Shared opposition to Medicaid expansion in the state spurred Mississippi Sen. Chris McDaniel on Thursday to endorse Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, whose legislative tactics he has long criticized, for the Republican Party runoff for governor.
With Reeves standing nearby for the Jones County press conference, McDaniel said he knew he had plenty of reasons to oppose Reeves,
“No one has more reasons to be displeased with Tate Reeves than I do,” he said, reading from a prepared statement he gave to the press. “Mainly because of differences in our personalities, we have publicly disagreed for years. Consequently, I have paid a heavy political price. He can be stubborn and hardheaded. But then again, so can I.”
After McDaniel challenged incumbent GOP U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in a vicious 2014 primary that McDaniel ultimately lost, Reeves, who serves as the president of the Senate, began blocking McDaniel’s legislation. That one of the state senator’s long-standing gripes.
‘Principle’ Over ‘Political Discomfort’
Elections, though, have “never been about personalities” for him, McDaniel said on Thursday. Instead, it is about shared beliefs.
“I stand on principle even when it causes me significant political discomfort,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel, like Reeves, has long opposed Medicaid expansion, a key component of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, or ACA. In 2011, McDaniel joined forces with then-Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant to bring a lawsuit arguing that the ACA was unconstitutional.
That lawsuit failed, but a separate one other Republicans filed nationwide made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court upheld the bulk of the ACA, but struck down a provision requiring states to expand Medicaid access to more low-income working families, giving states discretion to decide whether to accept federal funds to expand the program.
Wealthy donors and corporate PACs, including those who oppose Medicaid expansion to insure more Mississippians, have helped Tate Reeves raise more than $5 million so far this year.
Mississippi Republicans, including Reeves and current Gov. Phil Bryant, rejected expansion, even though the federal government would have paid for 100% of the costs for the first few years and 90% in the years after. That left about 300,000 Mississippians, who make too much money to qualify for traditional Medicaid but not enough to qualify for subsidized private insurance under the ACA, with few health-care options.
The large number of uninsured has also put financial pressure on rural hospitals, struggling with the costs of treating uninsured people in emergency rooms. Five rural hospitals have closed in the state since 2013, and dozens more are in peril.
Waller: Expansion Would ‘Incentivize People to Work’
Reeves’ opponent in the runoff, former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., wants to expand Medicaid. His plan, called “Medicaid reform,” would require participants to pay $20 monthly premiums to help cover the remaining 10% the federal government will not pay. Hospitals would absorb the remainder, and Mississippi taxpayers would not have to pay anything for the plan, Waller says.
At the Neshoba County Fair on Aug. 1, Waller told a crowd that he is a conservative, and because of that, he believes that people who want to work should be able to do so without having to give up health care if they make too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid.
"I think we should incentivize people to work. I was told yesterday about a young man who works every day. He needs a diabetes pump. He can't get any kind of insurance," Waller said. "Well, folks, this is the people we would bring in on Medicaid reform. Those that are trying to work. You know, we get that young man a pump, he may be a full-time employee in a year. Isn't that what life's all about? Don't we need to give people a step up?"
The Jackson Free Press reported yesterday that the Reeves campaign has been sending out mailers to Republican voters with a photo of Waller and the word, “OBAMACARE” stamped next to it. The mailer purports to explain Waller’s proposal, but it includes several verifiable lies about it, including the false claims that Waller’s plan will cost the state $200 million a year and force Mississippians off their private health plans. The Jackson Free Press fact-checked that mailer here.
‘Which Side Are You On?’
On Thursday, McDaniel also cited Waller’s support for a gas tax increase. Waller claims the increase will generate funds from not only Mississippi drivers, but also out-of-state drivers, helping pay to repair hundreds of closed roads and bridges throughout the state. McDaniel, though, called it “big government,” and Reeves agrees.
Ashton Pittman talks to Mississippi voters about the solutions they want to hear about over just the usual horserace of campaigns. #MSCitizensAgenda
“We have a shared belief that government is not the answer and I believe strongly that we’re at a crossroads in our state, and we’re at a crossroads in our party,” Reeves said. “We as a conservative party in Mississippi have to decide: Are we going to be the party of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, or are we going to be the party of John Kasich and Bill Weld and other never Trumpers?”
Kasich, a former Ohio governor, challenged Trump in the 2016 GOP primary; Bill Weld, a former governor of Massachusetts, is challenging him in the party primary in 2020.
Back in 2016, though, McDaniel himself aligned with the so-called “Never Trumpers,” harshly criticizing him on Facebook posts for not being a “conservative.” When he ran for U.S. Senate in 2018, though, McDaniel peppered campaign speeches with praise for the current president.
It would not be the last time McDaniel reneged on a criticism of a fellow Republican, though. On July 19, McDaniel posted a thinly veiled critique of Reeves, the favorite of the GOP establishment, on Facebook.
“Yes, of course political endorsements matter. If the establishment endorses someone, then you should know that candidate is owned by the establishment,” McDaniel, a longtime anti-establishment crusader, wrote last month. “A price is paid for those backroom deals. If you want to drain the swamp, you can’t do it by making deals with the establishment — or by supporting their hand-selected candidates. Which side are you on?”
Find out where top candidates in the race for governor stand on issues like Medicaid expansion, private school vouchers, teacher pay, mental health, abortion rights, and more.
He said on Thursday that he knew the endorsement could hurt him politically, but that he had decided to do it after much prayer and reflection. A number of his supporters left comments on his Facebook page, expressing displeasure and confusion over the decision.
Earlier this week, Waller accepted an endorsement from former GOP primary opponent Robert Foster, a House representative who also has an outsider brand.
GOP Runoffs on Aug. 27
Reeves and Waller go head-to-head in a Republican party runoff on Aug. 27—the first time that has happened in a GOP primary for governor since 1991. In 2011, then-Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant won the Republican nomination for governor outright with 59% of the vote.
The Aug. 27 primary runoffs are open to any registered voter. However, if you voted in one party's primary in the Aug. 6 election, you cannot switch parties and vote in the other runoff.
"If you voted in the Republican primary, you cannot vote in the Democratic (runoff) primary in three weeks and vice versa," Hinds County Republican Party Chairman Pete Perry told the Jackson Free Press on Aug. 7. "If you did not vote, you can vote in whatever primary."
After voters decide, the GOP nominee will face Attorney General Jim Hood on Nov. 5.
Current Mississippi Treasurer Lynn Fitch and Madison attorney Andy Taggart also go head-to-head in a runoff in the GOP race for attorney general on Aug 7, as well as runoffs in a number of Jackson-area legislative and Hinds County races.
Read stories about Mississippi's upcoming 2019 election, including the gubernatorial election.
Because Foster ran in the Republican primary for governor, he could not run for re-election to his House seat, which he first won in 2015. A new representative will replace him in the House in January 2020.
Mississippians must register at least 30 days before an election in order to be eligible to vote and must show an accepted form of photo ID at the voting booth, a list of which is available on the secretary of state's website. County circuit clerks across the state offer all residents free photo IDs that they can use to vote.
Follow state reporter Ashton Pittman on Twitter @ashtonpittman. Send story tips to [email protected]. Follow statewide election coverage at jacksonfreepress.com/2019elections.