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Editorial: Governor Tate Reeves’ Poisonous Culture War

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves railed against “metropolitan narcissists” and “elites” who promote university educations in his State of the State Address, but he is a big fan of at least one “metropolitan narcissist” whose “Trump University” scam ripped off thousands of enrollees with false promises of wealth.

Mississippians focus too much on obtaining four-year degrees, the State’s new governor, Tate Reeves, suggested during his inaugural State of the State Address on January 27. The nation’s coasts can keep their “ivory towers” and “gender studies majors,” the Republican said, ignoring the fact that about a quarter of the State’s residents hold bachelor’s degrees—fewer per capita than any other state except Nevada.

“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,” said Reeves, who, before running for statewide office, enjoyed a lucrative career working behind desks for banks—a career he began after graduating with honors from a private four-year liberal arts college where tuition now hovers near $40,000 a year.

“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,” continued the wealthy governor, who has long lived in a gated community and sends at least one of his children to a private preparatory school where tuition costs nearly $14,000 a year. “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.”

‘For All Mississippi’

Though Reeves stokes the flames of cultural and class warfare to pit “regular” Mississippians against the “elite class that sees their comfortable life as the only ideal,” he is known for cavorting with wealthy “elites” himself—and not just New York billionaires who scam poor people with fake universities. Reeves’ inaugural events, which he promoted under the banner of “For All Mississippi,” required hefty financial gifts.

His inaugural dinner on January 13, for example, was for “all Mississippians” who had $250,000 to give to his inaugural fund. For “all Mississippians” who had a more meager $25,000 to offer, Reeves let them eat pancakes and enjoy a “photo opportunity” with him at his inaugural breakfast the next morning. Peasants who were able to spare $5,000 were able to not only get priority tickets to his limited-seating inaugural ceremony in the Capitol, but also to attend his inaugural ball (no fairy godmothers were provided to help furnish ballgowns and makeovers for the affair, though).

Wealthy “elites” proved instrumental in elevating Reeves to the governor’s mansion. In a state that Donald Trump won by double digits, Reeves relied on wealthy friends—many of them from out-of-state—to help get him over the finish line in last year’s election. The lieutenant governor had to outspend his Democratic rival, former Attorney General Jim Hood, by more than 2-to-1 in order to eke out the worst showing for a Mississippi Republican running for governor since 1999 (Reeves won by 5.5 points; Republicans won the past three gubernatorial elections by 34, 22, and 18 points). 

During the summer, Reeves also relied on their money to beat back challenges from lesser-known opponents during the Republican primary, which went to a runoff for the first time in nearly 30 years.

During his State of the State address, Governor Reeves said he wanted to be “clear” that there is “nothing inherently wrong with those academic studies” and that Mississippi is “proud of our universities” because we need “bankers and doctors, journalists and lawyers.” Then, he pivoted to unnecessarily divisive rhetoric like the kind he used in his campaign when he absurdly described both his Republican and Democratic opponents as “socialists.”

“We can let the east coast have their ivory towers. We can let the west coast have a generation of gender studies majors,” Reeves said, winking to his anti-feminist conservative supporters. “We will take more jobs and higher pay.”

We Don’t Have to Pit Academia Against Trade Labor

But a 2017 Georgetown University study found that Mississippians without a bachelor’s degree make, on average, about $27,000 a year, while those with bachelor’s degrees make $44,000 on average. Bachelor’s degree-holders make more than those without four-year degrees, but $44,000 a year hardly counts as an “elite” salary—and certainly will not help you get into Governor Reeves’ next potential inaugural breakfast, let alone a future inaugural dinner.

During the campaign, Tate Reeves proposed a $100 million plan to expand career and technical training programs primarily in community colleges, but also in high schools. The proposals came just months after then-Lieutenant Governor Reeves (who sends all three of his children to private schools) rejected calls to fully-fund the State’s struggling public schools and to give teachers significant pay-raise. Then, Reeves claimed the State could not afford it, even as he sneakily shepherded an extra $2 million to private schools.

The contradictions in Reeves’ priorities, though, do not necessarily mean his desire for promoting more career and technical training programs is a bad one. But it is not an either-or proposition; Mississippi can increase its share of university graduates, including its number of gender studies majors, while also bolstering the share of the State’s residents who boast valuable trade-skills training.

And Mississippi can certainly do it without our gated-community governor poisoning the dialogue and pitting Mississippians against one another with rhetoric fit for a vulgar primetime Fox News commentator.

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