- Associated Press - Friday, November 1, 2019

Democrat Jay Hughes spent four years in the state House staking out a place as a champion of public schools and teachers, only to end up running against three-term secretary of state Delbert Hosemann, a Republican who’s promising a teacher pay raise every year and progress toward more funding for public schools.

Now, as an underdog who’s at a financial disadvantage to Hosemann in the race for lieutenant governor, Hughes is pushing back.

“His plans have simply morphed into mine,” said Hughes, who was a businessman before becoming the highest-profile first-term Democrat in the state House minority, setting himself up as a gadfly to the reigning GOP leadership.

Hosemann, though, argues he’s the one who can deliver, pointing to his time as secretary of state.

“I think I’ve got the experience to do the things I say I’m going to do,” said Hosemann, a Vicksburg native and corporate lawyer before he entered politics.

The contest between Hughes and Hosemann, though getting less attention than the governor’s race, could be just as consequential.

Mississippi’s lieutenant governor has traditionally controlled committee assignments and the flow of legislation in the 52-member state Senate, giving the officeholder a great deal of power.

There’s a fair bit of uncertainty about how the upper chamber will operate in the next four years. If Hughes were to pull off the upset, Republicans might try to strip some of the lieutenant governor’s power that’s contained in the chamber’s rules, as opposed to state law. And even under Hosemann, there’s a question of whether he will shift from how Tate Reeves ran the Senate, when even supposedly powerful chairmen would admit they were waiting on Reeves to decide before they could do anything important.

Hughes is calling for higher teacher pay, plus more money for classroom supplies. He wants to fund the full amount called for by Mississippi’s school funding formula. Hughes also wants less standardized testing and changes to how schools are evaluated.

“Education is the No. 1 issue in Mississippi - public education - and I’ve been part of it, and for it, my entire life, and not just in an election year,” Hughes said.

But Hosemann, in addition to that pledge of a pay raise every year, wants to increase the funding for special education inside the state funding formula and fully build out Mississippi’s program of state-paid preschool for four-year-olds. Hosemann is also pushing more career training in high school.

Hughes is against efforts to use public money to pay for students to attend private schools. Hosemann, though, thinks students who need special education services they can’t get in public schools should be able to attend private schools only if those schools offer those services, which would be more restrictive than the special education vouchers currently offered.

The two are also close on the question of health insurance expansion. Hughes supports a plan put forward by hospitals to expand coverage by the Medicaid program to poor adults not now covered, with hospitals and insured people paying the state’s required contribution. Hosemann doesn’t completely endorse that plan, but supports its basic framework.

“We’re exploring a Mississippi option to make sure we have coverage for people,” Hosemann said.

Hosemann wants to allow counties to raise fuel taxes up to 12 cents per gallon, saying that would allow them to solve pressing road and bridge problems. He also believes, though, that the state Department of Transportation has enough money not only to maintain its current roads and bridges, but to build new projects, although transportation leaders have been saying for years that they don’t.

Hughes has said he wants to increase the statewide fuel tax, with offsetting income tax cuts.

Much of Hughes’ campaign has consisted of pushing back against the centralized control of Republicans. He calls for lawmakers to be subject to the state’s public records law, saying that would combat powerful lawmakers writing hard-to-discover letters directing state agencies to spend money in particular ways.

“What we need is transparency, because transparency has left the capital and it took common sense with it,” Hughes said. “If you don’t have money or a lobbyist, you’re not going to get to speak to the speaker or the lieutenant governor. And that’s not the way it should be.”


Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy .

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