With the backdrop of a farm implement dealership, two Republican rivals for governor came together Tuesday morning hoping to grow a stiffer challenge in the race for party nomination come runoff Election Day on Aug. 27.
State Rep. Robert Foster (R-Hernando) stepped forward during a news conference held at Hernando’s Wade Implement to announce his support and endorsement of former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. in Waller’s runoff run against Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
Foster was the odd man out of the three-way race for the Republican nomination, polling 17.8 percent of the Aug. 6 vote. However, front-runner Reeves did not get the 50 percent majority on Aug. 6, forcing the runoff with Waller when Waller attracted 33.3 percent of the vote.
The winner of the Aug. 27 runoff will face state Attorney General Jim Hood in the November general election.
Hood dominated the Democratic primary on Aug. 6 with 68.8 percent voting for him.
Foster’s decision to support Waller came after several days of conversations and prayer, he said Tuesday. Foster said he had a number of supporters who actually urged him not to back another candidate.
“A lot of people wanted me to sit this out and not get involved in a runoff,” said Foster. “Getting involved in a runoff election can sometimes have political consequences when you may upset some people on one side of the other. There are a lot of people, thousands and thousands of them trying to make a decision who supported me in this election on which way to go.”
Foster’s decision to back Waller came because of what he called “bigger picture issues.”
“We are in last place because we have policies in place in Jackson that keep us in last place,” said Foster. “There are things that we can change that can help our health care system, our educational system and our economy . But, we’ve got to have new leadership and fresh ideas to come in and shake things up a little bit.”
Reeves has continued to come out solidly against raising taxes, but Foster said that philosophy is not helping get roads and bridges built and not improving a sagging education system.
“We’ve got a very bad tax structure that does not fit the state that we live in,” Foster said. “We’re not able to maintain our roads, our bridges, our infrastructure, our schools, police and fire stations. There are some common sense business solutions that can be done to try and reform that. Justice Waller and I agree on that.”
The Hernando legislator’s remarks ended with Foster saying that Waller is a “man of honor, integrity and morals.”
“He (Waller) is a man of honor and a man of his word,” Foster said. “He will not back down from a fight and he will do what is right for all the people of Mississippi and not just the special interests that seemed to have controlled our state for far too long.”
Responding to Foster’s endorsement, Waller said he expects Foster to be an integral part to advise Waller, if elected governor.
“I look forward to him being a very important and critical part of my policy, my thinking and an advisor on my team,” Waller said. “We agree that Mississippi needs to do better. Since the last recession of 2008, our gross domestic product has gone up two percent. The United States has gone up 22-and-a-half percent. Who’s happy with that?”
Waller said that Foster and he both agree that the state has to have changes in education, including more emphasis on career and technical education in high schools. Waller also said they both agree that health care in Mississippi is at a crisis level, roads and bridges need to be repaired and not closed.
Foster said he felt the endorsement was something he needed to do, adding, “The only wrestling I did came with the pressure that was put on from people who told me to just stay out of it. It wasn’t about what was best for me. I wanted to do what was best for the state of Mississippi.”
Foster said he would be helping Waller whenever he can during the remaining days before the runoff election, but that his time would be limited due to the Cedar Hill Farm business getting into its busiest time of the year.
Waller said he believes the merging of his and Foster’s supporters will be positive.
“I think that the votes are there and people are interested in a new direction,” Waller said. “”I welcome his support and the votes of his supporters.”
Foster and Waller planned similar news conferences Tuesday in Gulfport, Hattiesburg and Jackson.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.