- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

PHILADELPHIA, Miss. (AP) - Two would-be governors squared off at the Neshoba County Fair on Wednesday, presenting sharply different visions for what the Mississippi legislature should be doing.

Republican Lt. Gov. and state Senate leader Tate Reeves says lawmakers were right to cut taxes, realign the state budget and pass a now-blocked law to protect religious objections to same-sex marriage.

Attorney General Jim Hood, Mississippi’s only Democrat elected to statewide office, said the Republican-led legislature should stop spending time on business tax breaks and social-issue legislation requiring expensive court battles, and focus instead on improving roads, schools and job opportunities.

Both men are potential candidates for governor in 2019.

Clouds and rain cooled the summer ritual of political speeches at the fair, but while Hood shook off Reeves’ attacks, his rival’ words became heated.

“We are fighting for smaller government and making Mississippi an even better place to raise a family,” Reeves said, while Democrats “want to lead Mississippi just like Obama is leading our nation - down the road of a bigger government, more government regulation and more government spending of your hard-earned money.”

Hood, though, said lawmakers are wasting time and taxpayer dollars.

“I’m usually up here talking about law enforcement and protecting kids,” Hood said “But what’s happened in the Legislature in the last few years, they’ve passed a lot of political bills, and my office has had to defend them.”

Hood was named a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, but attended the award ceremony for his son’s Houston High School solar car team instead. He said the state is failing small-town children like his son Matthew.

“Watching those kids, it’s amazing they’re from a small town. But unfortunately, the smart kids in that group, a lot of them are going to leave. To find even a middle-class job, they have to leave their small towns.”

Hood called for more emphasis on prekindergarten education and said the remainder of the state should emulate the 20 counties where governments or donors pay college tuition for recent high school graduates not covered by other financial aid.

“There’s a way to fund that, but we get off in all these distractions in the Legislature,” he said.

Reeves slapped Hood for saying Mississippi voters had been fooled into supporting HB 1523, an effort to enable some officials and businesses to refuse services to same-sex couples, transgender people, or anyone engaging in sex outside marriage.

“Why does he think you are a fool? For wanting us to protect your First Amendment rights to practice your faith without being harassed by big government,” Reeves said. “Now it sounds to me like he’s auditioning to be Hillary Clinton’s next attorney general.”

Reeves also accused Hood of overstepping his powers by issuing opinions that said lawmakers couldn’t sweep money from some separate government accounts into the state budget.

“You see, he and other bureaucrats in Jackson are outraged that they can’t double-dip into side accounts any more, hiding the true cost of government from taxpayers,” Reeves said,

Hood declined to answer Reeves’ attacks, saying “I’m talking about issues that affect Mississippians, whether they’re white, black, rich or poor.”


Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy

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