By STEVEN NALLEY
Tate Reeves is friend to more than a few Mississippi State University alumni, and he says they continually ask him why he didn’t attend college there.
To explain, he asks them to recall the movie “Hoosiers” and the one player who spends much of the movie on the bench. When someone asks the player why he doesn’t play more, Reeves said, the player replies, “Coach thinks I’m too short and not too good.”
“Richard Williams thought I was too short and not too good, and in his defense, he was right,” Reeves said. “I went to Millsaps to play basketball, and I lucked into a great education.”
On Tuesday, Reeves addressed audiences as the state’s incoming lieutenant governor after two terms as the state’s first Republican treasurer at the MSU Library’s John Grisham Room.
Reeves came to MSU as part of the library’s Morris W.H. Collins Speaker Series, which gives students and locals the chance to meet public policy makers firsthand. Present to introduce Reeves were MSU President Mark Keenum, John C. Stennis Institute of Government Director Marty Wiseman and Journalist-in-Residence Sid Salter.
Wiseman said part of his job at the Stennis Institute is to find out which policy makers are part of the Bulldog family.
“He’s passed the test,” Wiseman said. “I’ve been regaled with the stories of a lot of the Bulldog buddies he’s picked up along the way. Truth be told, he has always carried Bulldog blood in his veins.”
Keenum said it was an honor to have Reeves visit because it gave students a special opportunity to hear from the man who will soon hold the state’s second-highest office. Reeves also inspires college students, he said, when they hear he was elected treasurer at 29 years old and re-elected with a 61 percent margin, the highest percentage of any candidate running for statewide office.
“It speaks very loudly of the capabilities of this individual,” Keenum said. “I know many of our students throughout the state can be very proud to have someone like him (as lieutenant governor.)”
Reeves said he wanted to talk about a subject he had not discussed much on the campaign trail: his background and upbringing. His parents gave him a background which directly contributed to his political success, he said. For instance, he said, when he was young, his father routinely brought him to the small business where he worked.
“It’s that work ethic he instilled in me that gave me the ability to get involved in politics,” Reeves said. “It’s that sense of responsibility. When you own a small business, there’s no one else to turn to. There’s no one else to blame but you.”
Basketball came back into the picture when Reeves said there were many reasons he chose to announce his candidacy for lieutenant governor from the basketball court of Florence High School, where he graduated. Playing high school basketball, he said, taught him a team is only as good as the hard work each player puts in.
“I learned you’re only as good a team as your weakest link,” Reeves said. “It’s on that basketball court and other basketball courts around Mississippi that I learned a lot of things about life.”
When Reeves was campaigning to become state treasurer in 2003, he said, many of the people he called for support said they respected him as a person but had doubts about his lack of government experience at the time. Reeves said he hopes his election in 2003 shows young people they can do anything if they are willing to dream big, develop a plan to accomplish that dream and, most importantly, work hard.
“We need more people in government telling our kids this,” Reeves said. “When Haley Barbour says, ‘I think we keep underestimating ourselves,’ I think he’s exactly right. In life there are always going to be nay-sayers — people who say, ‘You can’t accomplish your dreams because you grew up in Florence’ ... or ‘because you went to Millsaps,’ or ‘because you went to Mississippi State.’”
Reeves said campaigning for office is full of low and high points, and sometimes the former leads into the latter. He said he remembered an attack advertisement early in his campaign for lieutenant governor which ended with the words, “Bad, bad Tate.” His children, he said, remembered it, too.
“My 6-year-old came into the room and said, ‘Daddy, what did you do that was so bad?’” Reeves said, drawing laughter from the audience.
Reeves said a colleague once taught him the key to dealing with life as a politician is to have a life outside of politics.
“Those that don’t can’t make tough decisions,” Reeves said. “They can only make decisions based on what benefits them in the next election. If I’m not successful in my campaign (or) if I choose to have another campaign and I’m not re-elected, I can go to the private sector and get a real job and provide for my family. I’ve got two beautiful daughters who are the real reason I chose to run for political office.”