NEMiss.News: Former Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has been subpoenaed in a civil lawsuit regarding the embezzlement of $77-million intended for the poorest of the poor. These funds came to the state between 2017 and 2019, when Phil Bryant was governor and Tate Reeves was lieutenant governor.
In February 2020 State Auditor Shadrack White, a Bryant protégé’ arrested Nancy New, her son, Zack New, and several others. White said those arrested had perpetrated “the largest embezzlement in Mississippi history.”
Since then it has come to light that then-Governor Bryant and his wife Deborah, a close friend of Nancy New, were deeply involved in directing the illegal use of the federal welfare money.
The money came to the state in a federal block grant under a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The grant specifies that the money is to be spent to help the poorest people in the state.
Five million dollars for a volleyball stadium
Among those who received money was Brett Favre, formerly a top NFL quarterback- a chum of Bryant and current Governor Tate Reeves. Favre got over a million dollars for personal appearances he never made. After the February 2020 arrests, Favre paid a part of the million back to the state.
July 2019: Brett Favre, Tate Reeves and Phil Bryant in a photo Reeves posted on Facebook
In a convoluted scheme inspired by Bret Favre, the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) received 5 million of the illegally spent dollars to build a volleyball stadium.
According to page 31 of Auditor White’s report of charges:
University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation – In October 2017, Nancy New’s Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC) signed a “sublease” with the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation for $5,000,000 as “lease prepayments” for rental of a multi-purpose wellness center on the University’s campus.
When the lease from USM Athletic Foundation was viewed under scrutiny, auditors determined that the substance of the $5,000,000 payment to USM is a donation to the USM Athletic Foundation for the construction of the Wellness Center and not a lease of the property.
-(Further scrutiny of the situation showed that the wellness center was, in fact, a volleyball stadium.)
The most recent twists to the plot
New and her son Zack have since pled guilty to several felonies, but they claim Governor Bryant directed New to send the money to Favre and many other illegal beneficiaries.
After Attorney Brad Pigott’s firing by the state for subpoenaing USM documents, New’s lawyer has subpoenaed Phil Bryant’s own text messages and other communications that discussed the illegal transfer the money to USM. Her lawyer apparently believes the information he asks for will show that Phil and Deborah Bryant, not New et al, directed that TANF money be paid to Favre, USM and other unlawful recipients. And, he has said he has little confidence that the state will now pursue that information.
Read more about the massive embezzlement in this story republished with permission from Mississippi Today.
Former Gov. Phil Bryant subpoenaed for USM volleyball stadium documents.
An attorney for key welfare scandal defendants subpoenaed former Gov. Phil Bryant and others following the abrupt firing of Brad Pigott, a decision the defense attorney called “a patent attempt by the state to obfuscate truth and to protect itself and its political allies.
BY: Anna Wolfe
Nancy New’s attorney has filed a subpoena directly on former Gov. Phil Bryant for documents related to the use of federal welfare funds to build a volleyball stadium at his alma mater, University of Southern Mississippi — information the state has appeared intent on concealing.
“We have no confidence that the state will follow through with its subpoena or pursue the evidence wherever it leads,” said Gerry Bufkin, the attorney for New and the nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center. “We’re going to find the truth, even if we have to drag it kicking and screaming into the light.”
Bufkin’s subpoena asks Bryant to produce any of his communication surrounding the USM volleyball stadium and efforts to fund it. This marks the first known time the former governor, who oversaw the welfare agency while the misspending occurred, has been compelled to provide documents related to his involvement in the scheme.
The attorney also filed subpoenas on the USM Athletic Foundation, and on the Attorney General’s Office and Institutes of Higher Learning — two state agencies that approved the project. These three entities, as well as a spokesperson for Bryant, did not return requests for comment to Mississippi Today on Wednesday morning.
The Monday subpoena comes just days after Mississippi Department of Human Services fired the private attorney representing the agency in a massive civil suit that attempts to claw back $24 million in misspent grant funds from 38 individuals or companies. The suit is heavily based on audits conducted by State Auditor Shad White, a Bryant appointee, and private forensic auditors the welfare agency hired in 2020.
The welfare agency’s lawsuit targets New, her son Zach New, former welfare director John Davis, NFL legend Brett Favre, and many others — but not Bryant.
The agency said it removed the attorney on the case, former U.S. Attorney Brad Pigott, because Pigott had recently filed his own subpoena on the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation. Pigott was poking into why and how New, former First Lady Deborah Bryant’s close friend, paid $5 million in welfare funds to satisfy Brett Favre’s desires to see a new stadium on USM’s campus, where his daughter played volleyball.
“Although USM Athletic Foundation is not yet a party in this case, Brad Pigott issued an extensive subpoena to that entity without any prior discussion of the matter with MDHS,” current welfare director Bob Anderson said in a statement Saturday.
MDHS originally told the public that it would include the volleyball stadium in its civil suit, but Pigott told Mississippi Today the governor’s office prohibited him from doing so.
“All I did, and I believe all that caused me to be terminated from representing the department or having anything to do with the litigation, was to try to get the truth about all of that,” Pigott told Mississippi Today hours after his firing Friday. “People are going to go to jail over this, at least the state should be willing to find out the truth of what happened.”
The federal government prohibits states from spending funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant on brick and mortar, such as building an athletic facility. To get around this prohibition, the parties crafted a $5 million lease agreement, pretending that the New nonprofit would use the athletic facilities on campus to provide services to needy families. The athletic foundation would use the money to build the volleyball stadium, which it called the Wellness Center.
The volleyball facility represents the single largest known purchase in the welfare scandal, and with approved IHL meeting minutes revealing the nature of the project and the source of the funds, it’s also the scheme with the potential to ensnare the widest group of powerful people.
A text Favre sent to his business partner in late 2018, obtained by Mississippi Today, illustrates the attitude surrounding the payment: “(Nancy New) has strong connections and gave me 5 million for Vball facility via grant money.”
Nancy New, who has pleaded guilty to state charges of fraud, bribery and racketeering in the overall welfare scandal, has argued in responses to the state’s complaint that she has taken responsibility for her role in the scheme, but that she was acting on the direction of others who have been shielded from consequences.
“Nancy and Zach have been cast as the ring leaders in this spending circus since the beginning. The auditor’s office focused on them to the exclusion of others and now MDHS has fired Brad Pigott to ensure that the cast of characters remains small,” Bufkin said. “This certainly appears to be a patent attempt by the state to obfuscate truth and to protect itself and its political allies.”
https://i0.wp.com/nemiss.news/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Former-gov.-Phil-Bryant.jpg?fit=1200%2C600&ssl=16001200NEMiss.Newshttps://nemiss.news/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/nemiss-full-logo-300x77.jpgNEMiss.News2022-07-29 03:20:162022-07-29 03:25:44FINALLY: Bryant subpoenaed regarding his role in embezzling federal money intended for Mississippi’s poorest people
Editor’s note: This is the third and final article in NEMISS.NEWS’s series on the MDHS scandal. We continue with information about some of the players in the drama and how the people of Mississippi may be made whole.
