Candidates for Mississippi statewide offices speak at business gathering, appeal for votes

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JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi's top elected officials are bragging on their own records and largely ignoring their challengers heading into next Tuesday's election.

Candidates for statewide office spoke to about 1,700 businesspeople Thursday at Hobnob, a casual gathering sponsored by the Mississippi Economic Council.

"We're not just doing everyday, common things anymore. We're doing remarkable things in Mississippi," Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said to people sitting at long rows of tables inside the Mississippi Coliseum on the state fairgrounds.

Bryant boasted about job creation and said the state is increasing students' academic achievement by requiring third-graders to pass a reading test before advancing to fourth grade. He has spent $2.7 million on his campaign for a second term, while his Democratic challenger, first-time candidate Robert Gray, has spent just over $3,000.

Gray, a truck driver, said Mississippi needs to invest more in education and infrastructure.

"We're not just competing against other states. We're competing against the whole world. And you can't compete if you have a do-nothing, know-nothing government," Gray said Thursday.

In the lieutenant governor's race, Democratic challenger Tim Johnson said he's running because he wants the state to spend more on education and to accept hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government to expand Medicaid under the health overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law.

Mississippi's Republican leaders, including Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, say the state is stretched to pay for the existing Medicaid program and they don't trust federal promises to cover most of the expansion costs.

"If Obamacare was called Bushcare or Cheneycare, he would be embracing it like his first girlfriend," Johnson said of Reeves.

On stage moments later, Reeves ignored Johnson and spoke instead about his own opposition to Initiative 42, a proposed constitutional amendment on Tuesday's ballot. It would require the state to provide "an adequate and efficient system of public schools," and would allow people to sue if money falls short.

"Despite the millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars that have been spent misleading our voters of Mississippi by outside groups in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Georgia, words actually matter," Reeves said.

He said 42 does not specifically mention funding, and he believes it could give "one judge in Hinds County" — the seat of state government — the power to make decisions about education budgets and policies for the whole state.

Supporters of Initiative 42 say it would give citizens a way to seek more money for schools in a state where legislators have fully funded an education budget formula only two of the 18 years the formula has been in law.


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