With steadfast resolve, Tate Reeves speaks of Mississippi’s conservative values and proclaims, “If I am elected governor, I am going to stand with President Trump.”
One of the central themes of Reeves’ front-running campaign for governor is that he is going to protect the state from efforts of outsiders to impose their liberal policies and values on Mississippians.
But in terms of passing socially conservative legislation through the Senate where he has presided for the past eight sessions as lieutenant governor, Reeves has often been criticized by his fellow conservatives.
Before the 2015 session began, Reeves made news and pleased many of the state’s conservative voters when he vowed to pass legislation to force the state Board of Education to take Mississippi’s public schools out from under the Common Core academic standards. The conservatives argued Common Core was an effort to impose federal standards on local school districts.
The standards were supported by the administration of then-President Barack Obama, but were in reality developed by state leaders from throughout the nation.
At any rate, Reeves increased his bona fides with conservatives, such as those associated with the tea party, when he promised to vanquish Common Core from Mississippi.
The legislation passed by Reeves’ leadership team instructed the state Board of Education to rename the standards. The legislation also established a panel to make recommendations on academic standards, but did not mandate that those recommendations be accepted.
In vetoing the legislation, Gov. Phil Bryant, whose conservative credentials have never been questioned, said, “I am steadfast in my belief that Common Core must be abandoned, and SB216 would do nothing to realistically accomplish that.”
At the time, Reeves, who courted and has received Bryant’s endorsement for this year’s gubernatorial election, responded to the veto, saying “Gov. Bryant’s veto of a bill that 93 legislative Republicans supported ensures that Common Core will remain in Mississippi schools.”
During the 2019 session, Reeves was lambasted by former U.S. Rep. Allen West, a popular speaker in conservative circles. West accused Reeves of blocking passage of a resolution saying Mississippi supported a “convention of the states” presumably to amend the U.S. Constitution to limit what West said was the overreach of the federal government.
Mississippi Today reported West, upset that Reeves would not appear at a news conference on the issue, said, “I gotta tell you something: I don’t like it when people shirk their responsibilities. I don’t like it when people have misguided priorities. I just wonder if the lieutenant governor will be able to look at himself at the end of the day in the mirror, knowing that he couldn’t find two minutes. That’s not courage. That’s not what built this country.”
After the West news conference, the Senate passed the resolution.
In 2012, Reeves effectively killed an anti immigration bill that was supported by Bryant and many other conservatives and had already passed the House. Reeves killed the bill by assigning it to the Judiciary B Committee chaired by Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, who did not call up the bill for consideration. The bill, which placed more responsibility on local law enforcement to search for undocumented immigrants, was opposed by numerous business groups.
At the time, Laura Hipp, a spokesperson for Reeves, said he “believes we need to do something to rid our state of illegal immigrants,” but that the proposal went too far.
In 2017, a bill originating in the Senate was passed to outlaw so-called sanctuary cities in the state.
In general, though, most bills that have passed the Legislature dealing with social issues, such as abortion and combating gay marriage, have originated in the House instead of Reeves’ Senate. The “heartbeat bill” that bans abortions after six weeks that passed in the 2019 session did begin in the Senate.
Controversial legislation that would allow governmental entities to not provide services to same sex couples and would provide a certain amount of protection for merchants who refused to serve gay couples came within an hour of dying in the Senate.
The bill had passed the House earlier in the 2016 session, but it appeared it would die in a Senate committee. But with about an hour left before the deadline, a committee meeting was called and the bill was passed.
Did Reeves wait until the deadline to pass the bill because he had reservations about it?
That question may never be answered.
But it is obvious that when Reeves was first elected to the statewide office of treasurer, his focus was on fiscal conservatism. During much of his tenure as lieutenant governor, his top conservative priority has been enhancing school choice options.
Now he spends as much or more time talking about social conservatism even as he at times clashes with social conservatives.
BOBBY HARRISON is Mississippi Today’s senior Capitol reporter.