JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) — The three candidates hoping to secure the GOP spot in the race for Mississippi governor faced off Tuesday night in their only televised debate ahead of August’s primary.
Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller, Jr., and State Rep. Robert Foster debated in primetime at the WJTV studios. The event was moderated by Byron Brown, Melanie Christopher, and Gerald Harris.
One of the biggest issues that separated the candidates came on Medicaid expansion and accepting federal money. Waller and Reeves went in two different directions.
“We have to do it,” said Waller.
Waller said he’d support a form of “Mike Pence reform” on expansion for Mississippi. Reeves quickly responded he wasn’t for that plan.
“I’m opposed to Obamacare expansion in Mississippi. I don’t care what you call it,” responded Reeves.
When asked if the Mississippi state flag hurts the state in recruiting business, Foster said he doesn’t believe it has a negative impact. He instead noted other issues including the state’s tax structure.
Foster said he doesn’t support Obamacare but wants to consider all options.
On the issue of infrastructure, the candidates talked about what to do with taxes to fund improvements for roads and bridges. Foster supports repealing personal income tax and making slight increases in the gas tax and sales tax.
“We have to get to a tax structure that works for everybody and that’s fair,” Foster said.
Waller said he supports increasing the gas tax while dropping income tax. Reeves noted he wouldn’t raise the gas tax, because he felt it would negatively impact rural drivers.
All three candidates said they want to give teachers raises over the next few years to be competitive with other states. The big question was how to cover the additional costs.
On the issue of medical marijuana, the three candidates said they were against an initiative that would expand use in the state of Mississippi.
“The last thing we need is another substance that can provide issues,” Waller said on the issue.
Waller said he doesn’t believe it has a negative impact but noted the people have voted on this issue. Waller believes the public should make the decision.
Reeves also agreed the flag has no negative impact noting it’s an issue “liberals” are bringing up — not Mississippi residents.
Going into Tuesday night’s even, Reeves had largely been considered the front-runner in this primary race. However, a recent NBC News/Survey Monkey poll showed Waller doing slightly better than Reeves in a hypothetical match-up against Democratic front-runner Jim Hood.
Foster managed to pull the national spotlight after refusing to allow a female reporter to travel with his campaign unless she had a male companion. Foster’s “Billy Graham rule” decision, which was also endorsed by Waller, allowed him to garner much-needed attention for his gubernatorial campaign.
The primary is August 6. A candidate must earn more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff and advance to November’s General Election.