Who is Brett Favre?
Brett Lorenzo Favre was born in Gulfport, October 10, 1969. His parents were schoolteachers. His father, Irvin Ernest Favre, was also the head football coach at Hancock North Central High School in Kiln, Mississippi. Brett Favre grew up in Kiln, an unincorporated area in Hancock County. The population then was about 1,000.
That part of Hancock County had been the center of a thriving lumber industry before they loggers ran out of trees to harvest. Most of the sawmills had closed decades before Favre was born.
Historians say that, during its heyday Hancock County had 50 or more productive whiskey stills. A few hard-working craftsmen may have still been practicing that oldest of the manufacturing trades when Favre grew up there.
Brett Favre played several positions for the North Central Hancock Hawks. His father knew Favre had an uncommonly good throwing arm, but the Hawks mainly ran a running offense. However, young Brett did occasionally get to throw a pass, and that drew attention. Mark McHale, an assistant football coach for the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), saw Favre throw one pass that “had smoke of flames coming off it.”
McHale recruited Favre to play for the USM Golden Eagles. Legend has it that he was offered a football scholarship by no other NCAA Division 1 school.
Favre began his freshman year as the seventh-string USM quarterback. He secured the starting quarterback slot in the third game of his freshman year. Despite admittedly suffering from a hangover and vomiting during warm-ups, Favre threw two touchdown passes and led USM to a come-from-behind victory over Tulane.
The summer before his senior year at Southern, Favre wrecked his car and was critically injured in an accident near his family’s home. Surgeons removed 2-1/2 feet of his small intestine.
However, six-weeks later he led the Golden Eagles to a stunning victory over the University of Alabama. Alabama Coach Gene Stallings said, “You can call it a miracle or a legend or whatever you want to. I just know that on that day, Brett Favre was larger than life.”
Brett Favre was and remains today the all-time USM football hero.
He played football in the NFL for 20 seasons and four different teams, retiring once and coming back again as a successful starting quarterback.
Favre had a fabled NFL career marred by a couple of problems, including drug addiction, for which he went through rehab in 1995. He had become addicted to Vicodin while being treated for injuries. The NFL investigated. Favre confessed to the addiction, went through 46 days of rehabilitation and thus avoided a $900-thousand NFL fine.
However, he returned to lead Green Bay to their best season in 30 years in 1996.
There was also a problem at one point during his NFL career associated with Favre’s consumption of alcohol.
All that said, Brett Favre had one of the all time great careers as a professional football quarterback. He is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame. He held a league record of 297 consecutive starts, 321 including the playoffs.
He retired in Hattiesburg near his alma mater.
Favre has complained of memory loss blamed on too many concussions while an active player.
Favre’s name became associated with the MDHS scandal when State Auditor Shad White charged that:
Nancy New’s Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC) had paid Favre $1.1-million in TANF money for personal appearances he never made. Favre returned half-a-million dollars to the state and has promised to repay the other $600-thousand. (Audit page 18)
Favre’s name has also been mentioned in connection with a $1.7 million personal investment New and her son Zack made with Prevacus amd its affilliate PreSolMD, allegedly with TANF funds. Prevacus is a pharmaceutical company developing a new treatment for concussions. Original MCEC records showed the investment made with TANF funds, but were changed to another source after the auditor questioned use of TANF money. (audit page 53)
Favre’s name has also been mentioned in connection with the questioned $5-million in TANF funds New invested in a volleyball facility at USM. Favre’s daughter, Breleigh, is a star player on the USM volleyball squad. (Audit page 31)
Brett Favre has not been accused of a crime.
He has denied knowing that the 1.1-million he received came from TANF funds.
It has not clear why Favre thought he got the $1.1-million or what he thought he had done or was supposed to do to earn the money.
Who is Shad White
The elected official at the center of the Mississippi Department of Human Resources scandal is State Auditor Shad White.
MS Auditor Shad White
Shadrack Tucker White was born September 22, 1985, in Sandersville, Jones County, Mississippi. His father Charles Robert White was an oilfield pumper and his mother Emily Morgan White taught art in public schools.
Shad White attended the public schools of Jones County and enrolled at the University of Mississippi after graduating from Northeast Jones High School in 2004. He enrolled at Ole Miss and completed an undergraduate degree there in political science and economics.
A top student and athlete throughout his early life, he was selected a Rhodes Scholar in 2008. He earned a master’s degree at St. John’s College, Oxford, and rowed crew.
Upon returning from England he enrolled in Harvard University’s law school, earning a juris doctor degree. He was president of the Harvard Federalist Society while a senior in law school.
Coming back to Mississippi, White was hired by then Lieutenant-Governor Phil Bryant as Director of Policy. He continued his association with Bryant while working as a litigator for the Butler, Snow law firm in Ridgeland, Mississippi.
White was campaign manager for Bryant when he ran for re-election as Mississippi Governor in 2015.
Bryant appointed White State Auditor of Mississippi on July 6, 2018, when elected Auditor Stacey Pickering resigned to accept another job.
White was elected to a four year term as State Auditor in November, 2019.
Shadrack White’s office conducted the audit of the MDHS that occurred when John Davis resigned as head of that agency last July. His office led the investigation that culminated in the arrest of Davis, Nancy New, and four others on Feb. 5, 2020, in what White has characterized as the “largest public embezzlement case in state history.”
White has said he has turned all evidence in the case over to Mike Hurst, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.
White has claimed that former Governor Bryant was the whistleblower that spurred his investigation of MDHS.
Who is Mike Hurst?
US Attorney Mike Hurst
David Michael Hurst, Jr., age 44, grew up in Hickory, Newton County, Mississippi. He is a Republican.
He attended East Central Community College in Decatur, Mississippi, and graduated from Millsaps College in Jackson. He graduated from George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C.
Hurst served as legislative director for former Mississippi Third District Congressman Chip Pickering. He worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi and as general counsel for the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.
He ran as the Republican candidate against incumbent Democrat Mississippi Attorney-General Jim Hood in 2015. He received 44.7 percent of the vote in the general election, and Hood won 55.3 percent.
President Trump appointed him U.S. Attorney for the Southern District. As with all such appointments, it was supported by the state Republican Party leadership. He was confirmed by the Senate and assumed the office on Oct. 10, 2017.
Hurst was criticized last year for prosecuting illegal immigrants, but not pursuing charges against the companies that illegally hired the immigrants.
