State Sen. Michael Watson went on Supertalk’s Gulf Coast station Tuesday morning to discuss the politics of trooper funding given the ‘blue out’ rally planned at the Capitol this week supporting a trooper school, a need Governor Phil Bryant has touted around the state, even going as far as threatening a special session to address it.
Watson came out firing and claimed that Lt. Governor Tate Reeves’ questioning the management of Department of Public Safety was the result of a personal vendetta of some sort dating back to when Reeves first took office.
Last week, members of the Senate used floor discussion for SB 2871 to openly question operations at DPS as the initial budget for the agency was debated. Both Republicans and Democrats questioned how DPS has spent funds allocated for raises and equipment that were not spent on those needs.
The Senate voted to fund DPS at a level recommended by the House and Senate Joint Legislative Budget committee, discussions which predated the legislative session. The Senate is funding most state agencies at those recommended levels until the revenue picture for the next fiscal year becomes clearer in March, a move that is pretty much standard operating procedure. As is usually the case, after the revenue line gets set, both House and Senate budget writers will look at agency budget requests, including a trooper school.
In a recent WAPT interview, Reeves questioned the distribution of troopers around the state by the DPS commissioner.
“I hear repeatedly how there is one trooper working four counties at one time, yet we have over 500 sworn officers in the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. The question is, what are all of these 500 officers doing? Why are they not on the road?” Reeves said.
He went on to say, “The fact of the matter is, over the past few years we have continued to increase their funding and they have continued not to fund the things that they say are so important.” Reeves concluded, “We need better leadership at DPS.”
Undeterred, Watson is now claiming that what we are seeing is personal, resulting in DPS scrutiny and lack of support for trooper funding from Senate leadership.
Both Watson and Supertalk have made no bones about their dislike of Reeves’ manner of operation since the 2011 election where Reeves ran against former Senate Pro Tempore and now Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes. Watson and fellow Senate Conservative Coalition Members have since vocally opposed Reeves from any angle possible seeking separation. As an aside, another top Hewes lieutenant, Keith Plunkett of the Mississippi PEP site, has a key role in Chris McDaniel’s campaign against Thad Cochran. McDaniel, of course, is a Coalition member along with Watson.
As for the end result, it will probably be a month or so before the appropriations process in the House and Senate have run their course and we know for sure anything more about DPS funding (or teacher pay raises or Medicaid, for that matter).
For now, this appears to have the makings of proxy politics.