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Bill Waller weighs Governor Tate Reeves' challenge


Bill Waller Jr., the former Supreme Court chief justice and son of a former governor, is “strongly considering” challenging Governor Tate Reeves in the 2023 Republican primary.

Waller’s entry into the gubernatorial race would shake up the state’s political environment and stage a dramatic rematch of the 2019 Republican gubernatorial primary, which Reeves won by eight points after a bitter runoff with the former judge.

Waller told Mississippi Today on Tuesday that he has been weighing a race for several weeks, talking to family, friends and political advisers. He has ruled out running as an independent, which several politicians have suggested he do, and would instead run in the August Republican Party primary.

“I’m praying about it, watching who else might be in the running and what else might be coming, but I think there’s a critical need for leadership change at the top,” Waller said. “In many ways, the issues I ran on in 2019 are more serious, more pronounced now. So many people in this state are hurt or frustrated, and the response (from the governor) just isn’t there. It undermines the fabric of this state.

Reeves, who is entering the final year of his first term as governor, is expected to officially announce at a Tuesday press conference at the Mississippi GOP headquarters that he is running for re-election.

Candidates for statewide office face a Feb. 1 deadline to qualify for the 2023 election.

The potential GOP primary rematch will turn heads across the state. Waller, who announced his 2019 candidacy at the eleventh hour and battled a name-identification disability outside of the Jackson metro area, forced a runoff with Reeves in the August GOP primary. Waller lost that runoff by 8 points, but he won 17 counties — including most of the state’s metropolitan and suburban counties filled with more educated Republican voters.

Waller also forced Reeves to spend more than $7 million to win the primary — a staggering figure that made it harder for Reeves to run in the general election against formidable Democratic candidate Jim Hood. That story looms large because whoever wins the 2023 Republican primary could likely face another strong Democratic challenger, longtime Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, who is also planning to run for governor this year.

“I can tell you this, whatever I do next in my career, I will continue to focus on improving the lives of average Mississippians who can’t write a $1,000 campaign check and need public servants. of the state with a real backbone to defend them. , their families and their communities,” Presley said Tuesday when asked about his plans for 2023.

Reeves spent much of the 2019 primary calling Waller “too liberal” for Mississippi. But Waller, a longtime Republican voter, won endorsements in 2019 from several former Mississippi Republican Party leaders.

READ MORE: ‘I think he’s more eligible than Tate’: Four former GOP chairs endorsed Waller over Reeves

Waller supports the expansion of Medicaid, which economists say would provide health care to poor working Mississippi and help struggling hospitals keep their doors open. Reeves vehemently opposes the measure and reiterates, without proof or research, that the state cannot afford it.

Waller has also been outspoken about wanting to dramatically increase teachers’ salaries and said he would consider raising the nation’s second-oldest gas tax to help fund needed repairs to roads and bridges. Reeves blocked several efforts during his eight years as lieutenant governor to raise the gas tax.

In the Jan. 3 interview with Mississippi Today, Waller raised another key issue he said would be at the center of a potential 2023 bid: the state’s sprawling scandal. Reeves has been embroiled in elements of the scandal, and he faced a barrage of criticism from voters after his office abruptly fired the lawyer investigating the extent of the wasteful spending.

“The corruption is so apparent and out of control, and most Mississippians I know are fed up with it,” Waller said. “Money intended for poor children and others who are diverted to buddies and personal friends is outrageous.”

READ MORE: Gov. Tate Reeves inspired targeted welfare payment in civil lawsuit, texts say

Reeves has long touted his focus on economic development and other fiscal gains he says the state has made under his decades of leadership. He said his focus on conservative spending and tax policy has been a success for the state.

But Waller said Tuesday more needed to be done.

“We have the steel mill in Lowndes County, and that was a great announcement,” Waller said. “But sadly, the vast majority of the state has been ignored for a decade or more. Many people in most parts of the state can’t remember the last time they benefited from an economic announcement like this.

READ MORE: Bill Waller didn’t endorse Tate Reeves in the 2019 gubernatorial race

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