Hurst has indicated he will bring federal charges against persons involved in the embezzlement of TANF funds by employees and contractors of the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
Who are the DiBiases?
WWE Superstar Ted DiBiase Jr., left, with brother Brett DiBiase, right, induct their father “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase into the 2010 WWE Hall of Fame, March 2010
Brett DiBiase was one of the six individuals arrested by State Auditor Shad White and charged with embezzling money from TANF funds. By many accounts, DiBiase and former MDHS Director John Davis were personally close. White said John Davis hired DiBiase at a high salary at MDHS. There were doubts about whether DiBiase was qualified by education or experience for the work at MDHS. (Audit page 61)
Brett DIBiase: The auditor said John Davis had Nancy New paid from TANF funds for Opoid training sessions never completed and expensive drug rehabilitation treatment for Dibiase at an exclusive California rehab facility. (audit page 28-29)
A variety of vague contracts and payments inadequately documented as to requirements of services, fulfillment of services, etd.
Ted DiBiase, Jr., Priceless Ventures owner had multiple vague contracts with MCEC, FRC and MDHS, as directed by John Davis. (audit page 23)
Ted DiBiase, Heart of David Ministries (audit page 24)
DiBiase is of a family of professional wrestlers, promoters and a variety of Christian evangelists. For more about the DiBiase clan, see this article posted by NEMISS.NEWS on February 15, 2020.
What is Family Resource Center of North Mississippi (FRCNM)?
The Family Resource Center of North Mississippi (FRCNM) is based in Tupelo. It is one of the two organizations that State Auditor Shad White says received millions of dollars in welfare funds and failed to properly account for the money.
The other organization cited by White, the one that has received most media attention so far in the embezzlement story, is Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC).
Christi Webb Exec Director Family Resources Center (FRC), Tupelo MS
Besides former Director John Davis, the people arrested in February were all connected with MCEC.
About half the money White says was illegally distributed – nearly $46-million – was distributed to and by the Tupelo organization. As far as we know, nobody associated with Family Resource Center of Tupelo has thus far been arrested and charged.
However, Auditor White’s 104-page report of April 22, 2020, says that FRCNM of Tupelo illegally received $45,684,835 in TANF, SNAP, CCDF, SSBG and “other unaudited federal grants in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
What’s more, the audit report questions more than a million dollars the Tupelo organization paid to John Davis’s brother-in-law and John Davis’s nephew the same years. The exact amount the auditor claims FRCNM of Tupelo paid to these two individuals is $1,101,149. (Audit page 12)
FRCNM supports services in North Mississippi, including children’s advocacy, parenting organizations and support groups, and various workshops.
The Executive Director of Family Resource Center of North Mississippi is Christi Webb.
FRCNM, like all tax exempt 501(c)3 organizations is required to file IRS Form 990 every year, accounting for its income, its expenditures, salaries of its officers, etc.
The last Form 990 NEMISS.NEWS could find for FRCNM is for the year 2018. The Tupelo organization told the Internal Revenue Service it paid Christi Webb total compensation of $161,106 for that year.
The 2018 IRS Form 990 shows that FRCNM paid $139,045 to a Debbie Underwood as “financial officer” for the organization.
In preparing this series NEMISS.NEWS made over 20 unsuccessful attempts to contact Christi Webb at the organization’s listed telephone numbers.
The organization’s website lists the names and contact information of 11 members of the FRCNM board of directors, all of them from northeast Mississippi.
We did not attempt to contact each of the 11 board members.We did try to contact three of them.
One of them, a man known to us for several years, said he was no longer a member of the board. He said he served less than a full term on the FRCNM board and had resigned because his business interests out of state made it impossible for him to serve. That former board member said that when he first went on the board it met monthly and then started meeting only quarterly.
The former board member did volunteer the opinion: “I don’t think Christi Webb would do anything wrong.”
We made two attempts to contact a currently serving board member who is the former president of FRCNM. We left messages for the former president, but did not receive a return call from him.
We were able to contact Joyce Johnston of Tupelo, who is listed on the organization’s website as a “Lifetime Member.” Mrs. Johnston, a former school teacher, said she had been a member of the board for “about 40 years.”
She said, “About 40 years ago they had failed to fill out a form. I went to work there and helped them straighten that out. I think this will be something about like that.”
Johnston said Christi Webb had been executive director of FRCNM for about seven years. She asked if we had talked with Christi Webb, and we described to her the many unsuccessful attempts to contact Webb. She indicated she would pass on to Webb our desire to speak with her. That was 10 days ago. Thus far, we have not been contacted by Webb.
“I have never known her [Christi Webb] to do anything wrong,” said Joyce Johnston.
NEMISS.NEWS asked Joyce Johnston what she could tell us about Nancy New, who claimed in a 2018 interview a connection with the Tupelo organization. “I didn’t know her [New],” was her response.
Our conversations with the former and current board members gave the impression that the roll of the FRCNM board was more to “support” Webb’s work as executive director than to supervise or critique it.
Again, we are aware of nobody connected with FRCNM who has been accused of a crime.
Conclusions and Unanswered Questions
The Mississippi Department of Human Services mess is a convoluted and far reaching one involving many millions of dollars, dozens of organizations and an, as yet, unknown number of individuals.
Six individuals thus far are charged with criminal acts.
Auditor White’s report suggests than a great many people have failed to follow accepted accounting practices, failed to document their work and have violated a great many federal regulations. Thus, there is no way yet to know how many people and organizations may face civil penalties and lawsuits.
What about the elected officials and state employees who have neglected to assure good performance and lawful practices? Some of these may not face criminal prosecution, but how will they be held accountable for allowing this to happen?
Three Republican officials, two elected and one appointed, have the duty to sort out this huge, gnarly problem that occurred under the nose of a popular Republican former governor.
Elected Republican Auditor White has a duty to try to recover the money owed to the people of Mississippi. How does he do that without anything reflecting badly on the former governor who gave him his start in state politics, the governor who originally appointed him to the job he must now do?
MS Attorney General Lynn Fitch
Elected Republican Attorney-General Lynn Fitch is the first woman to ever hold that job and the first Republican elected AG in 120 years. Auditor White is likely to ask Fitch to do her duty of issuing legal demands to many individuals and organizations for the return of money received and spent without proper authority. How will she go about that?
Brett Favre has already returned a good portion of the money he should never have received. How many more will Fitch have to press to pay back what they shouldn’t have? We will not venture a guess.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Mike Hurst is a Republican. He was appointed by a Republican President with the support of Mississippi Republican elected officials. To Hurst will fall the duty of prosecuting criminal violations of federal laws.
White, Fitch and Hurst – three smart ambitious Republican politicians are called on to do some heavy lifting, to deliver justice and equity to the people of Mississippi, who have made this essentially a one party state.
We must believe White, Fitch and Hurst will do their duty.
If we can’t believe that, we can’t believe there is any hope for integrity in Mississippi government.
https://i0.wp.com/nemiss.news/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Brett-Favre.jpg?fit=1200%2C500&ssl=15001200NEMiss.Newshttps://nemiss.news/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/nemiss-full-logo-300x77.jpgNEMiss.News2020-06-02 10:01:162020-06-02 10:57:06MDHS Embezzlement Part 3: Brett Favre et al. How do the people of Mississippi get their money back?
Edited 6-2 to include full audit report PDF and page citations in body of post:
New Albany, MS – There’s an old story about the wino accused of smoking in bed and thus setting fire to the cheap flophouse where he dwelled. Charged and dragged into court, the wino spoke powerfully in his own defense: “Judge,” he pleaded. “That damned bed was on fire when I got in it!”
Tate Reeves, Mississippi’s 65th governor, might make a similar plea.
Reeves was sworn in, Tuesday, January 15, 2020, knowing he was not the first choice of most Mississippians.
Although he had been accumulating money and running for governor for more than a decade, Reeves failed to win a majority when he faced two less known and underfinanced challengers in the Republican primary.He won a narrow victory in the runoff. Then in the November general election his margin over a Democrat with little money and no statewide ground game was even slimmer.
Reeves settled into the big chair in the governor’s office with considerably less than a clear mandate.
Imagine his distress a mere 22 days later when one of his most prominent political supporters, a major contributor of money, was arrested on felony charges of stealing millions of dollars in public money.
“A multi-million-dollar embezzlement scheme”
On Wednesday, Feb. 5, agents for Mississippi State Auditor Shad White arrested six individuals and charged them with stealing Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) funds. The money stolen was from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, money intended for the poorest of the poor in Mississippi.
Auditor White said the six had been arrested and charged “in connection with a multi-million-dollar embezzlement scheme.”
Those arrested included John Davis, former head of MDHS; Brett DiBiase, a former professional wrestler and close friend of Davis; Nancy New, owner and director of the Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC) and New Learning, Inc.; New’s son, Zach New, assistant director of MCEC; Anne McGrew, identified as an accountant for MCEC, and Gregory Latimer Smith, a former employee of MDHS.White called it “the largest public embezzlement case in state history.”
Most directly embarrassing for Reeves were the charges against Nancy New. She was known as a strong supporter of Reeves, having given substantial money to his campaigns and having been conspicuously associated with the fledgling governor. Reeves, known not to be a strong supporter of public education, had openly advocated programs that would divert public funds to private schools. Among his favored projects were private schools owned and operated by New. A television commercial for the Reeves gubernatorial campaign, in which he touted his plan to improve the pay of Mississippi public school teachers, was even filmed at one of New’s privately owned schools.
Reeves tried to distance himself from New, promising to return her campaign donations or to donate the money he’d received from her to an unspecified charity.
Astonishing charges brought against MDHS employees
The charges against New were among the most shocking:
They included the allegations that she had acquired three different $50,000 motor vehicles for the personal use of herself and her sons using TANF money, dispensed to her by Davis. (audit pg 40)
The auditor charged that an organization controlled by New had spent millions of dollars of TANF money on a variety of personal, business and “philanthropic” projects, in violation of the federal guidelines directing that the money should be spent for needy Mississippians.
Included in the misspent money was over a million dollars New’s organization had paid to former NFL football player Brett Favre for public appearances he never made. (audit pg 18)
John Davis, a veteran employee of MDHS, had been appointed head of the department by Governor Phil Bryant, Reeves’s immediate predecessor.
White charged that Davis had spent hundreds of thousands of TANF dollars on big salaries for his friends and relatives. (audit pg 12)
One such expenditure was over a hundred thousand dollars in TANF money spent at an exclusive California drug rehabilitation treatment clinic Brett Dibiase, a close friend of Davis, whom he had also hired at a high salary at MDHS. (audit pg 28)
Many millions in TANF money, said the auditor, had gone in payments to hundreds of individuals and organizations for purposes not allowed by the federal guidelines on how TANF money was to be spent to help poor people.
White promised a “full forensic audit” of MDHS. U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst pledged a vigorous federal investigation of the misspent money. White delivered his evidence to the FBI.
Public attention fades as coronavirus dominates the news
Public outrage swept the state. It was the principle topic of statewide news for the next month. What Auditor White called “the largest public embezzlement case in state history” dominated conversations in offices and factory lunchrooms and beauty salons and at church gatherings.
People were angry and eager to know how elected officials could have allowed such an outrageous abuse of public money – especially money intended for the neediest people in Mississippi.
Then the coronavirus pandemic struck Mississippi, and all other stories seemed to fall out of the news for two months. There were no angry conversations in offices, factories, beauty salon and church gatherings about money stolen from the poor. All those places were closed while people huddled in their homes trying to avoid the deadly new virus.
However, the state auditor’s investigators and accountants continued their work and did a comprehensive audit of how money had been spent at MDHS during John Davis’s time as director of the department.
The auditor completed and published his MDHS audit about a month ago. The results revealed even more theft and malfeasance than most people imagined when those first few arrests were made in February.
NEMISS.NEWS published last Thursday the entire 104-page audit. The details of it will shock those who take the time to read it carefully, or even skim the highlights included in the post. (http://newalbanyunionco.com/mdhs-embezzlement-part-1-charges-and-evidence/) It leaves no doubt that White was justified in calling it the worst embezzlement of public money in Mississippi history.
Who are the key figures in this sordid tale?
How on earth did Mississippi’s elected officials allow this colossal abuse of public money – money intended for the poorest Mississippians?
Who else should be indicted and jailed?
We are likely to wait months, even years, for the answers to those questions. It will be up to prosecutors, judges and juries to determine who is guilty and what punishment will be meted out.
However, it is not too early to learn a little more about who were the players on the stage when the crimes were committed. Who were the public officials in charge when this unprecedented corruption was thriving? What people are known to have been involved, directly or indirectly? Who must be held accountable for allowing this to happen?
NEMISS.NEWS has assembled information, mostly from the public record, about the cast of characters:
Who is Phil Bryant?
Phil Bryant, Mississippi’s 64th governor, had held statewide elective office for 23 years when Tate Reeves succeeded him four months ago. That included 11 years as state auditor, four as lieutenant-governor and eight years as governor. This is not to say Phil Bryant is guilty of any crime. He has not been charged with any crime.
It is simply to observe that Bryant held positions of financial oversight responsibility in state government when the fraud was carried out and for a long time before. And Bryant moved the key player into the position from which he began the scheme.
Dewey Phillip Bryant was born in Moorhead in Sunflower County on Thursday, December 9, 1954. Moorhead is at the intersection of the Southern and Yazoo Delta (“Yellow Dog”) railroads of blues fame. Moorhead had 1,750 residents when Phil Bryant was born and has grown to about 2,400 today. About 82 percent of its population are black and 16 percent are white.
Phil Bryant was not to the manor born. His parents were Dewey C. Bryant, a diesel engine mechanic and Estelle R. Bryant, a housewife. He grew up with two brothers.
He has spoken movingly about being poor and the anxiety in his childhood home when his father lost a job. He has been candid about having had to repeat the third grade because he couldn’t read. He has referred to the problem as dyslexia.
Bryant’s family left Sunflower County and moved to Jackson during his childhood. His father took a job as a mechanic with a Hinds County Mack truck dealership and later became its service manager.
The family became prosperous enough in Jackson that Bryant attended private Council McCluer High School at 4060 South Siwell Road in Jackson, his junior and senior years. Council McCluer was founded in 1970 and is now known as Hillcrest Christian School. It was a private, racially segregated school, one of dozens founded around Mississippi, after the federal courts ordered public schools integrated. Council McCleur was one of 12 Jackson area schools founded and run by the White Citizens Council.
Forver MS Governor, Phil Bryant.
Phil Bryant worked his way through college at a variety of jobs. He attended Hinds Community College for two years. He then attended and graduated from The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in Hattiesburg. He later completed a master’s degree at Mississippi College.
Bryant takes up politics
He worked as a parts man in a motor vehicle dealership, as a Hinds County deputy sheriff and as an insurance investigator. In 1991, about a month before his 37th birthday, Bryant was elected to his first political office, a seat in the Mississippi House of Representatives. He served about five years in the legislature.
Then in 1996 Democrat State Auditor Steve Patterson was forced to resign as auditor after pleading guilty to the misdemeanor charge of filing a false affidavit to keep from paying county taxes through the purchase of a car tag.
Governor Kirk Fordice appointed Phil Bryant as Patterson’s replacement in November of 1996. He served a little more than three years remaining of the term to which Patterson had been re-elected in 1995. Bryant was elected in his own right as state auditor in 1999 and re-elected to another four-year term in 2003.
During the 2007 election cycle, two-term Lieutenant-Governor Amy Tuck was term limited and could not run again.
Phil Bryant, having been state auditor for 11 years, was the most senior Republican in the line-up of statewide office holders. He ran for lieutenant-governor winning 57% of the vote in the Republican Primary and then easily won the general election with a 17 percentage point margin over the Democratic nominee, Jamie Franks, Jr.
Haley Barbour finished his second-term as governor in 2007 and was term-limited from seeking the office again. Phil Bryant had by then had held statewide elective office for 15 years, 11 as auditor and four as lieutenant-governor. Few can recall any major accomplishments in his long service as a Republican office holder, except one: he had made no enemies.
Bryant had embraced the Tea Party, then a major fad in American politics, and made it clear his politics were considerable to the right of Barbour, who was considered more a Republican centrist.
He filed for the Republican nomination for Mississippi governor. He had faced no strong, well-financed challengers the three times he’d sought statewide office, nor did he draw a strong opponent when he ran for governor.
Bryant faced four unknown Republicans, none of whom had any real money, in the 2011 Republican primary. He won 59.46 percent of the vote in the primary. The runner up got 26 percent. In the 2011 gubernatorial general election, Bryant defeated Democrat Johnny DuPree, the first African-American mayor of Hattiesburg, by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent in the general election.
Bryant easily won re-election in 2015 with 92% of the vote in the Republican primary. In the general election he coasted to victory over Democratic candidate Robert Gray, a truck driver, and Reform candidate Shawn O’Hara, a perennially unsuccessful office seeker for over three decades.
Dismantling health insurance and rejecting Medicaid expansion
A poor boy from Sunflower County, who had never faced a strong election opponent, had reached the top of the heap in Mississippi politics. He was sworn in as governor on January 10, 2011. The Tea Party hailed Bryant as its first Tea Party governor, and he gladly embraced the accolade.
During Governor Barbour’s second term, he became interested in what was then considered a conservative approach to making health insurance available to more Americans. It was then known as “Romneycare,” because Republican Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney had signed it into law in that state on April 12, 2006.
Barbour, a politician who always preferred practicality over ideology, asked Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney to take steps to set up a similar health insurance plan for uninsured Mississippians. Barbour saw it as an economic development opportunity, since it would assist small businesses and support the state’s healthcare industry.
The Tea Party’s foremost Mississippi apostle for several years before and during Bryant’s governorship was Chris McDaniel, a lawyer, conservative radio orator and state senator from Jones County. While Bryant lacked McDaniel’s rhetorical skills, he embraced most of the Ellisville legislator’s views, including opposition to welfare and a visceral dislike for then U.S. Senator Barak Obama, of Illinois.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a variation of Romneycare, during President Barak Obama’s first administration.
Early in 2011, Barbour wrote to Kathleen Sebelius, Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, designating Chaney and the Mississippi Insurance Department as the proper authority build an Affordable Care Act exchange for Mississippi. Chaney got to work and had it ready to go. By late 2011, however, what had been originally known as “Romneycare” was rebranded as “Obamacare,” making it a red flag for Tea Party ultraconservatives like McDaniel – and Phil Bryant.
In an interview in the October 29, 2014, edition of the Kaiser Foundation’s “Kaiser Health News,” Mike Chaney, still today the Republican Insurance Commissioner of Mississippi, described how Phil Bryant, during his first year as governor, killed the plan for implementing the Affordable Care Act in Mississippi. Chaney said that before Bryant became governor, “We had no elected officials who were against what we were doing.”
As a result of Bryant killing the ready-to-go Affordable Care Act plan for Mississippi, fewer Mississippians ended up with health insurance than before ACA became available to most other Americans.
Likewise, Bryant also vigorously opposed expanding Medicaid coverage for Mississippians. Although a Mississippi economist predicted that expanding Medicaid in the state would bring Mississippi $1.2 billion in federal funding and 9,000 new jobs, at a cost to the state of $159 million, by 2025, Bryant said no.
Knowledgeable Mississippians, including many Republicans, believe that Bryant’s opposition to Obamacare and Medicaid expansion arose from his Tea Party ideology and not from a practical analysis of the economic facts.
He evidenced little consideration for the impact that those refusals would have on the lives of poor people, including low income working people, in Mississippi. The rejection of Barbour’s plan to enable the Affordable Care Act was also a blow to small entrepreneurs. Both refusals were catastrophic for the healthcare industry in Mississippi.
“Imaginative” thinking about how to help the poor backfires bigtime
Since Bryant refused federal funds for Medicaid expansion in 2013, five rural hospitals in the state have closed and many more are considered likely to fail financially.
Phil Bryant’s ideological opposition to providing health care for poor Mississippians was an early clue to his hostility toward programs to assist the needy.
Bryant encouraged the kind of “imaginative” thinking about how to help the poor that directly influenced the MDHS policies and practices, leading to the massive fraud revealed by the arrests made in February. The full audit of MDHS shows the embezzlement to be of far greater magnitude that was known when the first arrests were made.
Governor Phil Bryant appointed John Davis as head of the Mississippi Department of Human Services. Bryant was Davis’s direct supervisor during the time the corruption described in Auditor White’s investigation occurred.
Based on his public utterances and actions and on the opinions of those who know him well, Phil Bryant clearly sees himself as a poor boy who “pulled himself up by his bootstraps” and did well. He seems to believe every other poor person should be able to do as well. He received his college education at a taxpayer subsidized community college and his degree from the University of Southern Mississippi, an institution supported by tax money.
“He saw it as an opportunity to build a kingdom over there” –State Auditor Shad White RE: John Davis
Phil Bryant is a true believer in his own righteousness and proof positive that good hair, white skin, hard work, an amiable personality and a nearly-free public education can put an average fellow on top of the heap.
Another Mississippian named Jim Buck Ross, himself a graduate of a publicly subsidized state university, also did well in Mississippi politics. He served as mayor of Pelahatchie, as a state senator and as Mississippi’s Commissioner of Agriculture for 28 years. Ross had a realistic view of how a man becomes successful. Among Jim Buck’s several colorful aphorisms was this one: “If you see a terrapin sitting on top of a fence post, he didn’t get there by himself.”
One wonders if that bit of irrefutable wisdom ever passed through the head under all of Phil Bryant’s nice hair.
Who is John Davis?
Johnny Gerald (John) Davis was born on Saturday, March 2, 1968. He was raised in Brookhaven in Lincoln County and graduated from high school there.
Davis enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg and completed an undergraduate degree there. He earned a master’s degree from Belhaven University. He became a social worker.
In 1998 Governor Kirk Fordice appointed Davis the Director of Human Services in his home county, Lincoln County.
He advanced through the ranks of MDHS serving as a deputy administrator for programs, office director for the division of economic assistance, and direct of the division of aging and adult services.
Davis reached the top rung of his career on January 11, 2016. when Phil Bryant appointed him Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services. Among Phil Bryant’s first acts of his second term as Governor was John Davis’s appointment as Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services. He began serving Feb. 1st,2016.
Of course, Bryant’s appointment of Davis as Executive Director had to be confirmed by the State Senate. Two and a half months later, Lieutenant-Governor Tate Reeves, the presiding officer of the senate, assigned Bryant’s appointment of Davis to the Senate’s Public Health and Welfare Committee on April 14, 2020. A longtime member of the Public Health Committee told NEMISS.NEWS that the committee’s inquiry into Davis’s fitness for service consisted of a check of his record at MDHS and a casual background check. “I don’t recall that we did any more than that,” he said.
What? Leaving so soon?
John Davis had worked for the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) for 28 years when he suddenly “retired” as MDHS Executive Director on July 8, 2019.
John Davis, former MDHS Exec. Director
story the next day in Davis’s hometown newspaper, the Brookhaven Daily Leader, made it sound like a happy event: a public employee joyfully retiring after decades of noble service to the grateful people of Mississippi.
It quoted then Governor Phil Bryant, Davis’s immediate superior, who praised the retiree. “I appreciate John Davis’s 28 years of service to the Department of Human Services,” Bryant said. “John has dedicated his life to serving others and has been a tremendous advocate for Mississippi’s children and families. We will begin a search for a new executive director immediately.”
And Davis was equally fulsome in his praise for his boss. “I have served under many leaders and Governor Phil Bryant has been the greatest. He knows the importance of MDHS and will continue to ensure it stays the course,” said Davis.
His hometown paper portrayed Davis as a happy guy, eager to enjoy his family and do even more for Mississippians. “I am looking forward to spending time with my family and pursuing a new career outside of state government to do even more for the great people of Mississippi,” he was quoted.
Bryant blew oversight responsibilities, then blew the whistle
However, all was not sweetness and light at the Mississippi Department of Human Services. While making nice and saying such sweet things about John Davis, Phil Bryant knew it was a mess. In fact, Auditor White said earlier this year that Bryant was the “whistleblower” (White’s word) who had first called the major fraud perpetrated under Davis’s leadership at MDHS to the auditor’s attention.
If Bryant was, indeed, the whistleblower, is there not therein a mountain of irony? Of all the incredible details that have been thus far revealed about this shameful case, the thought of Phil Bryant as the whistleblower is the corker. Bryant himself had appointed Davis and had been Davis’s direct supervisor for the entire 32 months Davis had operated his criminal enterprise.
Less than ten days before Davis’s retirement officially took effect on July 31, 2019, the state auditor had already issued preliminary findings that were damning to Davis’s reign at MDHS. The auditor published his initial report about skullduggery at MDHS on July 22, 2019
Bryant quickly appointed Christopher Freeze, a retired FBI agent, to succeed Davis as head of the MDHS.
Carol Burnett, formerly the administrator of the Child Care Development Fund for MDHS, said when Davis left the agency that, while state leaders had tried to give the impression that the Department of Human Services works independently of the governor’s office, “That is not the case,” Burnett said. “The Department of Human Services works as an arm of the governor’s office.”
Still a few missing audit details
Auditor White’s April 22, 2020, audit report ran to 104 pages. He said in an interview it could easily have run to a thousand pages if his investigators and auditors had included all the details.
One detail conspicuously absent is any mention of the name Phil Bryant, the Governor of Mississippi, who was directly responsible for the supervision and oversight of MDHS.
Back in early 2016, It had taken Lt. Governor Tate Reeves 2 1/2 months to send Bryant’s appointment of Davis’s to the Senate for approval. Once they got the appointment, it took the Mississippi State Senate six days to unanimously approved Bryant’s appointment of Davis as the head of MDHS on April 20, 2016. Nothing NEMISS.NEWS has found in the public record indicates whether Davis waited for Senate confirmation before he started the wheeling and dealing which has brought him and the state infamy.
Nothing indicates Davis was bashful about it. “He saw it as an opportunity to build a kingdom over there,” State Auditor Shad White has said.
Also, nothing thus far on the record hints at the true nature of John Davis’s personal relationships with the DiBiases, the family of professional “ras’slers” turned self-ordained preachers, on whom he spent so lavishly from tax money intended for the poor. The state’s largesse for the DiBiases is among the more intriguing facets of this sordid drama.
Nancy New has jeopardized not just herself, but them (the children), too. Why would she do that?”–Tim Kalich Editor, The Greenwood Commonwealth
Who is Nancy New?
Nancy Whitten New was born in July, 1952, in Greenwood, Leflore County, Mississippi. Upon graduation from high school she enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), where her sister had previously been a student.
Nancy Whitten graduated from USM with a bachelor’s degree in English education in 1974. She began her career as a teacher returned to USM to earn both a master’s degree and a doctorate.
She has remained an active supporter of USM and has served on university boards and committees including athletics, education and psychology. She served on the USM Athletic Foundation Board.
Her son, Jesse Steven New, graduated from USM in 2003, and her other son. Zachery Whitten New. graduated from USM in 2007.
She told a USM journalist in 2016 that she, her, sons, their wives and her grandchildren never miss the home games of the USM football and baseball Golden Eagles. “I never miss a home game,” New said, “unless it’s for a family emergency.”
Auditor version: The New family had a lot of skin in the game
Nancy New, age 67, along with her son, Zachary, now age 37, were among the six individuals arrested by agents of Mississippi State Auditor Shad White on Feb. 5, 2020. They were charged with embezzling millions of dollars from federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds that had been allocated to help needy families in Mississippi.
Organizations directly or indirectly controlled by New, which the auditor said were involved in the misappropriation of money, included the Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC), Families First for Mississippi (FFM) and the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi (FRCNM) of Tupelo.
Those thefts and misallocations of as much as 90-million were detailed in the state auditor’s report published by NEMISS.NEWS last Friday, May 29.
They included purchase of three motor vehicles with a total value of about $150-thousand for the use of Nancy New and her two sons. (auadit pg 40)
New’s son Zack New borrowed against his pension and repaid it with TANF funds. (Audit pg 55)
The New family leased real estate which they owned to MCEC at excessive prices and leased buildings for MCEC use that were actually occupied by businesses connected to New. All the leases were paid with TANF funds. (Audit pg 56-57)
MCEC, in a very convoluted alleged scheme, basically provided an $800,000 plus home home for former football player Marcus Dupree with TANF funds, in addition to entering into a $300,000 contract with him for an “equine therapy” program and paying him a high salary as an MCEC employee.(Audit pg 38)
Nancy New, founder of New Learning Resources
In October 2018, 16 months before her arrest earlier this year, Nancy New gave an interview to MississippiToday.org, in which she generally described the scope of the work these organizations were doing.
Nancy New’s version: only the highest aspirationse
“I’ve been part of Families First Resource Centers for 25 years,” New said,“from its inception. Actually when the federal money first flowed down to the states across the nation, Mississippi was one of them to receive monies to actually set up Family First Resource Centers to serve families, so I was fortunate then to have a small grant and to get services started in the Delta.
“So the whole concept of Families First for Mississippi and the services is to enhance and empower families through getting them stabilized through education, through services and so forth. It is also to reach the whole family. That’s called the Gen+ model.
“Where we have concentrated on helping that individual and perhaps the individual’s child or vice versa, what we want to do is learn about the whole family. Let’s reach every individual in the family. Let’s start changing families lives, instead of just one person in that family, because if we can impact the whole family, that’s going to be much more powerful and beneficial than just one individual.
“It hasn’t changed in the last 25 years. What’s happened is that it’s grown and where we were concentrated in just a few areas across the state, according to resources, financial and other resources, we were able to expand that through this greater effort now.
“You ask about the two organizations [MCEC and FRC], that’s just a matter of logistics. We divided the state so we could manage it better,” New said
Those words, claiming a noble purpose and describing a far-reaching philanthropic enterprise, were spoken by New while she was allegedly at the very center of what Auditor White calls the largest embezzlement of public money in the history of Mississippi.
Bryant, New and Favre and USM volly ball
New developed what was apparently a close relationship with Governor and Mrs. Bryant, who were frequently with her. Bryant appeared regularly at events at New’s schools and worked to raise private donations for them.
Governor Bryant was directly involved with New and former USM and NFL quarterback Brett Favre in the project that resulted in $5-million in welfare money going into a volley ball facility at their mutual alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi.
There is no shortage of victims
Tim Kalich of the Greenwood Commonwealth newspaper said in a May 14th column: “The Greenwood native [New] had been somewhat of a savior for families with special needs children. She started New Summit School in Jackson to provide a learning environment to help kids thrive who don’t fit in regular schools, either because they have learning difficulties or social anxieties.
“She expanded that concept, creating a handful of similar schools, including North New Summit in Greenwood. It’s been a great story here, not only because of its growth and success, but because it was created by someone who was giving back to the place where she grew up.”
Editor Kalich expressed the concern of parents who fear that the schools may not open back up to serve the children with special needs. He said, “…that would be sad for all those children and their families who found what they needed at New Summit, North New Summit and the others. Nancy New has jeopardized not just herself, but them, too. Why would she do that?”
Kalich’s question rings throughout Mississippi. Why indeed?
Was it always only about money, nothing but money?
The next skirmish in the battle between the Mississippi Legislature and Governor Tate Reeves is likely to occur tomorrow afternoon at the State Capitol. However, not many knowledgeable observers expect the conflict to end tomorrow. One top-ranked Mississippi Republican told NEMISS.NEWS last week, “This is just a little preview.”
The immediate conflict between Reeves and the legislature is over the spending of the state’s $1.25-billion share of the trillions of dollars the federal government has appropriated to help those who have suffered hardship during the coronavirus pandemic.
Soon after the federal appropriation was made, Governor Reeves started asserting that he alone, as governor, has the authority to decide how and where to spend the money. There apparently had been some discussion between Reeves, the lieutenant-governor and the house speaker, but Reeves maintained that he would control the money without the legislature having significant input.
MS Lt. Governor, Delbert Hosemann, fighting for legislative say in use of CARES funds.
One week ago today, Wednesday, April 29, Lieutenant-Governor Delbert Hosemann, the presiding officer of the State Senate, and House Speaker Philip Gunn called a session of the legislature to meet at the Capitol on Friday, May 1. During that brief afternoon session Hosemann and Gunn spoke to members of both houses and asserted that only the legislature, not the governor, had authority under the constitution to decide how the $1.25-billion in federal relief money should be spent.
Members of both houses supported the leaders overwhelmingly. The House voted unanimously – every Republican and every Democrat – that the legislature, not Governor Reeves, should appropriate the money.
In the State Senate, only two senators did not support the measures claiming the spending authority for the legislature. Two Republicans, District 42 Senator Chris McDaniel and his former campaign manager and friend, District 37 Senator Melanie Sojourner, voted against the measure, in effect supporting Reeves.
MS Speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, opposes Reeves’s total control of CARES fund.
The rhetoric has accelerated sharply since then with the governor holding daily press conferences during which he has accused the legislative leadership of playing what he called “power politics.”
Speaker Gunn responded earlier this week in a letter to Reeves in which he said, “In your comments Friday you portrayed legislators as thieves and killers. You said we ‘stole the money’ and people would die. Such cheap theatrics and false personal insults were beneath the dignity of your office. They were out of character for you personally.”
Lieutenant-Governor Hosemann’s responses have been less sharply worded than Gunn’s remarks. His office refused to respond to Reeves’s accusations that the legislature had acted illegally. Hosemann submitted a column to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger newspaper in which he said, “Recently, the Mississippi Legislature reconvened briefly to begin appropriating federal funds sent to Mississippi for direct and indirect COVID-19 expenses.The governor was provided almost $35 million in discretionary money. Another $800 million was designated to specific agencies and programs, and those funds are already available for agencies to use.
“A separate $1.25 billion, the Coronavirus Relief Fund, will be used for other related expenses, like COVID-19 testing and equipment for hospitals, expansion of distance learning technology like broadband to help teacher and students, and grants for struggling small businesses.”
Both houses of the legislature will convene at 1 p.m. tomorrow, Thursday, May 7.
State Senator Chad McMahan (R) favors having legislature appropriate CARES funds.
Republican State Senator Chad McMahan of District 6 told NEMISS.NEWS yesterday, “We will convene again at 1 p.m. on Thursday, May 7. We will submit a plan to allocate $100-million of the money to make grants to every one of 10,000 small businesses in the state that need the money to reopen.” McMahan specifically mentioned beauty salons, barbershops, and other “microbusinesses” who need the money to start up again.
“I support the governor,” McMahan said. “I think he’s done a good job in handling the coronavirus pandemic.”
However, McMahan said, “I have not seen a single plan from the governor about how he intends to spend the $1.25-billion.”
“I want the governor to succeed,” McMahan continued. “We need for him to succeed and the legislature needs to do its job for the state of Mississippi to succeed. The governor needs to get on with his constitutional duties and let us get on with ours in the legislature. Our job is to allocate the money that belongs to the people of Mississippi, and he needs to let us get on with that job.”
McMahan said that there are numerous gubernatorial appointments to state boards, commissions and other offices that have not been filled. “He needs to do his constitutional job and fill those positions.”
District 14 State Representative, Sam Creekmore of New Albany, told NEMISS.NEWS he believes only the legislature has the constitutional authority to appropriate the $1.25-billion. Creekmore said he has had one phone call from a Reeve supporters criticizing his support of that position. Creekmore said he’d had several calls agreeing that only the Legislature can appropriate the money.
Governor Reeves has threatened to veto what the legislature has done and what it intends to do. This in spite of the fact that he got zero votes in the state House of Representatives last Friday and only two votes in the state Senate. How he might go about peeling off enough votes to avoid his veto being overridden remains to be seen.
Justice William Waller, Jr. made good showing against Reeves, despite late entry into recent election.
It has been many years since Mississippians have such a sharp and public conflict between their governor and their state legislature. However, it does not come as a surprise to many who have closely followed events in state politics.
When Republican Reeves defeated Democrat Jim Hood in the Nov. 5 general election,several experienced political observers predicted that Reeves would have a rocky four years in the Governor’s Mansion. Although Reeves easily defeated Hood, who ran a lackadaisical campaign, a couple of factors pointed to an inharmonious time in state government:
Reeves, although far better financed, had been challenged in the Republican primary by recently retired Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice, William Waller, Jr., the son of Mississippi’s 56th governor. He was not as well-known as Reeves, got a late start in the campaign, and had a pittance in campaign money compared to the $15-million war chest Reeves had accumulated in eight years as the state’s lieutenant-governor. Never the less, he ran a surprisingly strong race.
Reeves failed to secure the Republican nomination in the first primary, receiving a plurality, but not the majority required for nomination. He prevailed over Waller in the Republican runoff, 54 to 46 percent.
However, Republican Party power was significantly divided.
Reeves had the support of President Donald Trump, former Gov. Haley Barbour, then incumbent Gov. Phil Bryant, former professional football player Brett Favre, and Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel.
Waller was endorsed by four former Mississippi Republican Party Chairmen.
Another factor presaging a bumpy time for Reeves was the simple fact that by moving up from the lieutenant-governor’s office to governor, he would actually have less power under the state’s 1890 Constitution. It is broadly agreed that the job of governor actually has less real clout under the constitution than the lieutenant-governor. As lieutenant-governor for eight years, Reeves ruled the upper house of the state legislature with an iron fist. More than a few of his colleagues accused him of arrogance and high handedness.
Former two-term Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann replaced Reeves as Lieutenant-Governor the same day Reeves was sworn in as governor.
Reeves was out of the country attending a soccer tournament in Spain when Mississippi experienced its first coronavirus death in March. His absence from the country when the legislature was in session and the coronavirus pandemic was already known to be ravaging Spain made him the target of criticism. Many have seen Reeves’s management of the pandemic within the state as indecisive and uneven.
Reeves supporter, Brett Favre, who has recently been named a recipient of over 1 million dollars of embezzled MDHS funds.
Only a month into his term, one of Reeves’s closest political allies was arrested by the State Auditor on charges of having stolen millions of dollars from the state’s Department of Human Resources (DHS).
And just two days ago, State Auditor Shad White said Reeves supporter Brett Favre had received over one million dollars of the purloined DHS money for speeches and appearances he never actually made. Favre has not been indicted.
Even those who dislike Tate Reeves acknowledge that he is intelligent and good at getting what he wants.
However, Lieutenant-Governor Hosemann is considered by many the smartest man in state government, and he gets very high marks for integrity from all who know him. Most agree he holds the more powerful job under state law. Hosemann’s record of success as a top attorney and as Mississippi Secretary of State shows he is a guy accustomed to winning most of his battles.
Speaker Gunn is a smart man and no lightweight when it comes to close combat politics.
With some exceptions, most members of both houses of the State Legislature are intelligent successful people, who did not get elected by being shrinking violets.
The people of Mississippi need a functioning state government. Those who need help from that $1.25-billion fund need it badly.
Watching all of this get sorted out in coming weeks will be an interesting show and a critically important one.
https://i0.wp.com/nemiss.news/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Reeves-conf-4-30-20.jpg?fit=1026%2C586&ssl=15861026NEMiss.Newshttps://nemiss.news/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/nemiss-full-logo-300x77.jpgNEMiss.News2020-05-06 15:57:312020-05-06 17:02:12Legislature vs Reeves: horsepower check in Jackson
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