January 3, 2020 10:53:15 AM
When the Mississippi Legislature convenes for its annual session on Tuesday, it may be business as usual on the House side, but the Senate is under new management.
Tate Reeves was term-limited out of his job as Lt. Governor, the most powerful elected position by virtue of the Lt. Governor's role as head of the Senate. So he had to settle for Governor, a position whose powers are limited.
The Top Dog, aka Lt. Governor, position now belongs to former Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and the difference between the Hosemann and Reeves could hardly be more prominent.
Sooner or later, the two are going to bump heads over policy sooner or later. Although both are Republicans, Hosemann has proven to be independent minded and more moderate in his views. From a policy viewpoint, Reeves is a continuation of the rigidly-conservative Phil Bryant administration.
In both style and substance, Hosemann will be a different kind of Senate leader and while there aren't many large philosophical differences between the two men, there is at least one issue that almost guarantees a conflict.
Reeves was about the only candidate in any statewide race who flatly refused to support Medicaid expansion in any form. For Hosemann, expanding health care to uninsured working Mississippians through Medicaid "reform" (he was careful not to use the word "expansion") was something he campaigned on.
Although 37 states have expanded Medicaid in some form for another, there's not been much of an appetite for expansion in Deep Red Mississippi. But as it is with many issues, when the narrative changes so, too, do attitudes.
The narrative on Medicaid expansion has changed form the mindless, self-destructive hatred for "Obamacare" to how that expansion can rescue our rural hospitals, all of whom are in peril. Five rural hospitals in the state have closed since 2010.
Saving rural hospitals through getting more Mississippians into healthcare plans that actually reimburse hospitals for their services is something even the staunchest conservatives can stomach.
Hosemann understand this. A strong majority of state senators, almost all of whom represent districts with besieged rural hospitals, understand this, too.
That's where the difference in style comes into play.
Under Reeves, it didn't really matter what the majority of the Senate thought on a subject. Reeves ran the show through committee chairs selected on their fealty to him. What Reeves wanted, he got.
Hosemann appears to be far more egalitarian. He's a consensus-builder. At age 72, he has none of the naked ambition that marked Reeves' every move. He will prefer to listen, work quietly and build a workable plan.
As more and more legislators understand the opportunity Medicaid expansion presents, there's going to be increased support for it.
Ultimately, it will put Hosemann on a collision course with House Speaker Phillip Gunn and Gov. Reeves. Assuming Gunn will see the writing on the wall and allow Medicaid expansion legislation to get through his chamber as well as the Senate, the question will become not if Reeves will veto it -- which is as sure as sunrise -- but whether the Legislature has the two-thirds majority to override that veto.
That showdown will almost certainly happen.
The question is when?
Hosemann seems to be cautious heading into his first legislative session.
The guess here is that he'll build relationships in the Senate and work behind the scenes to build up the critical mass of support he'll need in both chambers.
Best bet: The Medicaid Expansion fight will come in January 2021.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]