Slimantics: The race that matters most

 

Slim Smith

 

 

This year, Mississippians will go to the poll to elect hundreds of county and state officials. We'll be knee deep in yard signs and advertising, most of it focused on the Governor's race, where the two front-runners -- Republican Lt. Governor Tate Reeves and Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood -- will engage in what figures to be a wildly entertaining exercise in mud-slinging. 

 

It's an interesting race in that it pits two of the rarest sorts of candidates against each other -- an unpopular Republican against a popular Democrat. Party loyalty is likely to be challenged in a way rarely seen in the state. 

 

Reeves has an enormous campaign war chest at his disposal - $5 million so far. He also has that big ol' Capital R behind his name, which is no small advantage. 

 

He'll need both. 

 

In the 19th Century, U.S. Senators were chosen by state legislatures. If that process were used today to decide who would be Governor of Mississippi, Reeves would be hard-pressed to get 10 votes from a Legislature where his party holds a super-majority. During his two terms as Lt. Gov., Reeves's autocratic rule over the Senate has made him few friends. One of the few things that Democrats and Republicans in the legislature can agree on is that Reeves is a condescending schmuck. 

 

Hood's popularity, on the other hand, almost defies logic. In polling he consistently trails only Gov. Phil Bryant in favorable approval, despite that scarlet letter D behind his name. 

 

Even so, the sheer power of the R makes Hood's bid for Governor an uphill battle. 

 

While the Governor's race will dominate the headlines, the better, more meaningful race will be between Rep. Jay Hughes, the Democrat from Oxford who has emerged as the state's champion for public education, against Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, whose popularity rivals even that of Bryant and Hood. 

 

Hosemann kicked off his campaign Wednesday, with events in Jackson, Columbus and Southaven. 

 

His primary emphasis at each stop was on improving the state's workforce development, but he also favors what he calls "cost-neutral" expansion of Medicaid and says the best way to fix MAEP, the state's K-12 education formula, is to fund it. 

 

His positions on Medicaid expansion and MAEP are not what we've been hearing from the state's GOP leadership, which has consistently done everything in its power to starve public education while promoting private school and charter school options. 

 

That assault on public school education has not gone unnoticed. Hughes, in just one term in the House, has emerged as the strongest voice for public education in the state. He's been a considerable thorn in the side of Republicans on this issue since he arrived in Jackson in 2015. His motto "It all starts with education" has resonated across the state and while his name recognition still lags behind that of Hosemann, he is likely to benefit from a large and energized statewide grassroots effort to put more pro-public education candidates in office. 

 

Simply put, the quality of candidates in the Lt. Governor's race is far superior to what we see in the Governor's race. 

 

What's more, the Lt. Governor's office is, in fact, the most meaningful, most powerful elected position in the state, a position whose power extends to two of the three branches of government -- administrative and, as leader of the Senate, legislative. 

 

By comparison, the Governor's position is largely symbolic. 

 

So, while Tate Reeves raves about the imaginary "Hollywood Liberals" that roam our state and Hood touts policies that would make a Republican smile, the real race is for Lt. Governor. 

 

The rhetoric will focus on real issues by two thoughtful, respected candidates. 

 

It's the race for grown-ups. 

 

And, really, it's the race that matters most.

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.

 

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