State Rep. Robert Foster, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and former state supreme court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. are running in the August 6 Republican primary for a chance to succeed Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R), who is prevented by term limits from seeking re-election. The candidates participated in the first and only scheduled televised debate of the primary July 23. Some highlights from the debate are below.
- Taxes to fund infrastructure improvements: Foster proposed eliminating the personal income tax and making small increases to the gas and sales tax. Waller said he supports increasing the gas tax while eliminating the 4% income tax bracket. Reeves said he opposes raising the gas tax.
- Medicaid expansion: Waller said he supports expanding Medicaid in Mississippi similar to how Mike Pence did as governor of Indiana. Reeves said he opposes Medicaid expansion. Foster said all options are on the table for him.
- Effect of state flag’s Confederate imagery on business: All three candidates said they did not believe the flag was keeping businesses out of Mississippi. Foster stated that taxes are having that effect. Waller said changes to the state flag should be left up to voters and not the state legislature. Reeves said he opposes action by the governor or legislature to change the flag and that the issue has not come up in economic development meetings he has been involved in.
Candidates also discussed teacher pay, marijuana, the minimum wage, and the inclusion of women in the next administration.
Bryant won the past two general elections with more than 60 percent of the vote. The state’s last Democratic governor was Ronnie Musgrove, who served from 1999 to 2003. Eight candidates are running in the August 6 Democratic primary. Two of three election forecasters tracked by Ballotpedia rate the November 5 general election as “Leans Republican” and the other rated it as “Likely Republican.”