By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Lt. Gov. candidate Billy Hewes, the current Senate pro-tem, has called on his opponent – Treasurer Tate Reeves – to announce the senators he would appoint as key committee chairs to avoid any possible conflicts of interest.
Hewes, a Gulfport Republican, recently announced four key committee chair appointments and the senator he would support to replace him as president pro-tem if he won the lieutenant governor’s election.
At the time, Hewes said he was not accepting any campaign donations from fellow senators because – after all – the lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and would make those key committee assignments.
Hewes called on Reeves to announce his key committee chairs because “Mississippians deserve to know what type of leaders he will be choosing, and to know that there are no strings attached or deals cut. While Reeves has recently taken considerable sums of money from a few senators, there may be no connection between those contributions and potential chairmanships. It would be nice to know for certain. The Senate is not for sale.”
The issue of campaign donations and influence is always a touchy one. The fact that Hewes is making an issue of the campaign donations could impact his tenure should he defeat fellow Republican Reeves and capture the lieutenant governor’s post. After all, Reeves apparently is going to follow the protocol established by other lieutenant governor candidates and not announce committee assignments until after he is elected.
So are the senators who contributed to Reeves’ campaign forever tainted, should Reeves lose, by not knowing whether they were trying to buy an influential committee chair?
And if Reeves wins, does that mean that any appointment to a key committee chair of a donor will be tainted?
Several senators have contributed to Reeves. The most notable two are Sens. Merle Flowers, R-Southaven, and Billy Hudson, R-Hattiesburg, who have given $10,000 each.
Flowers is viewed as one of the most ambitious members of the state Senate. No doubt, the more influential the committee assignment he can get, the better from his perspective. Hudson of Hudson Salvage fame certainly has the credentials to head a major committee. At age 73, he may want to or he may not.
But for a senator to give to a lieutenant governor candidate is not that unusual. Hewes received several donations from senators in 2009 when he was viewed as a potential candidate for the office. Now that he is an official candidate, he said he is not accepting donations from senators in contested races.
It should be pointed out that in 2007 Hewes gave then-lieutenant governor candidate Phil Bryant, who is now the favorite for the governor’s office, $10,000. At the time, Hewes wanted to be Senate pro-tem.
When asked about the contribution, the Hewes campaign said, “Senator Hewes’ contribution to Phil Bryant in 2007 occurred after the primary and during a general election when Phil was facing Democrat Jamie Franks. While the support of the lieutenant governor is appreciated in a pro tempore race, when it comes to the electing the president pro tempore, it is the senators who make the final determination.”
That is true. But historically, the Senate selects the choice of the lieutenant governor for the post. Hewes already has announced the senator he would support for the post should he win the lieutenant governor’s office.
Plus, why is it different whether a contribution is made before a primary or a general election? Is it OK for senators to contribute to defeat Democrats for the office of lieutenant governor, but not Republicans?
It also is interesting to note that several other senators also contributed to Bryant in 2007, including Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, who gave $6,000. Bryant made Kirby chair of perhaps the most important committee in the Senate – Finance.
By the way, Hewes has said that he wants to keep Kirby at Finance.
So, the Kirby donation to lieutenant governor-candidate Byrant and subsequent major committee appointment was OK in that instance.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at email@example.com or call (601) 353-3119.