Democrat pledges ethics package in his challenge of Mississippi GOP governor

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Democrat running for Mississippi governor said Tuesday that he will push legislators to enact an ethics package that includes limits on campaign donations, frequent disclosure about lobbyists' spending and a ban on former state officials quickly becoming lobbyists.

“We’re going to send a message in the tune of that old Willie Nelson song: ‘Shut Out the Lights, the Party’s Over,’” Brandon Presley said during a news conference on the Capitol steps.

Presley is trying to unseat Republican Gov. Tate Reeves. Presley is in his fourth term as an elected member of the three-person Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities.

Reeves is seeking a second term as governor in a state where Republicans hold all statewide offices and a supermajority in the Legislature. Reeves previously served in other statewide elected offices — two terms as lieutenant governor and two terms as state treasurer.

“Brandon Presley is a classic Democrat — accusing every Republican of corruption while pocketing big money from liberal donors and hiding the ball on his leftwing positions," Reeves campaign spokesperson Elliott Husbands said in a statement Tuesday.

Presley on Tuesday said a welfare misspending case shows corruption is a problem in Mississippi government. He referred to welfare money being spent on fitness classes taught by Paul Lacoste, who played football at Mississippi State University and for the Canadian Football League. Lacoste taught classes taken by Reeves, several lawmakers and other people.

“If you’re Tate Reeves’ personal trainer, the guy that teaches him to do jumping jacks, then you can get $1.3 million,” Presley said. “This type of corruption and this sort of good old boy network makes me sick at my stomach.”

Lacoste is among more than three dozen people and businesses being sued by the Mississippi Department of Human Services to try to recover welfare money that was misspent between 2016 and 2019 — when Reeves was lieutenant governor and presiding over the state Senate.

Court records filed last year show Lacoste's business, Victory Sports Foundation, had a $1.3 million contract to teach fitness classes from 2018 to 2019, with money coming from a nonprofit organization that had Human Services contracts to spend money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families antipoverty program.

Husbands did not respond to Presley's characterization of Lacoste as Reeves' personal trainer. Instead, Husbands said Presley won’t explain his stance on “leftwing gender theory in schools and eliminating the income tax.”

Reeves had more than $9 million in his campaign funds and Presley had $1.6 million, according to finance reports filed last week, which show money raised and spent through April.

Mississippi, Louisiana and Kentucky are the only states electing governors this year.