By Kaija Wilkinson
The state's two Republican candidates for lieutenant governor delivered on moderator Tim Kalich's tongue-in-cheek request Saturday to be "a little more feisty" than the four gubernatorial candidates who participated in a forum on Friday.
Sen. Billy Hewes of Gulfport and state Treasurer Tate Reeves, a native of Rankin County, agreed on some issues, such as the need for continued insurance reform and early-childhood education. But an ongoing clash over who has been responsible for more debt simmered throughout most of the hour-and-a-half session, held at the Beau Rivage as part of the Mississippi Press Association's 145th annual convention.
Reeves, 37, in his opening statement, referred at least three times to what he sees as Hewes' negative campaigning.
Hearkening back to his ability to "bring Republicans together" as he did in the 2003 treasurer election, when the candidates he defeated later endorsed him, Reeves said that he has spent the past six months on the campaign trail "telling people why I ought to be treasurer, not why someone else ought not to be."
Earlier this month, Hewes called Reeves' campaign ads misleading in pinning responsibility for the increasing state debt on Hewes.
On Saturday, Hewes, 49, reiterated his previous assertion that in the past 7½ years, his opponent has voted hundreds of times to increase bond debt. He has said that Reeves voted more than 400 times to issue bonds that have been approved by the Legislature.
Reeves called Hewes' claim that Reeves is responsible for getting the state $3.8 billion in debt something that apparently "only he and his campaign" believe.
Hewes, a five-term senator, touted his legislative experience as part of what makes him the best man for the job. He pointed out that he was selected unanimously by his peers as Senate president pro tempore, and also has been a businessman for nearly 30 years.
More recently, he said, he has been part of a team that has helped pass "what I consider very good, conservative" legislation. He said it has been an honor to continue what Gov. Kirk Fordice started in tort reform, which has in turn, he said, kept and recruited business to the state.
Reeves said that he has worked to reform how Mississippi borrows money to save taxpayers' money, reduce debt, and protect credit rating.
"I believe our state needs someone independent of the Legislature as our next lieutenant governor -- a true, proven fiscal conservative with a record of executive leadership who will take the difficult stance necessary to ensure our state makes the right financial decisions," Reeves said.
He reminded attendees that he took on "entrenched political insider" former Attorney General Mike Moore when Moore was suspected of illegally diverting some $20 million in tobacco settlement funds to a stop-smoking program.
Both candidates said redistricting would be a top priority, should they be elected, and agreed that property owners should have the leverage when it comes to eminent domain.
With no Democratic opponent, one of the men is set to become the state's next lieutenant governor. The Republican primary Aug. 2, and the winner is expected to hold the job for the four-year term that starts in January.
The Nov. 8 general election ballot will have the Republican nominee and the Reform Party's Tracella Lou O'Hara Hill.