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Basing politics on policy, who’s the better choice for governor?

When my son Lawrence was about 13, he had a T-shirt with the words “I make it look easy” printed on it.

That’s the way I feel about gubernatorial candidate Tate Reeves. He makes it look easy.

He’s rolled through all his elections. He has a huge campaign war chest. He’s lined up endorsements from across the state. He’s the runaway favorite. So easy.

Reeves has done this by sticking to the playbook and not deviating one inch:  Don’t even think about raising taxes for any reason whatsoever. Balance the budget no matter what. Don’t say anything stupid. Use the tried and true political network. Help your political contributors so the campaign money keeps rolling in. Piece of cake.

Indeed, if you just follow the political playbook, politics is easy, almost laughably so. Tate Reeves makes it look so easy, it’s no wonder some people consider him a tad arrogant.

Charisma? Who needs charisma? Vastly overrated in a small state like Mississippi where so many of us have a stake in the government game. What matters is understanding how the power structure works, how voting behavior is influenced and not getting distracted by anything else.

There’s only one problem with this. Although politics may be easy, effectively running the Mississippi government is extremely difficult. To do it right involves constant compromise, the balancing of innumerable special interests, listening to thousands of voices and a profound commitment to the public good and long-term benefit of the state.

This is where I find fault in Reeves.

Bear in mind, I have never not voted for Reeves. I was a supporter way back when. But this time around, especially with Bill Waller on the ballot, my Tate Reeves streak may come to an end.

We’re not talking personalties or popularity here. My politics are based on policy and what I think is best for the state. Reeves has dropped the ball in several fundamental ways.

Let’s start with Medicaid expansion, the biggest ticket item coming in at a billion dollars a year of federal money turned away with Reeves’ fervent blessing. That’s $10 billion of federal money Mississippi didn’t get over the last decade. As a result, our rural hospitals are closing and medical icons like Baptist and St. Dominic’s have become subsidiaries of out-of-state entities.

Why? Because the expansion of Medicaid occurred at the same time as the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and no Tea Party Republican is going to touch Obamacare with a 10-foot pole.

For the record, I think Obamacare is terrible public policy, but it is the law of the land in this nation. The feds have the authority to tax our income to fund Obamacare and Medicaid. It’s nuts not to take the money back when the feds are begging to give it to us. I call it falling on your ideological sword.

I don’t think the home mortgage deduction is good public policy. But you would think I was nuts if I refused to deduct it on my taxes. It’s the same thing with Medicaid expansion. The money is there for the taking but we remain one of the few states unwilling to take it. Did I mention this is only for working families with jobs? Why not help these families get affordable health care?

Bill Waller, unlike Reeves, is willing to work with the hospitals to develop a plan that will expand Medicaid at no cost to the state through user fees and hospital taxes. None other than Mike Pence, Trump’s vice president, developed a plan like this in Indiana.

Then there’s the gas tax. This is such a no-brainer. It’s the simplest way to pay for highway maintenance. The tax hasn’t been raised in 30 years. Mississippi is one of only three states that hasn’t raised the tax.

The Mississippi Economic Council, in collaboration with engineers at the state’s universities, conducted a massive study proving that the maintenance of our roads is deteriorating and that more funding is needed.

I asked Reeves at the Stennis Press Forum if he disputed the study. He didn’t. I asked Reeves if he had an alternative plan to produce the required level of funding. He didn’t.

So Reeves is willing to let billions of dollars of critical Mississippi infrastructure deteriorate because raising taxes is verboten. That’s just not good enough for me. Oh, by the way, Reeves gets hundreds of thousands from the Koch Brothers think tank Americans For Prosperity for towing the no-tax-for-any reason line.

Look, I’m a conservative. I believe in free markets and low taxes. But government runs on taxes. You can’t run a government if you simply will not raise taxes for any reason whatsoever. That is too doctrinaire. Too radical. Too ideological.

There are certain legitimate functions of government: the prisons, the court system, roads, the mental health system, protecting orphans and abused children. These programs must be maintained.

I’ve crunched the numbers from the state budget office and published them. Adjusted for inflation, our state government has been cut approximately 10 percent. That’s good work for Republicans, who turned the tide of explosive growth.

The federal government, through the federal court system, is taking over our prisons, our mental health system and our child protective services. Why? Because our state leaders have completely dropped the ball. That’s not good enough.

If you hate golf, you probably aren’t going to be good at it. It’s as though some Republicans hate government. As a result, they aren’t very good at it. Cut, cut, cut may have been good medicine after 120 years of Democratic reign, but the anti-government tilt is tipping too far.

The idea that if we cut taxes, business would flock to Mississippi hasn’t panned out. Our population is stagnant and our economic growth is among the worst in the nation. Meanwhile, the Republicans are snubbing help from the feds, which our poor state desperately needs.

We need a good, competitive two-party system in Mississippi. This one-party domination deal is for the birds. It allows the entrenched party to loaf.

In the meantime, at least we have a choice in the Republican primary. Bill Waller is a moderate Republican. His decades on the state supreme court give him great insight into our laws. He’s been a brigadier general in the Mississippi National Guard. He is well known and well liked. His motto is “public service not politics.” Amen, brother. This campaign should not about bashing Nancy Pelosi when our state is confronted with so many serious problems here at home.

Can a Republican moderate like Bill Waller beat a $6 million campaign war chest and a super savvy political pro? I would not bet serious money on it. But the first Bill Waller did back in 1972. I am old enough to remember it. Should be quite interesting.

Wyatt Emmerich is a columnist, writer and publisher in Jackson. He can be reached at wyatt@northsidesun.com.