BOBBY HARRISON: Reeves won’t back off from beliefs

BOBBY HARRISON

BOBBY HARRISON

Tate Reeves was 29 years old when he was elected to the statewide office of treasurer.

From almost the onset of his political tenure, it was clear that the young, brash Republican would not shy away from a fight, whether against more veteran politicians as he quickly climbed from novice, no-name candidate to a statewide officeholder, or to taking on then-House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, over several issues during his two terms as treasurer.

Reeves, now in his first term as lieutenant governor, has not changed that much as he has literally matured before the state’s political eyes. He may be older and wiser, but Reeves, who will turn 40 later this year, still doesn’t run from a fight.

Poke him, and he will poke you back harder.

Just look at the two leaders of the Senate Conservative Coalition – Sens. Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula, and Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville. The group was formed last summer to at least serve as an aggravation to Reeves.

This year, every bill assigned by Reeves to the Election Committee, chaired by McDaniel, is also double-referred to the newly created Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee chaired by Reeves’ ally, Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo. In essence, Collins can block anything McDaniel wants to do.

And no bill was referred to the Constitution Committee chaired by Watson.

In a sense, Reeves is refreshing. More so than perhaps any other major politician on the scene in the state, he does what he believes is right – regardless of the politics.

But in doing so he has made enemies, such as the already mentioned Senate Conservative Coalition, which is affiliated with at least some Tea Party-related groups.

Like so many things in politics, this is not a simple either-or issue. Not all Tea Party groups oppose Reeves, and to argue he is not conservative is like claiming Ronald Reagan is not Republican. Especially on fiscal issues, Reeves is about as conservative as they come.

That is part of the reason the House teacher pay package, with the strong backing of Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, puts the lieutenant governor in a bit of a quandary.

Reeves, no doubt, still is weighing the fiscal impact of the four-year $188 million teacher pay raise proposal on the state budget. Plus, he would prefer a performance-based pay package.

The truth of the matter is that the state is still at least a year or two away putting in place a structure that can be used to provide any semblance of a rationally crafted merit pay package.

In its stead, the Republican House leadership has proposed benchmarks that they openly say any teacher can readily achieve, but that give the opportunity for Reeves and Gov. Phil Bryant, who also supports merit pay, to “save face” if they agree to the House pay package.

In reality, the plan has the potential to offend not only merit pay proponents but at least some veteran teachers who have expressed disdain for a pay plan where they have to meet benchmarks but younger teachers do not.

Here is at least a bit of a problem for Reeves – how many people does he want to make mad? He has at least a faction of the state’s conservatives mad at him – probably not enough to impact his election prospects.

But on top of that group, what if he has teachers thinking rightly or wrongly that he killed their pay raise?

If the number of groups upset with Reeves continues to grow, when does he reach the point where he is vulnerable?

Reeves, as smart a politician as there is in the state, will have to resolve those questions. In the process, he may poke at somebody.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau chief. Contact him (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.