Former chief justice, son of late governor to run for Mississippi governor

Published 10:08 pm Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Retired state Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr. confirmed Wednesday that he plans to run for Mississippi governor as a Republican, telling WJTV-TV that he plans to qualify before the March 1 deadline and will formally announce plans then. The Clarion Ledger first reported Waller’s plans.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and state Rep. Robert Foster of Hernando have already qualified as Republicans, setting up a Republican primary in August with at least three candidates including Waller.

Democrats will also have a contested primary, with Attorney General Jim Hood and retired Jackson State University employee Velesha P. Williams having already announced.

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“There’s been an outpouring of support from all over,” Waller told WJTV. “I believe I can bring something different to the race that is missing now. As for donations, I have commitments but have not collected any money and can’t until I officially file to run for office.”

Waller said he was in the early stages of organizing a campaign staff, which will probably be headed by his brother Eddie.

The 67-year-old stepped down from the state Supreme Court in January, telling The Associated Press in December that he was “leaning against” a bid for governor, but that he wasn’t planning to stop working.

“I think I’ve got another 10 or 15 years of good service somewhere,” Waller said then.

The former chief justice is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his late father, Bill Waller Sr., a Democrat who served from 1972 to 1976 and was the first governor to cleanly break with Mississippi’s opposition to desegregation.

The younger Waller was on the state Supreme Court for 21 years, serving the last 10 as chief justice. His record on the court includes a pay raise for judges and an expansion of drug courts.

Waller’s court also decreed criminal court rules that helped defendants see judges more quickly, and get access to bail and public defenders. Waller also pushed for changes that made sure the state pays for indigent inmates to be represented on appeals.

Reeves and Hood are the heavyweights in the governor’s race, having raised much more money than their opponents. Candidates’ most recent finance reports showed Reeves had $6.7 million in his campaign fund at the end of 2018, and Hood had just over $1 million.

“We’ve always expected multiple primary challengers — every open governor’s race has plenty,” Reeves campaign spokesman Parker Briden said in a statement. “Tate Reeves has held the line against raising taxes or expanding Obamacare and Mississippi voters overwhelmingly want that kind of strong leader as governor.”

Foster in a statement said Waller entering the race, “shows a healthy democratic process for our state and that, as I’ve said all along, voters are looking for another alternative to ‘the next guy in line.'”

Retired political science professor Marty Wiseman told the Clarion Ledger that he rates Waller as a serious contender.

“He’s creating an alternative for folks who want to vote Republican but are disinclined to vote for Tate Reeves,” Wiseman said. “They now will have a legitimate option.”