Waller says he respects wife, too, follows ‘Billy Graham rule’ on campaign trail

Published 1:53 pm Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A second Republican man running for Mississippi governor said he won’t meet alone with a woman who isn’t his wife, even in a professional setting.

Former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr. said he tries to have at least one staff person with him, including when he met with a female colleague on the court.

“I just think that’s common sense,” Waller told reporters Monday. “I think in this day and time, appearances are important.”

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Another of the three men seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, state Rep. Robert Foster, said last week that if a woman journalist wanted to ride in his truck for campaign coverage, she would have to be chaperoned by a male colleague. Foster said he would meet alone with an unchaperoned man.

Foster calls it the “Billy Graham rule,” after the late evangelist. Vice President Mike Pence has also said he tries not to be alone with any woman who’s not his wife.

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has raised the most money in the governor’s race. His campaign spokesman, Parker Briden, said in response to questions Tuesday: “We’re not going to engage with a statement on the whole Billy Graham thing.”

Some of Reeves’ top staff members have been women during his two terms as lieutenant governor and, before that, during his two terms as state treasurer.

Fourth-term Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who has raised the most money of any Democrat running for governor, said in a statement Monday that “strong women, beginning with my mom, have played an important role in my life, in my attorney general’s office and in my campaign for governor.”

“In 2019, to even be having this conversation is ridiculous,” Hood said. “If I couldn’t meet with women alone to discuss issues important to them and to Mississippi, I wouldn’t be able to do my job. As governor, women will play an important role in my administration.”

In response to questions, Waller said he has not required a woman to bring a chaperone to meet with him.

“I think any senior person in government office needs to have a second hand there, so I never had an issue with it,” Waller said. “I always had a law clerk or another staff person in attendance.”

Third-term Republican Gov. Phil Bryant could not seek re-election. Party primaries are Aug. 6, and the general election is Nov. 5.