State Politics

Guice probably wishes he hadn’t hit the send button

Nicole Nichols and her daughter, Bella, 8.
Nicole Nichols and her daughter, Bella, 8.

State Rep. Jeffrey Guice probably wishes he’d never hit the send button after he messaged Nicole Nichols on Monday afternoon. He probably wishes he had checked out her Facebook page, too.

The Richland mother of two was looking for help trying to find a vendor in her Medicaid network who would supply a piece of equipment crucial to her daughter’s diabetes treatment. She asked Guice and other lawmakers for help.

“Have you thought about buying supplies with money that you earn?” he replied.

That lit her fuse. So she posted the exchange on her Living in the World of Test Strips page, which she uses to advocate for children with diabetes.

Had Guice, a Republican from Ocean Springs, looked at the page, he might have held back.

“This place isn’t for everyone,” Nichols wrote in her page description. “I don’t do fear here.”

For the record, Nichols’ husband works two jobs and she is a stay-at-home mom. Still, they qualify for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, also known as Children’s Medicaid.

They ran the numbers. If she were working, it would essentially just pay for the day care for her children while she was at work. While she was staying home with her kids, she wrote a diabetes book for children to advocate for kids with diabetes. And to keep that advocacy separate from her family life, she started the Living in the World of Test Strips page.

Commenters will comment

She definitely thinks Guice was calling her a deadbeat. But she let her followers do the talking in the comments. It isn’t for the faint at heart.

Guice hasn’t raised much of a defense. He told The Clarion-Ledger he doesn’t do interviews. His Capitol phone line is very busy. The cellphone number he gave the Sun Herald has been disconnected.

He did email the Associated Press with this statement: “I realize my remarks to Mrs. Nichols were completely insensitive and out of line. I am sorry and deeply regret my reply. I know nothing about her and her family and replied in knee-jerk fashion. I’d like to think the people of Mississippi and my constituents know that I’m willing to help where I am able.”

“He’s never met me, nor my husband,” Nichols said. “We’re not in his area. I believe he’s from Ocean Springs and we live south of Jackson.”

She emailed all the lawmakers, she said. Three responded. Only Guice was rude, she said.

“It was an effort to reach someone who is knowledgeable and would have the heart to help us navigate the situation,” she said. “I wasn’t asking for a handout. I wasn’t asking for something to be given to us. These children are already eligible for these benefits based on our family’s financial situation. I needed assistance navigating the red tape that surrounds Medicaid.”

On Guice’s Facebook page, he shared a meme last month that said, “I’m so lucky people can’t hear what I’m thinking.”

But now they have. And they’re not impressed. Nichols’ Facebook post starring Guice has been shared hundreds of times.

“His response was probably something he is really not happy about having said,” she said.

She went to Jackson, where she handed out fliers at the Capitol and met with media. She didn’t try to find Guice, though.

“It wouldn’t have done any good,” she said. “I could not have reasoned with him and I would have lost my temper.”

Loud and opinionated

Not that she minds speaking her mind.

“I have a lot of words and I can be very loud about them,” she said. “I’m very opinionated — much to a lot of people’s dismay. It’s just the way I was raised.

“I want this to be about the kids and helping the kids. This wasn’t about my family and helping my family. We have walked this path and we know that it is difficult and extremely stressful. Now we’re seeing other families we know having the same problem. We want to show them how to walk the path.”

At issue is a small connection for the diabetes pump her daughter, Bella, wears. Without it, Bella would have to endure six to 10 injections a day. That part must be changed at least every three days. And it is easily broken. In all, without insurance, it would cost $375 to $400 a month and that’s money the family just doesn’t have.

Nichols, who said she’s socially liberal and fiscally conservative, has no political experience — “other than running my mouth because I’m a loud-mouthed Southern woman” — but she clearly knows how the system works.

And she’s winning

For instance, Guice may not have meant to help, but he did. A short time after her story went wild on social media, someone from Mississippi Medicaid called. They are supposed to follow up on her case Wednesday.

“I will gladly use his bad day to further this cause, to get these kids what they need,” Nichols said. “I will gladly let his comments gather the media attention, if it gets the kids what they need. And really, in a way, it’s been helpful.”

She’s a Mississippi native who spent a short time in Texas. In fact, she has family in Dallas, where she’s sure she and her husband could get better-paying jobs and not have to rely on the government. But she’s not going anywhere, she said.

“I have a love-hate relationship with this state,” she said. “Artistically. Naturally. If you go outside, Mississippi is a beautiful place to live. We have some of the most amazing writers, musicians and artists. I love to go out in the country and just look at this beautiful state.

“My home and the family that has built up of my friends, longtime companions, and sometimes my real family — my support system — is here. And that’s worth more than the dollars in a bank account.”

As for Guice, he is apt to find himself on the national news — ABC News and the New York Post are awaiting Nichols’ calls.

“I’m floored,” she said.

She’s also so busy she has a new public email handle:

Related stories from Biloxi Sun Herald