Democrat Hood wants 3 debates in Mississippi governor's race

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Democratic nominee for Mississippi governor said Thursday that no matter who wins the Republican nomination next week, he wants to debate that person three times before the general election.

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Attorney General Jim Hood said he watched the 30-minute Republican debate Wednesday night between Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and retired Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr.

Hood said the format was too short for in-depth answers. He said he wants longer debates in the north, central and south of the state.

"I want to make sure whatever debate format that we have, that people get the truth and not these little sound bites ... and these catch phrases that really don't mean anything," said Hood, who defeated seven low-budget candidates to win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination Aug. 6.

Reeves and Waller are competing in a Republican primary runoff Tuesday after advancing from a three-person field. The winner goes to the Nov. 5 ballot to face Hood, Constitution Party candidate Bob Hickingbottom and independent David Singletary.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant couldn't seek a third term.

During the debate on WJTV, Reeves and Waller were asked about several issues.

Both said they would try to shorten the waiting time at driver's license offices, where long lines are common.

Waller said he supports increasing the gasoline tax to pay for highway improvements and eliminating the 4% bracket for income tax. Reeves said he opposes a gas tax increase but would support eliminating that portion of the income tax.

Waller said Mississippi should allow people who can't afford private insurance to purchase coverage in Medicaid, similar to a plan that Indiana adopted when Vice President Mike Pence was governor. Reeves said he opposes adding people to Medicaid. Under the federal health overhaul that then-President Barack Obama signed in 2010, states have the option of expanding Medicaid to the working poor. Mississippi is among the 14 states that have not done so.

"I believe that if you are a true conservative, you do not support Obamacare expansion in Mississippi," Reeves said during the debate. "I believe if you're a true conservative, you're not for raising taxes in Mississippi. Conservatives believe in less government, less regulation, lower taxes and more individual freedoms for Mississippians. That's what a true conservative is."

Waller responded: "My plan is the true conservative plan. Education, health care, infrastructure are the pillars of any kind of economic development. And I think conservatives should be interested in economic development."

Hood said he thought Waller addressed issues, but Reeves did not.

"And you saw Tate Reeves — all he was doing is just ... calling him a liberal," Hood said. "What does that mean? You know? I mean, what's that got to do with what we're going to do here in Mississippi? You know, what are the impacts? What happens with our economy in our state?"

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