You almost have to feel sorry for Gov. Tate Reeves. Here he is, the top elected official in Mississippi, and he has very little power over policy, which is where he thrives.

As lieutenant governor, Reeves pretty much ran the Capitol. Legislation didn’t get passed unless he personally gave it his stamp of approval. His committee chairmen were loathe to do anything on their own for fear of inadvertently peeving off the boss and incurring the wrath from upon high of the Senate well.

But now, as governor, Reeves finds himself in an office that is constitutionally weak. Successful Mississippi governors have relied on their personalities, charm and powers of persuasion to advance their agendas. Reeves has few of these attributes at his disposal. He’s more of an iron-fisted ruler who now only has a soft aluminum scepter to wield.

Then there’s the fact that, since he was lieutenant governor, Reeves has been looking over his shoulder at who might challenge him. Not Democrats, mind you, but Republicans. This has caused him to stake out positions on the far fringes of the right — including positions of which even his donor and supporter bases disapprove but which are nonetheless popular with a loud minority of primary voters who dominate social media discourse.

When state Sen. Chris McDaniel almost beat the late-U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, you could hear Reeves’ knees knocking in fear. Reeves loathed McDaniel, and McDaniel and his supporters despised Reeves. Reeves began embracing some of the most harebrained ideas from a far-right crowd he once thought a threat to a responsible Republican Party.

Today, Reeves has little interest in anything but running for re-election, it seems. Governing appears to be nowhere in his interest.

Though he did a good job during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, since about a year ago, he’s tried to recast himself to curry favor with the same folks who think former legislator, failed gubernatorial candidate and Twitter nut job Robert Foster is a smart, credible leader.

On medical marijuana — which he opposed during the campaign for Initiative 65 — Reeves said that if lawmakers came to an agreement on a bill, he would call a special session. They reached an agreement two months ago, but Reeves has just stalled since then. He seems content to wait until the regular session in the hope that somehow legislative horse-trading politics kills the bill.

Then comes Reeves’ executive budget recommendation for the next fiscal year. Mississippi governors are required by law to submit a budget recommendation, which lawmakers generally disregard completely before taking up their own priorities. Nevertheless, the governor’s budget recommendation is often one place the state’s chief executive officer attempts to influence legislative spending by highlighting key priorities.

Reeves’ budget recommendation for next year is, largely, an absolute joke. Second on his list of budget priorities — not policy priorities, but specifically budget priorities — is addressing Critical Race Theory. To do so, he highlights a tiny $3 million program in a $6.5 billion budget, a move that simply wreaks of political desperation.

His budget also wants to set aside virtually the entire expected $1 billion budget surplus to overcome shortfalls that would result from his income tax elimination plan — a plan without any kind of protection to prevent what happened in Kansas from happening in Mississippi. This is a direct shot at Speaker Philip Gunn’s far more responsible income tax elimination plan, which itself faces an uphill battle and Main Street opposition.

Even some of Reeves’ solid proposals — like funding to recruit and retain more police officers — are weighed down with tired political rhetoric related to national issues that have little to no bearing on Mississippi.

While Reeves is spewing political talking points to stir up voters he fears losing, Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann are actually governing.

Gunn and Hosemann have spent the past several months working out a medical marijuana bill, proposing ways to spend federal COVID-19 funds to help Mississippians, discussing how local governments can best utilize federal infrastructure money and — in the speaker’s case — working to gain support for an ambitious policy proposal.

Reeves may be the state’s top elected official, but he’s far from the state’s top leader. He acts more like an angry politician who can’t get his way anymore, who is scared to death that he may face a tough primary opponent. And it shows.

SAM R. HALL is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at sam.hall@djournal.com.

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