TUPELO • Jay Hughes is running for lieutenant governor with an emphasis on his working-class upbringing and with a brash, feisty style unafraid of sharp talk and a quick quip.
A Democrat state representative in Oxford completing his first term in the legislature, Hughes met with the Daily Journal editorial board Tuesday and showcased a campaign pitch focused on education policy and working class economic interests.
In Tuesday’s interview, Hughes also displayed a blunt, plainspoken and sometimes profane manner.
For example, he decried the legislature as corrupt and “100 percent controlled by campaign donations, lobbyists and the desire to get re-elected.”
He’s running a longshot campaign rather than staying in the legislature as a gadfly because “I want to make a difference, not a statement.”
Even more starkly, he said Republican opposition to Medicaid expansion in Mississippi is driven by “pure f---ing meanness.”
His opponent in the general election is the Republican Delbert Hosemann, the incumbent secretary of state.
Seeking to strike a contrast with Hosemann, Hughes highlighted the narrative of a humble upbringing to a career as a businessman and attorney. He portrays Hosemann as insulated from the realities of working class existence, subsisting paycheck-to-paycheck.
“My life experiences are different than my opponent and they are more consistent with your average Mississippian, from being in poverty, from being born poor to knowing what it’s like not to have access to healthcare,” Hughes said.
The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate, one of two chambers in the Mississippi Legislature, and has significant sway over the fate of bills in that chamber.
Moving from their respective pasts and toward the future, Hughes believes his “management style” would differ sharply from Hosemann’s as the presiding officer of the state Senate.
“With all due respect to Secretary Hosemann, his reputation, other than the one that has been created by the granny on the bench, is one of fierce, heavy handed control identical to Lt. Gov. Reeves,” Hughes said, referring to a series of commercials Hosemann has aired over the years.
For his part, Hughes said he would govern with an eye toward “working on compromise and pulling in the same direction.”
On policy, Hughes has extensively focused on education policy. He wants to see the state fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program beginning with the first legislative session of new terms that begin next year.
Indeed, Hughes said that if elected he would “make public education the single highest priority every single year.”
He called the shortfall of funding for MAEP “a fabricated crisis” created by legislative leadership.
“We have the money,” Hughes said. “We have the wrong priorities.”
On healthcare, Hughes said Mississippi faces a crisis and offered support for a plan offered by the Mississippi Hospital Association that would, if it worked as intended, allow Mississippi to expand Medicaid eligibility without an infusion of money from the general fund to cover the state’s share of the costs.
He defended Medicaid expansion as a program that would bolster hospitals in the state while providing healthcare for the disadvantaged.
“Someone doesn’t get a check when they are on Medicaid,” Hughes said. “They get treatment and the right not to die from a treatable condition.”
With regard to the state’s infrastructure network, Hughes said “there is no popular solution.”
That said, Hughes backed the idea of a gas tax increase, which he called a “user fee,” echoing the now-defeated Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Waller.
An attorney in Oxford, Hughes was previously an elected member of that city’s Board of Aldermen.
Hughes and Hosemann will face each other on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.