In 2011, then-state Treasurer Tate Reeves and then-Senate Pro Tem Billy Hewes competed in a contentious and divisive Republican primary for the open seat of lieutenant governor.
Reeves captured the election, though, Hewes won his native Gulf Coast by a convincing margin.
After the election, Lt. Gov. Reeves wasted little time going to work building support on the Gulf Coast for his next election. Before long, Hewes, who went on to become mayor of Gulfport, was singing Reeves’ praise and endorsed him in his re-election bid in 2015. Hewes endorsed him again for this year’s contest for governor.
Reeves’ work to shore up his Gulf Coast support paid off Tuesday night in his Republican primary runoff victory against former Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. If not for Reeves’ overwhelming support on the Gulf Coast, his dream of occupying the Governor’s Mansion come January might have died. At the very least, Reeves’ Gulf Coast support took a lot of suspense out of Tuesday’s runoff election.
Whether Reeves can garner the support of Waller like he eventually did the support of Hewes remains to be seen. Waller was not ready to endorse Reeves on election night.
The former Supreme Court chief justice took personally Reeves’ attacks that he was a liberal. After all, what is more damning for a Mississippi politician than being labeled a liberal?
“Things said about me were personal,” Waller said on election night when asked if he would endorse his fellow Republican. “We need to consider that.”
Reeves might find it more difficult to garner the support of Waller than he did the support of Hewes and of other Gulf Coast officials who previously rejected him.
Reeves’ strong showing on the Gulf Coast comes on the heels of $24.5 million in bonds being passed to help finance the Mississippi Aquarium in Gulfport, which is viewed as a major tourism attraction for the the area. Hewes lobbied the Legislature for the passage of the bonds to help build the $93 million aquarium. Even a casual observer of the legislative process understands as lieutenant governor Reeves has been the deciding voice on which bonds are passed.
No doubt, Gulf Coast officials, including Hewes, appreciated Reeves’ willingness to ensure the passage of the bonds to help finance the aquarium that is scheduled to open in the coming months.
Reeves also stood steadfast with Gulf Coast officials to ensure their counties received the bulk of $700 million in funds that were awarded to the state to help offset the lost revenue from the 2010 BP oil spill. That particular pot of money – part of a $2.4 billion settlement with BP – was designed to compensate the state for its lost revenue from the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
Many legislators from other parts of the state argued their districts deserved a larger share of the money since the revenue that was lost normally would have been divvied up statewide. On the flip side, Gulf Coast politicians and residents said it was their region impacted by the man-made disaster so the settlement funds should be spent on projects to elevate their region.
Reeves was adamant the bulk of the revenue should go to the Gulf Coast counties. That position eventually passed the Legislature – another reason for the Gulf Coast to be appreciative of Reeves.
In fairness, Attorney General Jim Hood, who is Reeves’ Democratic opponent in the November general election, played a key role in negotiating the settlement with BP, and like Reeves, Hood maintained the bulk of the money should go to the Gulf Coast.
In the coming weeks, Reeves, no doubt, will be trying to woo Waller like he did Hewes.
Perhaps he will.
But unlike Hewes, Waller’s career in politics most likely is finished. He stepped down from the Supreme Court this past year saying he planned to teach and enjoy his family. He was a late entry into the campaign for governor.
It is doubtful Waller, age 67, ever will run for another office.
After Waller lost the runoff to Reeves, he received a phone call from Hood who praised his campaign.
Hood said Reeves “is just making stuff up. I don’t blame Judge Waller for not endorsing him ... And just that silence means so much to me that we will see a lot of his voters support us this fall.”
Reeves said after winning Tuesday, “... I have always respected Judge Waller ... I respect everyone who voted for him today. A lot of good people voted for him today. What I want to say to you is this: I heard you, and I’m determined to bring this party together to win in November.”
Perhaps, it is unlikely that Waller will endorse Hood. And Reeves most likely can win in November without a Waller endorsement.
But Reeves’ history confirms that endorsements from foes can be beneficial.