For one week every summer, the Neshoba County Fair is the place to be to hear from Mississippi’s elected officials and those with ambitions to join them in office.
This year, on Wednesday and Thursday, the state’s most powerful leaders made their pitch for why they believe Republicans are due to win big in November.
“A red wave is coming in November,” Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said during his speech Thursday. “Joe Biden has driven us towards a cliff. Now, I would say that Joe Biden fell asleep at the wheel, but I’m pretty sure he nodded off long before he came to power.”
Reeves said he is more optimistic than he has ever been for Mississippi and the U.S, despite his views on the state of the country under the Biden administration.
“It took Jimmy Carter to give America the Reagan revolution,” Reeves said. “It’s always darkest before the dawn, and soon it will be morning in America again.”
Secretary of State Michael Watson also referred to Biden as “asleep at the wheel,” and said his office works closely with a number of local leaders.
“We need leadership at the state and local level because we are not getting it at the federal level,” Watson said.
Speaker of the House Philip Gunn recalled being in the House when Republicans took control of the chamber 11 years ago and instructed his audience to ask themselves a question.
“After 136 years of Democrat control, I think we’ve done pretty good in 11 years,” Gunn said. “What difference has Republicans made over the last 11 years?”
Gunn reflected on a number of accomplishments, including the state’s recent tax cut, protections for religious liberty and bills passed by the House geared toward the Second Amendment.
“The NRA lobbyist told me one day, ‘You have done more to protect gun rights in this state of Mississippi than in any other state I’ve been to,'” Gunn said.
“We won! We won Mississippi. How about that?” Fitch said to enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. “Forever now it will be the Mississippi Dobbs case. No longer will we talk about Roe v. Wade.”
Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson proclaimed his firm opposition to a number of policies often associated with the Democratic Party.
“We don’t need no liberal weeds in the soil of this state,” Gipson said.
Among other issues, Gipson specifically decried the welfare safety net and made clear his opposition to Medicaid expansion.
“We believe all able-bodied folks ought to get up off of the couch and go to work,” Gipson said. “That’s why we oppose Medicaid expansion. We believe in jobs with benefits. How about that old-fashioned idea?”
While many speakers spent large portions of their speeches devoted to the contrast between Republicans and Democrats, which Reeves said “has never been more clear,” others focused mostly on their accomplishments and on explaining the ins and outs of their jobs.
Treasurer David McRae said his job has three main roles: cash flow, unclaimed property and college savings. His speech focused on the work he’s done in each of those areas. McRae said his office has returned about $100 million into the treasury through its investments, along with about $55 million in unclaimed property being addressed since the beginning of this year.
“I’m on pace right now to return $70 million, and that is a record for Mississippi, a record for the treasury, and I’m very proud of it,” McRae said.
McRae also said his office views college savings plans as the answer to the rising costs of college, rather than federal government interventions like those proposed by the Biden administration.
“I’m about empowering the people, not the government. I work for you, not the other way around,” McRae said.
Auditor Shad White talked about his role in discovering the welfare scandal that is currently the focus of both criminal and civil investigations.
“We have uncovered and put a stop to the largest fraud scheme in the history of the state of Mississippi,” White said, adding that his office was not afraid to make enemies in its investigations. “It doesn’t matter how famous you are, or where you’re from, or who your momma is.”
Public Service Commissioner Brent Bailey, who led off Thursday’s speakers, said his office works to protect consumers, including in their relationship with public utilities and in fielding complaints about telemarketers.
“I’m going to outwork you, I’m going to out-hustle you, and guess what, I’m going to do my best to outwit you,” Bailey said.
On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann recalled many of the actions taken by the state legislature in the last session and looked forward to some priorities for 2023. One priority for Hosemann will be tax rebate checks after the state collected a record level of revenue last fiscal year.
“It’s not the government’s money,” Hosemann said. “It’s your money.”
The fair featured few opportunities for Democrats to counter the message of the state’s Republican leaders. Only two members of the Democratic party spoke during the week. On Wednesday, District 3 congressional candidate Shuwaski Young spoke, while Thursday featured one of the state’s transportation commissioners, Willie Simmons. State Rep. Michael T. Evans, a former Democrat who became an Independent in 2020 also spoke Wednesday.