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Mississippi GOP governor and Democratic challenger spar over crime, courts and trans care

FLOWOOD, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and the Democrat who is trying to unseat him this year, Brandon Presley, traded barbs about crime, courts and transgender health care Friday in separate appearances before newspaper editors and publishers.

Reeves, seeking a second term, said at the Mississippi Press Association convention that Presley has failed to answer questions about two bills that Reeves signed into law. One bans gender-affirming health care for transgender minors. The other expands the role of state police in Mississippi’s capital city and creates positions for some judges who are appointed in a state where most judges are elected.

Reeves said people tell him they worry that “the lines between boys and girls are disappearing,” and he shares those concerns.

“We signed bills in Mississippi to prevent children from getting life-altering, experimental procedures,” Reeves said.

Reeves’ language echoes that of groups that oppose LGBTQ+ rights, including the Family Research Council, which has backed model legislation asserting “gender transition is an experiment.” Dr. Jack Drescher, a psychiatry professor at Columbia University who edited the section about gender dysphoria in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual, has said that valid science supports gender-affirming care for transgender youths.

“So far in Mississippi, my opponent — he won’t say a word,” Reeves said. “Y’all spilled a lot of ink over the legislation when I signed it.”

Presley appeared about an hour after Reeves and responded to a question about banning gender-affirming health care for minors.

“I trust families,” Presley said. “I trust mamas, I trust daddies, to deal with the health care of their children.”

Presley, in his fourth term as Mississippi’s northern district public service commissioner, said Reeves talks about transgender issues as “a smokescreen” to distract from problems including a multimillion-dollar welfare fraud scheme that developed while Reeves was lieutenant governor.

“Before this campaign is over with, if it will hide his record on corruption … if it will hide the fact that hospitals are shutting down, he will say that Martians have landed in Montgomery County, to divert your attention,” Presley said.

Reeves said Democrats passionately opposed expanding the role of state police in Jackson and creating positions for appointed judges. The NAACP filed a federal lawsuit arguing that Mississippi is creating “separate and unequal policing” in majority-Black Jackson compared to the rest of the state. The lawsuit is still pending.

Leaders of the majority-white and Republican-controlled Legislature said the law is intended to reduce crime in Jackson, which has had more than 100 homicides in each of the past three years. The city has about 150,000 residents.

“I sure think it’s a good thing to have more people working towards public safety in our state capital,” Reeves said.

He said Presley is hoping to avoid questions about the law.

“And he’s on his knees praying you won’t challenge him when the answer he gives is a whole bunch of nothing,” Reeves said. “Just talking points from out-of-state, left-wing consultants who have told him to shut up about anything that the voters care about and anything that is not a personal attack on me.”

Presley said when he was mayor of the small town of Nettleton, he would not have wanted the Legislature to tell him how to run the police department. He also said he supports electing judges, not appointing them.

“Obviously, there’s got to be an address to the crime issue in and around Jackson. I’m not oblivious to that,” Presley said. “But I can tell you this … you’re not going to solve that issue effectively without collaboration with local officials.”

Presley also talked about his uncle, Lee County Sheriff Harold Ray Presley, who was killed in 2001.

“I stood over the coffin of a loved one killed in the line of duty as a police officer. I’ve done that,” Brandon Presley said “So I’m not going to allow Tate Reeves to try to teach me anything when it comes to standing up for our police officers and law enforcement. He can save that hot air for somebody else.”

Emily Wagster Pettus, The Associated Press

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