- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Madison attorney Vicki Slater launched her campaign as Democrat for Mississippi governor Thursday, saying she believes Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has failed by underfunding schools and turning away billions of federal dollars for Medicaid expansion.

“The problems of Mississippi are not the fault of Mississippi’s people. They are the fault of Mississippi’s failed leadership,” Slater, 58, said during a news conference at the state Capitol, where she was joined by about 50 relatives, friends and supporters.

Bryant, 60, filed qualifying papers Wednesday to seek a second term. He has $2.4 million in his campaign fund.

Slater said she starts the campaign with no cash on hand and she didn’t say how much she thinks a race will cost.

“I’m not sure exactly what the dollar amount will be, but we are ready to go,” said Slater, a past president of the Mississippi Association for Justice, a trial attorneys’ group.

This is Slater’s first run for public office, and she is the first Democrat in the governor’s race. Feb. 27 is the deadline for candidates to qualify for statewide offices such as governor and for regional offices and legislative seats.

Bryant campaign manager Shad White said in a news release Thursday that the governor will run for re-election on accomplishments such as reducing unemployment, filling the state’s financial reserves and enacting changes to the education system. Bryant has pushed for charter schools and an increased emphasis on reading skills in early grades.

“All that means we are well-positioned to bring even more opportunities to our state and to run a strong campaign on that vision of the future,” White said.

White pointed to a reduction in the state unemployment rate since Bryant took office in January 2012, but Slater said Mississippi has lost jobs under Bryant.

Slater criticized Bryant and other Republicans for not expanding Medicaid, which is an option under the health overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010. Bryant has said he doesn’t trust the federal government’s promise to pay most of the cost of Medicaid expansion.

“Phil Bryant and his legislative leadership turned away $9 billion in Medicaid expansion money, and every year they send hundreds of millions of our tax dollars away - saving lives in other states, sustaining hospitals in other states, while working Mississippians go without health care and doors in Mississippi hospitals slam shut,” Slater said.

If she wins the Democratic nomination, Slater would be the first woman to be a major party nominee for Mississippi governor. Democrat Evelyn Gandy, who was lieutenant governor from 1976-80, ran for governor in 1979 and 1983 but lost in the Democratic primary. Other women have run low-budget campaigns for governor, including Katie Perrone and Catherine Starr, each of whom received about 5 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary for governor in 2003.

Mississippi Republican Party chairman Joe Nosef criticized Slater’s campaign contributions to Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and other Democrats.

“Based on her numerous contributions, it would be difficult to find another candidate more out of touch with the policies and ideals of hard-working Mississippi voters,” Nosef said in a news release Thursday.

Mississippi Democratic Party chairman Rickey Cole said Slater brings “a lifetime of experience in the real world” by working in the private sector rather than in government jobs. Before being elected governor in 2011, Bryant had served four years as lieutenant governor and nearly 12 years as state auditor.

“She’s going to tackle public education, infrastructure and health care with an attitude of making Mississippi better,” Cole said at the Capitol after Slater’s announcement. “She believes she can do a better job than Phil Bryant, and I do too.”


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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