2020 Mississippi State of the State Address
GOVERNOR REEVES: Thank you. Thank you to all of the members of the legislature here today. I am grateful for your service and dedication to the people of Mississippi. I know we can accomplish great things together. Thank you, Speaker Gunn. I’m grateful for your friendship and partnership over the years. Thank you, Lieutenant Governor Hosemann. I am looking forward to working together with you to serve our state. You’ve got a great job, one that will present many challenges, opportunities, frustrations, and great joys. I treasure every memory from it, and I hope that you will too.
Now, when we gathered here not long ago for the inauguration, I swore that our administration would be For All Mississippi. That is our creed. but I do have a confession. I do have a favorite Mississippian. She has a brilliant mind and a deep love for her home state. She is a trusted partner, loving mother, and a sharp thinker. I’m lucky to have her, and now we all are. Ladies and Gentlemen, my favorite Mississippian, and the First Lady of Mississippi, Elee Reeves!
Mississippi is a beautiful, powerful state. We have many natural resources: from the fertile soil that produces our crops to the beautiful coastline that draws visitors from around the world. But Mississippi’s greatest resource has always been and will always be our people.
There is a Mississippi spirit that lives within each of our citizens: Pride that comes from generations of hard work and determination. Resilience born from adversity. Diversity that creates meaning and beauty. Deep faith that knows the providence of our Lord and savior.
As I start my term as Governor, my mission is not just to represent Mississippi, but to reflect Mississippi. Reflect the honor. Reflect the grit. Reflect the fortitude of our people. Mississippi is an imperfect state, and I can predict with certainty that I will reflect that imperfection. Mississippians also strive for excellence, and I swear to reflect that as well.
I want all Mississippians to know that every man and woman of every region, every background, every race, every class, and every home in our state has my admiration and my respect. It is my mission to reflect all Mississippi—to serve all Mississippi. That is what all of this is for. We work for all Mississippi.
We have great challenges ahead of us. It is in those challenges, where opportunity lies. We have made tremendous progress, but we must never pretend that the hardest work does not lie in front of us. It was a great son of Marion County, Walter Payton, who told his teammates: “Keep going. Keep going. Fight for more yards.”
The moment that we rest on our achievements; that we look back behind us and say, “good enough.” That is the moment that we have abandoned our duty. Instead, we press forward: determined to make a difference in the lives of the people we serve.
It starts with the citizens who need us most: the children entrusted by God into the care of Mississippi families. The responsibility of raising those children starts in the home. A bunch of politicians in Jackson will never replace the power of a good Mom and a good Dad. But those parents cannot do their jobs alone.
Every Mississippian is born with a great inheritance—that Mississippi spirit living within each of us. And every Mississippian is born with a sacred duty—to support the families living in our communities. All of us, particularly those entrusted with public office, must do everything in our power to help those young Mississippians unlock their God-given potential.
That is why our first mission must be the continued improvement of our educational system. We have made tremendous strides. Today, I am overwhelmed with pride to say, Mississippi is the number one state in the country for educational gains.
People around the world are beginning to notice. They look up from the national assessments and ask: What is happening in Mississippi? Why is this state—which we have derided for so long—the only state in the country that is making improvements in fourth-grade reading? Why are these kids gaining ground while the rest of the country stays stagnant? I will let you in on a little secret: These gains are not accidental.
A portion of the credit belongs to the education reform advocates who have fought tirelessly against the coalition for the status quo. Change is never easy, but Mississippi’s education system needed change. Over the last eight years, those advocates have worked to reform our education system: creating more opportunity, choice, and access for Mississippi’s most vulnerable students. There has been a concerted effort to undermine and attack those reforms. But the results speak for themselves. We must hold the line against those who would undo the very reforms that are lifting children up.
The honor from these results ultimately rests on Mississippi’s students, Mississippi’s parents, and, yes, Mississippi’s teachers. Teachers don’t teach for glory, praise, or riches. But it is right to take a moment here, at the beginning of our time tonight and at the beginning of our term of service, to recognize their incredible achievement.
We worked hard over the last decade to recover from a brutal recession, and do the hard, necessary work of rebuilding. We have been forced to make many hard choices in the budget and prioritized the fiscal stability of the state. It’s a position that so many families and businesses know all too well. We often looked at our budgets and longed to do more. Today, we finally can.
