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NEMS - Reeves Believes He has the Fortitude

News Article

Location: Jackson, MS

By - Bobby Harrison

Tate Reeves, a 29-year-old political novice, came out of nowhere in 2003 to capture the open seat of treasurer against a group of opponents who were much more seasoned in state politics.

The young Reeves did not enter office as a shrinking violet. He led a charge to take the Partnership for Healthy Mississippi to court to strip the $20 million per year the group was receiving for smoking cessation efforts as part of former Attorney General Mike Moore's successful lawsuit against the tobacco companies and publicly argued with powerful House Speaker Billy McCoy.

He even took on Republican legislative leaders, saying they were not being fiscally conservative.

"We need more people in state government willing to stand up for what they believe no matter the political repercussions," Reeves said recently. "I have a record of doing just that."

Reeves, now 37, a former money manager for a major financial institution, is viewed as the favorite to win the open office of lieutenant governor. As lieutenant governor, Reeves would preside over the Senate.

Beverly Weathersby, a Rankin County educator who taught Reeves in the first grade in Florence and who knows his family socially, says she remembers at the start of school one day a young Tate was circulating from desk-to-desk with sheets of paper. Weathersby said she finally decided she had better check on what he was doing.

As it turned out, Tate was selling copies in big bold letters commemorating Mississippi State's then-historic 6-3 victory over seemingly invincible Alabama.

"I said, 'Tate you cannot do that,'" she said laughing. "...He was a good athlete and good student. He never got into trouble. He had a good high school career."

She admitted that she never thought of him going into politics, but said she should have because "he was a very intelligent person with good leadership qualities."

On a recent day, Reeves, now a Jackson resident, was politicking hard in his home county of Rankin. He was receiving a tour of the county offices by Bryan Bailey, the Rankin County undersheriff, who is the favorite to win the sheriff's office this year.

Many of the people Reeves met already knew him. He also knew many of them. But he left no stone unturned as he went from a Board of Supervisors meeting, to the courts to the jail and finally to the school district central office.

"We just have to keep on working at it and sprint to the finish line," Reeves tells one county official who says he is a supporter.

Jonathan Tate Reeves' record - winning a statewide office before the age of 30 - would indicate he is a good politician. But in some ways he looks more like the financial adviser he was trained to be. And he also can sound the part.

"I am cautiously optimistic about our economy," Reeves said in response to a question at the Rankin County School District Central Office. "My only concern is gasoline prices."

Reeves tells the education administrators he wants to work with them - not against them - to help increase the education level of Mississippians.

But the money manager's looks and persona can be deceiving. He also can be a hard-edged politician - not afraid to butt heads with powerful politicians. He has at times lashed out at legislators, including fellow Republicans, for their spending and borrowing practices, though he is careful not to criticize outgoing Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who signed into law the budgets that Reeves has criticized.

Like most Mississippi Republicans, Reeves tries to hitch his political future to Barbour. For his part, Barbour has not publicly expressed a preference in the lieutenant governor's race between Reeves and Republican Senate President Pro-Tem Billy Hewes.

But Reeves has been criticized by Hewes for claiming to be a watchdog of the state's expenditures and borrowing practices while in reality the treasurer has a limited, or some say non-existent role, in developing the state budget.

Regardless of whether that is true or not, Reeves has at times criticized the Legislature's spending practices while at times claimed credit for helping to hold down spending.

When not campaigning or being involved in state finances, Reeves said he spends time with his family, which includes two young girls, and he enjoys sports - especially college sports and the aforementioned Mississippi State University.

Reeves, though, is a Millsaps graduate and was a point guard on the basketball team during New Albany's John Stroud's tenure as coach at the Jackson college. Reeves gave up basketball before finishing at Millsaps because of a shoulder injury.

Reeves is sitting in a Brandon restaurant - popular for a buffet with a wide variety - when he is asked why he ran for lieutenant governor instead of governor. There were reports that he would run for governor.

"I am convinced that over the next four years the lieutenant governor and the Legislature will have a major role to play in creating public policy," he explained. "Public policy is important to me."

Thus the little boy who was trying to sell pieces of paper commemorating a historic Mississippi State victory is a young man trying to sell himself as the best choice to lead the state Senate.

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