TUPELO, Miss. (Daily Journal)
William Waller Jr. is hitting the ground to push his campaign message as he seeks to become the next governor of Mississippi.
“I’m the Republican that can win in November,” Waller said during a recent interview with the Daily Journal.
The candidate was in Tupelo last week as part of a swing through the northern part of the state.
Waller’s father was Mississippi’s governor from 1872 to 1976. The younger Waller served as a Mississippi Supreme Court justice for 21 years, nine of them as chief justice. He resigned within recent months and then announced a bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
Those aspirations set up a heated Republican primary, with Waller running against incumbent Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and state Rep. Robert Foster.
A gubernatorial campaign by Reeves has been anticipated for years, and his campaign has significant cash reserves.
Foster is little known state wide.
In speaking about his policy priorities, Waller did not hesitate to sketch out differences with Reeves and to contrast himself with the lieutenant governor by name.
Indeed, Waller joins a list of Republican candidates for state office willing to consider some form of Medicaid expansion in the state.
“Everything is on the table,” Waller said. “We have a healthcare crisis. We want to make sure everyone has access to healthcare.”
Foster won attention shortly after his own gubernatorial announcement with his call for some version of Medicaid expansion. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who is running for lieutenant governor, also says the state should consider some version of expansion.
The Affordable Care Act, often called “Obamacare,” offers significant federal funding for such an expansion of Medicaid eligibility standards. Some states, however, have won permission to expand while imposing certain requirements, including work requirements.
Waller offered Indiana as an example of just such a such a state, which won federal permission for a modified expansion when now-Vice President Mike Pence was governor.
Name-dropping Pence, as Waller did, may be an effort to burnish the conservative credentials of a policy that has long been opposed by Gov. Phil Bryant and by Reeves.
Infrastructure funding and education were other areas Waller said he’d focus on as governor.
He called an infrastructure funding proposal approved in a 2018 special session inadequate and indicated interest in a tax swap of some kind – perhaps an increased gas tax offset by an income tax reduction.
“We need to be creative,” he said.
On education, Waller said he wants to see annual pay raises for teachers until Mississippi educator salaries reach the southeastern average.
Also in the education arena, Waller wants to see more job-skills training and technical education programs in Mississippi high schools.
This is another point where Foster and Waller echo each other.
Party primaries are Aug. 6, with a runoff if needed on Aug. 27.