BOBBY HARRISON: Tacit Bryant-Reeves rivalry isn’t a bad situation

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – When Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Gov. Phil Bryant spoke last week at the Neshoba County Fair, the differences in their styles were obvious.
Bryant, the 57-year-old first-term governor, who previously served as lieutenant governor and auditor, speaks to a crowd with the ease and familiarity of a game show host. With his angular build and full head of hair that belies his age, it would not be a stretch to see Bryant hosting “The Price is Right” or “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader.”
This is not to say Bryant doesn’t know or enjoy public policy. He does. There is just a certain familiarity about him.
Reeves, age 38, on the other hand, speaks with a certain seriousness – almost urgency. His jokes can fall flat, though, he displayed a wicked sense of humor as he defended himself earlier this year at a Mississippi Press Association roast.
But, in general, Reeves, who was an unknown in Mississippi politics when he was elected treasurer before the age of 30, comes across as a bit of a policy wonk – which he freely admits that he is.
To recap, one comes across as a good-old-boy with a certain game show host flair, but knows and is willing to talk public policy in detail. The other comes across as a policy wonk, which he is, but has a lighter side that at times he struggles a little to show.
In many ways they are polar opposites, though, both wear their conservative beliefs on their sleeve like a medal. They are the two most powerful people in Mississippi politics. The speaker of the House, of course, is a powerful position, but first-term Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, has yet to display the ironclad control of his chamber as Reeves has in the Senate where he presides.
As the state’s two most powerful politicians, it is natural that there would be a rivalry, one that is unspoken and seldom visible.
When Mike Moore was attorney general, he took the office to unprecedented heights. During Ronnie Musgrove’s term as governor, when he would get in a tiff with the legislative leaders as he often did, they would inevitably bring in Moore to make their case. The charismatic Moore was more than willing to be a spokesman for the legislators who made the laws and doled out the money that impacted his office
Late in the afternoon on Sept. 11, 2001, Moore and Musgrove appeared together on the west side of the Capitol. That was the only time in recent memory an event had been held there. The two appeared jointly to express their condolences and sorrows about the terrorists attacks earlier that day and to announce a declaration of a state of emergency to prevent the artificial hikes in gas prices that were occurring in some parts of the state after the tragic events.
The two were standing on the Capitol grounds waiting for the television cameras to get set up. The tone was somber, but both gave a slight facial acknowledgement when someone said quietly it would take such a horrific event to bring the two Democrats together.
Musgrove and Moore agreed on more issues than they disagreed. The same is true of Reeves and Bryant. There are a few noticeable differences. One is that Reeves is using his control of the Senate to prevent the governor from calling a special session to take up a bond bill to fund various state and local building projects despite pleas from some powerful groups, such as the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, to call a special session.
But it would be a political disaster for the governor to call a special session that did not result in the passage of a bond package.
The rivalry between Reeves and Bryant is not as pronounced as that between Moore and Musgrove. But that should not be surprising that Republicans are able to show more party discipline.
But a rivalry is not a bad thing. It is human nature and it is politics. If everybody walked in lock-step on every single issue, the outcome probably would not be good for Mississippi. The art of give-and-take, and of good old competitive juices flowing between politicians often make for a better outcome.
The bottom line is the rivalry is there, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com or call (601) 353-3119.