/In governor’s race, Waller replicates father’s 1971 strategy that landed him in the Governor’s Mansion

In governor’s race, Waller replicates father’s 1971 strategy that landed him in the Governor’s Mansion

Waller, who was a student of political science at Mississippi State University, played a key role in his father’s victory. He spent nights and weekends on campaign trails, giving speeches up to four times per day, and interviewing the state’s biggest newspapers. The reporter turned his attention to Waller’s younger brother just hours after the excitement of the campaign and victory parties had ended. Waller smiled and said, “I do indeed have political ambitions.” 48 years later, those ambitions are fully realized. Waller’s role as an insider in the 1971 campaign of his father, including direct exposure to the strategy behind the father’s defeat of the political establishment, has influenced his bid for governor. In 1971, Lt. Governor. Charlie Sullivan was widely considered to be the heir to Gov. John Bell Williams. A newspaper columnist said that Sullivan was “acknowledged” by the smart money as the man to beat for the governor’s seat. Sullivan worked more than a decade towards winning the race. He formed alliances with the Jackson political establishment that controlled state spending and regulation. After becoming lieutenant governor of Mississippi in 1967, he raised thousands of dollars and collected more campaign contributions than any of the challengers. His name was on three previous statewide election ballots. He had also traveled extensively throughout the state, giving his candidacy broad name identification. Bill Waller Sr. followed his failed 1967 gubernatorial bid and built on it. Waller’s 1971 campaign focused on defeating the political establishment, the “Capitol Street Gang,” Waller called it. This was the group that had endorsed Sullivan. Waller’s antiestablishment message resonated among hundreds of thousands Mississippians. He defeated Sullivan in what a columnist called the “political upset of the century”. Waller Sr. wrote later in a memoir, “Under the existing system, you had to wait your turn to become governor.” It was clear to me and the people who encouraged my candidacy that Mississippi was stagnant and that the old guard couldn’t get it moving again and certainly not in the right direction. Our leadership had developed the notion that an significant change was not good and should be resisted.” He continued: “(My candidacy was successful) because of my desire to offer the people an alternative to the do-nothing, hold-onto-what-you-have machine and to give ordinary citizens an opportunity to participate in their government.” Nearly 50 years later, another lieutenant governor is, by many accounts, heir apparent to the Governor’s Mansion. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves spent over a decade working towards a 2019 run for governor. He built coalitions within Jackson’s political establishment and earned endorsements from key Republican Party figures such as Gov. Phil Bryant, Gregg Harper (ex-Congressman) and 300 other local leaders are among those who have supported Tate Reeves’ bid for governor. Reeves is able to spend more than $6M this year than any other candidate for governor. Waller is looking to shock the state and defeat Reeves during the August primary. He has borrowed from his father’s winning strategy. Waller stated in a April social media advertisement that he didn’t need $7million from special interests like his opponent. I need you and your support. I want a conservative Republican who won’t be afraid to discuss the major issues facing the state. And who can win in November. Waller said to Mississippi Today that we cannot ignore the issues. Waller said that he believes people will respond and that we will be competitive. People vote. I believe Mississippians are independent. I don’t think we can sell them. My campaign will go from courthouse to courthouse, from store to store, to county to county. “I am going to take their message to them.” Waller’s campaign headquarters are in downtown Jackson, a block away from the famous Capitol Street. It is located at the law office he and his father established in 1977. The office, which was home to the former governor in 2011, is filled with mementos from his time as governor. The hallway that leads to Waller’s office contains a photo showing the governor and President Richard Nixon meeting in the Oval Office. Waller’s office contains a photo showing the former governor hosting four Republican governors (including the then-California Governor). Ronald Reagan at the 1973 Ole Missee-Tennessee football match in Jackson. Waller has made it a point not to change the arrangement or decor of his office since the death of his father in 2011. Waller now works at his father’s desk. Most of the pictures and art on the walls have not been touched and many books on the built in shelves have not been moved. Waller and his team created his 2019 campaign strategy in this office. It is striking to compare soundbites from Waller Sr. in 1971 and his son, Waller Jr. in 2019. Parallels between 1971 strategy and 2019. Waller Sr. lamented Mississippi’s low teacher salaries and public schools in 1971. Waller Sr. wrote in his memoir that “the improvement of the state’s public schools system was at the top of my agenda.” “I made a solemn promise to the people in Mississippi that we would provide an adequate education for our children by qualified teachers who wouldn’t be the lowest paid in this country.” Waller has been touring the state since mid-April to hear from public school teachers. At every town hall stop, they have focused on the lowest-paying teachers. At a Hattiesburg campaign stop, he said that the issue of teacher pay was raised when he made the decision to run. “I said enough is enough. Let’s work every day until we reach our Southeastern average,” he stated. In 1971, Waller Sr. harshly criticized Sullivan, and other politicians, for failing to fix the state’s roads, bridges, and streets. Waller stated that the reason we are so strong in the governor’s race is because of the (crisis and highways) is worse today than it is four years ago in a speech at the Neshoba Country Fair in July 1971. “The current machine politicians in Mississippi, and all who are a part of it, has failed to deliver the highways. They have failed to deliver a highway plan, which is why people are demanding a change. “The people who want highways support Bill Waller in large numbers across Mississippi,” Waller said. In April, Waller repeated his father’s sentiments on infrastructure almost 50 years ago and criticized Reeves as well as other politicians who have failed to address the state’s roads and bridges. Waller stated that the $250 million approved in special session last April is “literally a raindrop within a puddle,” during an April gubernatorial debate held at Mississippi State University. We need an aggressive, bold program. … We must move quickly to get the money. This figure is $1 Billion. This is a huge amount of money, but there are still many needs. Our infrastructure and roads are the most important factor in industry and tourism. It’s critical. It’s crucial that we move quickly. We have to move as quickly as possible to do that. Waller stated that tax breaks for out-of-state businesses in certain places are “offensive to me” during April’s debate. Waller Sr. stated that he would like to see the Mississippi Development Authority (state’s economic development agency), refocus on Mississippi businesses that employ Mississippians now. This would have an almost immediate impact on the economy. In June 1971, Waller Sr. said that the state should be more concerned with what he called “talent drain,” the trend of young Mississippians leaving the state in search of better opportunities. Waller Sr. stated that “we must find a solution to the state’s talent drain.” This quote was taken from The Clarion-Ledger. Waller stated that “young and old alike should have the opportunity to achieve a goal in their lives.” He has made curbing the state’s “brain drain,” or as it is commonly known, one his top platforms for 2019. Waller stated that he would like to see creative approaches to student debt at the Mississippi State debate. “I believe we could target areas where employment is available in the state and make it more attractive for students to stay in the state,” Waller said at the Mississippi State debate in April. Reeves chose to concentrate his messaging and advertising on Jim Hood (the fourth-term attorney general and frontrunner for the Democratic nomination). Robert Foster, a freshman state representative, was also a primary challenger to Reeves. Reeves had reported over $6 million in campaign contributions at the start of 2019, a figure that is expected to rise ahead of the August primary. Reeves has already spent thousands of dollars on social media advertising and purchased high-end television ads in key markets throughout the state. Waller admits that he will not be able to match Reeves’ fundraising numbers, but he has noted that Mississippians have responded well so far to his campaign message. After Waller had defeated Sullivan and been elected governor in 1971’s general election, Sullivan spoke openly to a reporter from the Delta Democrat-Times about the campaign and why he believed he lost. Sullivan stated that he came to the conclusion that a lot people had viewed me as a highly aggressive individual and were disappointed. “This time, I was a lieutenant governor who people had grown tired of, who had spoken so many times all over the state that there was not much novelty or interest when he would go somewhere… Many experts would argue that it is impossible to get too exposed, but that could be true if the exposure can be interesting, different, or fascinating, as some of the film work (Waller). You can’t perform a ceremonial function if you are the lieutenant governor. Sullivan’s speech was boring for some people, but not as much as Sullivan.