GOP Debate for Governor at MSU: Highlights and Video

Republican Gubernatorial Debate

Republican Gubernatorial Debate

Posted by MSU College Republicans on Tuesday, April 2, 2019


Robert Foster v. William Waller

On April 2, the Mississippi State University branch of the College Republicans held the first GOP primary debate in the race to decide Mississippi’s next governor. The presumed frontrunner, current Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, chose not to accept an invitation to the debate, despite multiple attempts by the hosts to find a date that would suit him. He claimed he was too busy, even though his duties as president of the Legislature wrapped up last week as the 2019 legislative session ended early. In recent years, Republican frontrunners have often, with success, chose not to debate primary opponents or general election opponents.

That left State Rep. Robert Foster of Hernando (read JFP’s interview with him here) and former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller alone on the debate stage. Throughout the debate, the candidates found much to agree on when it came to teacher pay and even healthcare, but Foster took a more conservative approach to business taxation and regulation. Waller, whose father held the governor’s mansion in the 1970s and who comes from an older strain of the Republican Party, on several occasions invoked Ronald Reagan, who left office when Foster was just five years old.

Here are some highlights from the debate.

Opening Statements

• In his opening statement, Foster took a swipe at the absent Reeves for his establishment moorings:

Waller: ‘Access to Healthcare is Right to Life’

• On Medicaid expansion, both candidates took a more moderate approach than most Republicans in the state—including Reeves. They insisted on referring to it as “Medicaid reform,” though—a term Republicans who don’t want to too closely associate themselves with a key part of President Obama’s signature healthcare law have adopted. Gov. Phil Bryant has rejected billions in federal funds to expand Medicaid since Congress passed the Affordable Care Act nine years ago.

• “Everybody has access to healthcare in America,” Robert Foster said, noting that anyone can go to an emergency room for treatment. He added that the problem is that it is “unaffordable.” Discussions of healthcare access, though, typically define affordability as a component of access.

• Waller and Foster referred to other red states that have passed Medicaid expansion, using things like work requirements to pay for it:

• Bill Waller suggested that being pro-healthcare and pro-Medicaid expansion is part of his being a pro-life conservative.

• Foster called for a private healthcare exchange, another part of the Affordable Care Act that Gov. Phil Bryant rejected.

‘A Teacher Pay Raise Every Year’

• On whether or not to expand pre-K programs in the state, Waller said he supports expanding it; Robert Foster said he thinks an overall change in approach to education is needed that de-emphasizes the college-based career path and instead emphasizes technical career training in school.

• Both candidates said pay raises for Mississippi teachers have been insufficient, and that they would raise teacher pay every year as governor until Mississippi met the regional average.

Foster Calls for a Flat Tax, Waller Wants a Gas Tax

• Robert Foster said that one of the biggest problems in paying for infrastructure is that  Mississippi has the highest percentage of any state in which people are not paying taxes. What he did not mention is that that is because Mississippi is the poorest state, and part of the reason Mississippi is so poor is because of a lack of investment, especially in rural Delta counties where schools are consistently underfunded. Foster called for a flat tax and said that money from last year’s bill that created a state lottery should go to things like education—not infrastructure.

• Foster used the discussion on infrastructure to take another dig at Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves:

• Waller called for a gas tax to help fund infrastructure.

On Giving Tax Breaks to Corporations

• Foster called for Mississippi to get rid of its state income tax, and said he supports the corporate tax cuts lawmakers passed in recent years:

• When the moderator asked the candidates how they feel about using tax incentives to lure in out-of-state and international corporations like Nissan, Bill Waller was unambiguous in his distaste for it and called for a focus on helping Mississippi businesses. Foster, on the other hand, said you sometimes “need to make a special deal,” but said we should weigh the cost-benefit.

Closing Statements

• Bill Waller noted that he would be the first Mississippi governor who graduated from the Starkville university:

• Foster explained that he decided to run after serving only one term in the House of Representatives because he thinks spending less time as a Jackson legislator will make him a better governor: