GUEST COLUMN: Ad wars: Reeves continues focus on trans issues, Presley says governor is lying

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, August 30, 2023

By Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today

Based on Republican Gov. Tate Reeves’ campaign rhetoric and how he spends his campaign funds, it is reasonable to think he believes transgender issues are the state’s No. 1 problem.

A Reeves campaign commercial is airing statewide, claiming his Democratic challenger Brandon Presley “supports sex change and puberty-blocking drugs for children.”

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Reeves does not appear in the ad. Instead, there is a voice-over narrator talking ominously about Presley’s alleged position on trans issues.

Presley, apparently, felt he needed to quickly respond. In Presley’s response ad, he looks directly into the camera and proclaims, “Tate Reeves’ latest TV ad is a lie. Here’s what he’s not telling you: I’m on the record saying I don’t support gender surgery for minors or boys playing girl’s sports. Never have.

“And that won’t change when I am governor. Truth is, Tate Reeves will say anything to protect his good ol’ boy network and hide the fact that he’s caught up in the largest corruption scandal in the history of Mississippi. Those are the facts, and Tate Reeves lying to you won’t change them.”

The Presley campaign has tried to focus on other issues, such as expanding Medicaid to provide health care for primarily the working poor and to help the numerous hospitals across the state deal with their financial woes as they close or face the possibility of closure.

Reeves has not run any ads offering solutions to the hospital crisis. He has not run ads offering solutions to the state’s worst-in-the-nation infant mortality rate or to any of the other poor health outcomes that plague Mississippians. Instead, Reeves has aired two statewide television ads this summer, costing thousands of dollars, on transgender issues.

In Reeves’ latest ad dealing with trans issues, he — or at least that narrator with the ominous voice — loosely cites Presley’s July comments at the Mississippi Press Association. There, Presley was asked if he supported the bill that was passed during the 2023 legislative session and signed into law by Reeves that prohibits minors from receiving gender-affirming treatment, such as surgeries and puberty blockers.

Reeves’ commercial does not provide Presley’s response. Instead, the ominous voice proclaims, “You may be surprised. Presley said he supports sex changes and puberty-blocking drugs for children. Whatever the radical liberals want, Brandon Presley caves in. That’s why Brandon Presley cannot be our governor.”

For the record, here’s what Presley actually said at that forum: “I trust families. I trust mamas and I trust daddies to deal with the health care of their children first and foremost, period.”

Many reasonably assumed, based on his response, that Presley opposed the legislation preventing minors from receiving gender-affirming treatments.

Later, when asked to expand on his answer, Presley gave a response that could be perceived as a reversal, though his campaign insisted it was more of a clarification.

“Tate Reeves knows that I won’t work to overturn these laws, and this issue is settled in Mississippi, but he’s busy pushing the same old false political attacks to cover up his career of corruption,” Presley said. “As a man of faith who is pro-life, I’ve never once had an issue disagreeing with my party when they’re wrong, so I’ll be clear: I don’t think boys should be playing against girls, and girls shouldn’t be playing against boys. I don’t think minors should be getting surgery to change their gender.”

But regardless of Reeves’ claims and what Presley’s response might be, how big of an issue is this in Mississippi?

As House Bill 1125 was debated earlier this year in the House, Rep. Nick Bain, R-Corinth, who was one of the champions of the legislation, admitted he could not cite any instances when minors had received such surgeries in Mississippi. There have been, however, a few instances in the state where older minors have received puberty blockers that most medical associations say are reversible.

In February, the owners of Spectrum: The Other Clinic, the state’s only clinic for trans Mississippians, told Mississippi Today that they provided care for 30 trans minors, and less than half of those patients received puberty blockers.

In general, surgery for minors is not recommended and does not occur often, according to earlier Mississippi Today reporting that cites various medical organizations. And again, no one has provided instances of such surgery being performed in Mississippi.

On another issue that the Reeves campaign is focused on — preventing trans girls or women from competing in organized women’s sports — no one can cite that happening in Mississippi, either.

Trans people comprise 0.41% of Mississippi’s population, according to UCLA Williams Institute. No doubt, they face many unique trials and tribulations, and they probably never imagined they would be such a focus in a statewide gubernatorial campaign.

But Tate Reeves had other ideas.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.