Thanks to cost-saving measures and tax cuts that have spurred our economy, we have more money coming in than ever before. We must never forget that our focus on protecting that taxpayers is what got us to this financial position. As we begin to allocate this new revenue, I can think of no one more deserving, and no task more essential, than increasing the pay of our teachers.
I know that there is broad consensus and commitment to achieve this quickly and to increase pay substantially. I want all of you to know that my priority is simple: let’s pay our teachers as much as we can possibly afford. Send me a budget that does that, and I’ll stand beside each of you to sign it with joy.
I do not want to aim for average. We have achieved incredible education gains that put Mississippi at the top of the charts for test scores. We should not just aim for passing grades. We can and should aim to excel. I want to set a goal for Mississippi—that we would equip our teachers with the funding and tools to become national board certified if they are willing to put in the work. And I believe that by the end of my time in office, we can make Mississippi the number one state in the country for certified teachers. Let’s aim high and achieve great things together.
We must also remember the purpose of education. It is to prepare Mississippi’s next generation for a life well-lived. There has been a malicious myth spreading across our country for many years: That the only way to achieve the American dream is through a four-year university degree and a career behind a desk. That myth comes from the arrogance of an elite class that sees their comfortable life as the only ideal. They are the same metropolitan narcissists who look at our state and sneer. They have tricked millions of Americans into taking on mountains of debt and wasting precious years—all based on a conceited lie. We must break the cycle. In Mississippi, we can be at the tip of the spear.
Now let me be clear: there is nothing inherently wrong with those academic studies. In fact, it is good for many Americans and Mississippians to engage in them. We’re proud of our universities. We need bankers and doctors, journalists and lawyers. The big lie is that every American must embark on the same path.
We can take advantage of this national myth. Because in Mississippi, we know that there is pride in a trade. We know that there is money to be made. We can let the east coast have their ivory towers. We can let the west coast have a generation of gender studies majors. We will take more jobs and higher pay!
Here’s what it will take: investment and intentionality. We will not win this great competition without a financial investment in the people who can make it happen. Last year, I outlined a plan to put $100 million into workforce development—training Mississippians so that we are ready to work. Teaching skills to students from the earliest possible age. Apprenticeships, community college grants, and assistance for workers. We can make noise across the nation when they see our commitment to this cause.
I urge all of Mississippi’s leaders to make this a joint priority. We must take action, to capitalize on the opening that has been left for us. We must be intentional and bring focus to this fight. We can win, and we can help Mississippi’s workers to earn more money than we could have ever imagined.
When we are successful, we will see it in the wages of our workers. Income must go up in our state—for every Mississippian. Better paying jobs—quality jobs—are just around the corner. We just need to invest in the training that our workers need to win them.
This is what I see as our greatest challenge and therefore our greatest opportunity. Others are competing in this space as well. We must meet their efforts and exceed them. We must make our workers a priority. We must give them the tools to succeed. We must equip Mississippi’s businesses with the world’s best workforce. We must tell the world what we are doing.
As governor, it is my mission to be Mississippi’s ambassador. To go into every room possible and tell them about the strength and the skill of Mississippi workers. We are engaged in a global fight for quality jobs and higher wages—and with investments in our workers we will win more industry and more income for Mississippi.
Workforce training is perhaps our greatest opportunity, but it is not our only priority. We must continue to invest in critical infrastructure. Mississippi’s roads and bridges need our attention. From ports to potholes, we must continue to be intentional about improving our infrastructure. And we cannot forget the next great generational infrastructure issue: internet access. We must continue to find innovative ways to allow all of Mississippi to connect. No one should be left behind.
We must prioritize the safety of all Mississippians—and the health of all Mississippians. We need to incentivize quality health care in all regions of the state and protect the small-town way of life that makes us who we are.
We must do all of this without falling into the trap that so many misguided politicians cannot avoid. Big government intervention creates as many problems as it solves. That was the lesson of Obamacare. It is the lesson that many on the left, who are now pushing even more reckless expansion of government-run health care, failed to learn. It is a lesson that we must remember.
This is not a call for inaction, but a call for caution. We can invest in health care. We should invest in health care. We can protect rural hospitals. We can protect the people of Mississippi. I am eager to work with each of you to do so. We can and we should do all of this without succumbing to the siren song of big government.
I believe we need more doctors in our small towns. I believe that a major expansion of our rural physician scholarship program will help us get there. I believe we must invest in rural residency programs. I believe there should be incentives for businesses that contribute to hospitals in rural areas. I believe we should expand telemedicine to reduce the cost of care. I believe that we must create a reason for doctors to locate in underserved areas. We must put patients first and protect them from the higher costs. We can do this together, and I hope that we will work together in the coming months to make progress.
Often, the most impactful thing that we can do at this building is get out of the way and allow innovators to thrive. That is why one of my priorities will be cutting red tape and improving customer service across government. We are assembling a team that is committed to ensuring that the people of Mississippi are never held back by cumbersome government. Regulations and processes that may have been well-intentioned, often serve only to slow our state down. We are going to fix that.
While I know that the team tasked with reducing red tape will be committed and capable, there is no replacement for listening to the people. It is my goal to put the citizens of Mississippi in the driver’s seat in this effort. If you are being held back by some unnecessary government rule or process, we will provide an easy way for you to let us know. And whenever we can take action, we will do so quickly. We will have a bias towards action. We will listen to the people of Mississippi and clean up our codes to put them first.
There’s a famous saying: “Never attribute to malice, what can be attributed to incompetence.” And there’s no question, much of the red tape in government is the result of well-intentioned, but now outdated actions. But do not fool yourself: there are many who use regulation to protect themselves from competition. That must end.
We must make it easier for everyone to earn money in Mississippi. That means eliminating those unfair regulations that keep people from getting licenses to work. We must make it simpler for anyone to thrive in our state.
As governor, I plan to take a hard look at all of the regulations on the books that make it harder for people to live and work here. If you want to make a living in Mississippi, we want to make it easy for you to live in Mississippi. It will help us to keep young Mississippians here, and recruit even more to live and work in our great state. That will be a focus of our administration. And we will count on the people of Mississippi to let us know where red tape blocks their path to prosperity.
There is one particular area of the government that has historically, woefully underserved the people who rely on it. It is also one of our most critical. There are children in Mississippi who are wards of the state. That is a legal term that understates the gravity of our responsibility: these are Mississippi’s kids. They belong to each of us.
That is not their natural status. It is always the result of tragedy or trauma. Some are victims of abuse or neglect, whose parents don’t deserve them. Some are orphans, whose parents would have loved them well if they lived. Some are the children of poverty or addiction, whose parents would support them if they could. However they come into our care, they are ours. Ours to protect. Ours to lift up. Ours to look after.
Any parent will tell you how hard it is to look after their own children. It is no easier to develop and maintain a system that adequately cares for the thousands in every area of our state. But today, I ask that we would all take a moment to recognize our responsibility for these kids. I ask that you would join us in working to reform the system that is set up to protect them. There is much that we can and must do.
Some of the progress will be private. Many of these children are in dangerous situations and telling their stories would only put them in harm’s way. Some of the progress will not be easy to explain. It is a complicated, bureaucratic system. All of that unseen work is essential. There will be no glory in it for the foster families or state employees who answer the call. But they will know their reward in the smiles of the children that they care for. They will see the peace that these children have longed for. They will know that their work has borne fruit.
Those will be the private moments of success that will change lives, but we also have a duty to use our public position. We must shine a light on the challenges these children face. And promoting our shared responsibility to care for these kids may ultimately do more than anything else. In Mississippi, we have made progress by promoting adoption and moving children into loving, permanent homes. We must accelerate this progress and bring even more attention to these kids in our care. There is no government program that can replace a forever family.
We have worked hard in Mississippi to make this the safest state in the country for our innocent unborn children. This is noble and it is essential. Our commitment to our pro-life values must never waver.
We must also recognize that it is our duty to protect the lives of those innocent children who are born. Born into harsh conditions. That begins with the children who are Mississippi’s kids. We will promote a culture of life by promoting foster care, by promoting adoption. By reminding each other that our kids are counting on us. Through public promotion and quiet reform, we will do the necessary work to ensure that these children are not twice-abandoned. It is among our most sacred duties as state leaders, and we can do better by our kids. I know we can.
We must also insist on improving our correctional system—to protect the integrity of our state.
In 1982, Inmate 46857 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman was a 19-year-old. He was holding a shank. He was sitting on his cot. And there was murder on his mind. He was considering killing two of his fellow inmates—to toughen his image and bolster his standing in a prison where violence was the norm. He stood convicted of armed robbery and attempted murder. It may be easy for us to cast such a man off—to believe that his life does not matter. But God did not. God came to Inmate 46857 in that prison cell. The inmate came to know Christ. He served his sentence. On January 14, 1988—six years later—he walked out of Parchman a free man. He became a pastor. He started working with kids who came from poverty like he had. He turned other lives around. On January 14, 2020—exactly 32 years later—he delivered the benediction at my inauguration.
