mississippi Press Association’s annual convention.
Republicans Billy Hewes and Tate Reeves both accused the other of telling half-truths and misleading the voters.
Reeves, the two-term state treasurer, criticized a recently released Hewes television ad that alleges Reeves is not the watchdog of state funding that he claims to be.
Reeves said he had spent the campaign “talking about why I ought to be lieutenant governor, not why somebody else ought not to be.”
Reeves said the ad’s claims are “not only misleading, they are false.”
Hewes, a Gulf Coast senator, said, “I am pretty direct… I want to point out inconsistencies and misleading statements when they occur. I think the voters have a right to know.”
The primary fight centers around the state’s bond debt. As treasurer, Reeves has said he worked with Gov. Haley Barbour to curtail it.
But Hewes has pointed out that as a member of the state Bond Commission, Reeves has approved just about all the bonds passed by the Legislature. Reeves has countered that as a member of the Legislature, Hewes has voted for those bond bills.
Reeves said Hewes’ statements are “politics as usual. What would you expect from (a person with) 20 years in the Legislature and is fighting to keep his job.”
Hewes said his legislative experience, including being elected unanimously by his colleagues during the current term to serve as president pro tem, makes him uniquely qualified to preside over the Senate as lieutenant governor. The pro tem in essence serves in the lieutenant governor’s absence.
Hewes said Reeves has never had to work with members to get legislation passed.
“When it comes to proven leadership, voters have a clear choice,” Hewes said. “…They don’t want a bureaucrat who pushes paper. They want someone who has walked in their shoes.”
While Hewes said the lieutenant governor should be someone who has an intimate knowledge of the Senate and who has built relationships with the members, Reeves said, “I believe our state needs someone independent of the Legislature as lieutenant governor.”
Reeves said his background in economics and finance would be a plus in the office.
While neither said they would appoint solely Republicans to chair Senate committees, both stressed they would name fiscal conservatives.
Reeves said he would name conservatives to serve as committee chairs, but “at the end of the day my leadership team will reflect exactly what the Senate looks like.”
Both said they would oppose any tax hikes. Hewes also said he wanted to work to eliminate the inventory tax that most businesses must pay.
The debate was especially crucial because the winner of the Aug. 2 Republican primary between Hewes and Reeves will have a clear path to victory in the November general election since they will not face Democratic opposition.