On Tuesday night, all three of the Republican candidates for governor participated in a debate hosted by WJTV in conjunction with Supertalk Mississippi. Tate Reeves, Bill Waller and Robert Foster were asked questions that pertain to issues the state is currently facing.

The full hour debate allowed for each candidate to have 60 seconds to answer each question. Follow-up questions were allowed as well as responses when a candidates name was mentioned.

Tate Reeves said he believes that Mississippi is moving in the right direction, and he believes the selection of the next governor is vital to ensure that the state continues to moving forward.



Foster said he felt called to run in the race after spending time in prayer over the decision. He believes his short time in legislature and public office allows him to run for the office uninhibited by years of making relationships that could require him to ‘owe favors’ if elected.

Waller took the opportunity to emphasize his campaign platform by reminding the audience if he is elected he would fight to end low paying jobs for teachers, helping improve healthcare and coverage in Mississippi and pushing to improve the state’s infrastructure.

As expected, the next question asked pertains to the recent controversy Foster has encountered when he refused to have a ride-along interview with a female reporter without another person present.



Candidates were asked how they would ensure that women will be included within the winning candidate’s administration.

“I’ve worked with many wonderful women Justices….”said Waller. He said he has always worked with an open door policy and that this is a corporate America policy in order to create a non-threatening environment.

Reeves first took the time to commend Foster on his decision to respect the commitment he made to his wife to follow the “Billy Graham Rule” and not allow himself to be alone with a female. He then commented on his past decisions to employ in his administration, and how his record shows that including everyone is not an issue for him.

“I believe in hiring the best person for the job,” said Reeves.

Foster stuck to the stance he has had since the controversy began, that he could serve effectively and employ women in his office as governor, without breaking that commitment to his wife.

Marijuana Initiative

The debate then moved onto the major issues. First up, legalization of marijuana. The candidates were asked: Would you support language that would legalize medical marijuana for individuals with certain medical conditions?

All three candidates seemed to agree that they would not support any legislation of this type  at this time, however could be open to it if it were voted on by the people.

Foster said he couldn’t support the legalization of marijuana, of any kind, until the federal government were to unschedule and sales were allowed in a pharmacy.

Reeves said he is likely to vote no, as he sees it as a gateway drug to worse substances. However, if it were passed, he would do his duty to ensure it was enacted in the appropriate away.

Waller was hard against any legalization of another substance. He referenced his time on the Mississippi Supreme Court and said the last thing the state needs is another substance that could cause issues for individuals who use it. He said if it were passed by constituents, he would be hard pressed to approve it as governor until more studies were done.

In what was one of the few punches landed in the debate, Reeves corrected Waller in real time after Waller said he was unsure whether he would “veto” the ballot initiative.  Reeves highlighted the fact that a passed voter initiative is not subject to a gubernatorial veto.

 

When it came to teacher pay, all candidates were asked what a fair base salary was.

Reeves did not give a specific number but encouraged annual pay raises, like those that have been implemented over the last 8 years as he was the Lt. Governor.

Waller and Foster agreed something around $40k seemed a good place to start. Foster said he would like to see teacher pay competing with surrounding states and if that number was at $40k then that is where Mississippi should start.

Gas Tax Increase

Infrastructure was next on the list of big-ticket items to tackle.

Foster and Reeves were initially against a gas tax. Foster recommended a swap, or restructuring of the tax structure in general. He then said that a potential small raise in gas taxes or sales tax could help find the revenue needed.

Waller said user fees would be the most fair way to increase revenue. He cited states like Florida or Texas that use a similar system. He also proposed a tax swap, as was brought up in the 2019 Session and raising the gas tax 3-4 cents as a base point.

Reeves said that kind of raise could equate to roughly $500 for a four person family and for some in Mississippi that is a significant tax increase for those who are already paying taxes.

Medicaid/Obamacare Expansion

The only candidate that was in favor of a Medicaid expansion was Waller. He said taking those dollars from the federal government will come at no cost to the state of Mississippi and believes this is an urgent right to life issue

“We have to do it,” said Waller. “I want to use the Mike Pence reform. We can bring up the level to 138% of the poverty level and will cost the state zero.”

Reeves disagreed with Waller’s belief that it ‘won’t cost the state anything.’ He said he is completely opposed to ‘Obamacare,’ saying encouraging constituents to rely on the government for something like health insurance is bad policy and means premiums will eventually go up if the private sector is eliminated.

Foster said he is open to all the options but opposed to the Affordable Care Act.

The candidates were then asked about minimum wage. Mississippi currently abides by the federal government’s minimum wage, and for Waller and Reeves that’s how they believe it should stay.

Foster however disagrees with a minimum wage altogether.

“The federal government is overstepping; I don’t think there should be a minimum wage at all. Let the free market decide,” said Foster. He said if someone does not like the wage they’re being paid at one job, they have the opportunity to leave that job and find another one because of the free market.

None of the candidates gave a solid number on the amount that the minimum wage should be placed at.

State Flag

Foster, Waller and Reeves were then asked if they believed the state flag hindered economic growth in the state, causing businesses not to locate here.

None of them believed the state flag caused that issue and all agreed it was the people’s right to vote for the state flag, as they did in 2001.

Reeves said in all his time in economic development meetings with outside businesses considering a move to Mississippi, the state flag with a confederate emblum on it, has never once come up in conversation.

Other Issues

School choice and voucher expansion caused a division between the candidates.

As seen in the 2019 Legislative Session, Reeves is in favor of these vouchers primarily for special needs students, but also believes in a parent’s right to choose where to send their child to school for the best quality education possible.

Waller took a stab at Reeves, saying that all voucher money should be voted on out in the open before it could move forward. He said he is opposed to voucher expansion.

Foster also disagreed with voucher expansion, saying he will not support it for kids without special needs and then made a push for VOTECH to be returned and emphasized in schools.

In regards to the recent disaster on the Gulf coast and the closing of the Bonnet Carre spillway, all candidates were asked if they will allocate state funds to rebuild the economy. Reeves said it is important to restore this area and get it back up and running and was committed to do everything in his power to make that happen.

Foster said funds should only be given for a specific incident and said the flood control plain should be considered for an update.

Waller said since the federal government made the decision to reopen, they should be looked to for financial assistance. He also said with a massive ecological disaster like this one a study should be done for a new plan to maintain clean water in those areas.

As the debate wrapped, Robert Foster and Bill Waller met with media to answer questions. You can see those interviews below.