That man is Reverend Eddie Spencer, and he represents everything that is at stake and all the potential of every life in our prison system. With God’s help, he turned his life around and now serves as a leader and testimony to all of us. His ministry has saved countless lives in Mississippi and across the country. He’s here with us today. Can we all take a moment to honor him?
We must get this right, to prevent the next Reverend Spencer from losing their life needlessly in a Mississippi prison. I’ve been to Parchman. I saw it for myself just a few days ago. The problems were infuriating. We will do better. We will right the wrongs of the past, and we will do everything in our power to protect the dignity of every Mississippi life.
All Mississippians must be able to trust that the people in charge of this system are acting with competence to keep them safe. We must be able to trust that the corrections officers operating in these prisons have the tools that they need to do their jobs, and that they are compensated fairly. We must be able to trust that this system shows a baseline level of respect to those who find themselves within it. We must administer justice fairly, respecting the dignity of all within our prison walls. It was a great Christian martyr of the 16th century who saw a group of prisoners headed to the executioner and said, “there but for the grace of God, go I.” We must carry that same spirit of empathy as we embark on this mission.
We have brought in an honorable, able, experienced leader with a background in corrections and law enforcement—Tommy Taylor—to serve as a steady hand in the interim. He has already made several changes that we hope will help us begin to do better. There is a great deal more that must be done, but we are just now starting to move in the right direction.
We have asked a trusted, diverse group of experts to conduct a nationwide search—to provide me with a recommendation for a permanent solution to our leadership crisis.
We have made one major decision that I would like to announce today. I have instructed the Mississippi Department of Corrections to begin the necessary work to start closing Parchman’s most notorious unit—Unit 29. There are many logistical questions that will need to be answered—we’re working through that right now. But I have seen enough. We have to turn the page. This is the first step, and I have asked the Department to begin the preparations to make it happen safely, justly, and quickly.
I know that together we will make progress—day by day. It will often be slow. It will often be painful, as we reckon with the mistakes of the past. We will learn from them, as we have done for generations. We will look back with grief but focus forward with hope. We will do better—For All Mississippi—and work together to ensure that the safety and human dignity of All Mississippians are respected.
I believe in Mississippi. I believe that our greatest days are ahead of us. There are times when I have been criticized for painting too hopeful a picture of Mississippi. Highlighting our progress does not mean ignoring our failures. We face many challenges as a state. But there is a tendency today to allow cynicism to overwhelm us. It is common in politics and the people who cover it, but not unique to this business.
One of Mississippi’s most legendary sons, B.B. King, tells a story about the beginning of his musical career:
He said, “I would sit on the street corners in my hometown of Indianola, Mississippi, and I would play. And, generally, I would start playing gospel songs. People would come by on the street. And they would always compliment me on those gospel tunes, but they would tip me when I played blues.”
Now, I for one am glad that King sang the blues and sang it well. Today, I think our state needs a little less blues and a little more gospel. There may be profit in pessimism, but when we put our faith in God and in each other, we can begin to move forward to a brighter future.
We can begin to put pettiness aside and provide help to the people who need it. We can push through all that divides us and make a difference in our communities.
And so while I recognize the difficulties that lie ahead of us, as governor, I hope that you won’t hear me sing the blues. You will hear the gospel, which means you will hear the good news. You will hear the story of Mississippi’s exceptional rise in education. You will hear the story of our economic growth. You will hear about the might of Mississippi’s workers. You will hear our goals for the future, and my unshakable belief that Mississippians can rise to any challenge.
I know that we will face trouble during our time. That’s the way of the world. I also know that the people of Mississippi are resilient. We are strong. We care about one another. We have a faith that unites us. We have a common bond. We have one mission.
We know our goal, because it comes from God. In the twelfth verse of the twelfth chapter of Romans he tells us: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
Over the next several years, we will strive to serve with joy and hope. We will work patiently to aid the afflicted. We will act with faith, praying to God for the wisdom to do what is right. I know that all of our state’s leaders share that mission.
We won’t always get it right the first time, and we won’t always agree on everything. But I know that all of you care about the people we serve. You share that Mississippi spirit which unites every citizen of this precious state. I know that Mississippi’s best days are ahead of us. Will you join me in helping us get there?
Thank you for your prayers and your commitment to this cause. I know that we will do great things together.
God bless you, God bless America, and may God Bless the great state of Mississippi.