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January 27, 2023    Political Note #535 Brandon Presley Governor Mississippi

2023                           General Election

Yes.  He is a relative. He is, however, 45 years old.   He was 3 weeks old when his much older second cousin died.  Noah Presley, Brandon’s grandfather and Jesse Presley, Elvis’s grandfather were brothers.  And yes.  The election is in November, 2023.

Brandon Presley was born in Amory, a town of about 7,000.  Nettleton, the town he grew up in, has about 2,000 people.  He lives in the same house he was raised in and says, accurately, he lives in a “no stop light” town. He grew up with his single mom who often worked two jobs. They were poor enough so that he can remember the power being shut off because the bill wasn’t paid.  His dad, an alcoholic, died when Brandon Presley was eight.

Brandon Presley went to Itawamba Community College and then to Mississippi State.  He came home from college to be elected mayor of Nettleton.  He described himself as a populist, an FDR Democrat and a Billy McCoy (former Speaker of the Mississippi House) Democrat.  As Mayor of Nettleton, he endorsed George W. Bush for President.

Brandon Presley served as mayor from 2001 to 2007 and then ran for and was elected one of the three state Public Service Commissioners, the Northern District Commissioner.  So far, he has been elected four times to that office, most recently in 2019.  In 2015, State Rep Cecil Brown, a Democrat, was elected to the Central District. The Public Service Commission is, astonishingly, a Democratic body in Mississippi – 2 Democrats and 1 Republican.

Brandon Presley may not be everyone’s idea of a Democrat.  He is pro-life and pro-second amendment. Not everyone in Mississippi believes him when he says that because, after all, he is a Democrat.  He is the kind of Democrat who has a chance to get elected in Mississippi.

Brandon Presley has, in some respects, a record that would make any Democrat proud.  He has been working toward bringing universal access to the internet in Mississippi. He also is looking for solar power.  Working with the US Navy, Mississippi Power, supported by Brandon Presley and the Public Service Commission, has broken ground for the state’s largest solar power facility.

Brandon Presley has friends that would make a Democrat electable.  One of his closest political allies is Congressman Bennie Thompson.  You will remember Congressman Thompson presiding over the January 6 Select Committee hearings.  His support and the Black community’s support is essential to Brandon Presley’s hope for election.  Thirty seven percent of the voters in Mississippi are Black.  Almost all of them vote Democratic.  That is a pretty good start toward a 50% +1 majority for a white, rural Democrat.

Brandon Presley has one more advantage – his Republican opponent.

Before I wrote a word about Governor Tate Reeves, I took a break. My elementary school American history textbook came to mind.  I recalled its treatment of Reconstruction.  Accompanying the commentary about unprepared Negroes (to use the textbook term of the 1950s) being elected to political office was a drawing of a buffoonish looking Black man in a yellow suit and clownishly long shoes.  These days school textbooks are surely different – in Rhode Island, where I grew up, and in Mississippi where Brandon Presley is running for Governor.

What is not different in Mississippi politics is a consciousness of race.  One hundred years ago, Blacks were the majority in Mississippi.  Persuaded by being driven from farm ownership to share cropping in the delta and by lynchings and less catastrophic mistreatment, Blacks left for the north and for California in the Great Migration.  By 2020, Blacks had dipped below 40% of the Mississippi population.  Change may come again.  In 2021, more than 50% of the children under one year old were non-white.

Now the Governor. Tate Reeves is 48.  He was born in 1974.  He went to Millsaps College where he joined a fraternity that was part of the Kappa Alpha Order.  Here is a bit from the fraternity’s official history: “Southern in its loves, it took Jackson and Lee as its favorite types of the perfect Knight. Caucasian in its sympathies, it excluded the African from membership.”

In an October, 2022 poll, Tate Reeves was the fifth least popular governor in the country. He is so unpopular that a January poll showed him leading Brandon Presley by 4 points. Reeves attributed his low popularity to his having been a state wide figure for a long time (State Treasurer for two terms, Lt. Governor for two terms, and now Governor) and the enemies he created through his willingness to say “no.”

Tate Reeves has not always said “no.”  Most recently, he and other Mississippi leaders got themselves in trouble in connection with the TANF scandal.  He has been unable to explain why he took the University of Southern Mississippi Foundation off the list of defendants in a civil law suit and fired the attorney who represented the state in its effort to claw back $77 million that, according to the State Auditor,  was misspent or stolen.  Reeves said “no” to suing the USM Foundation.

The misuse of welfare funds has criminal implications. The former Human Services Director has already pled guilty.  Some of the TANF money (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) went to building a new volleyball center at the University of Southern Mississippi.  The scandal received national attention because Brett Favre, former Green Bay Packers quarterback whose daughter played volleyball at USM, worked with the previous governor to persuade officials to find the money to build the volleyball center.  They found TANF money.  They also found TANF money to send to a company Favre invested in to develop a drug to deal with concussions.  So far Favre has not been charged criminally and has asked to been taken off the civil law suit.  Tate Reeves has not yet said “no” to much in the welfare scandal.

How TANF money was spent is not Mississippi’s only scandal.  Without mentioning the Governor’s name, Brandon Presley suggests that Jackson’s water scandals could have been avoided with more effective statewide leadership.  Brandon Presley has other targets.  He has attacked AT&T for its failure to follow through on promises of internet availability in rural Mississippi, despite the corporation receiving federal funds for that purpose.

Tate Reeves has been a participant in Mississippi’s great shift from being a Democratic state to a Republican state.  In 2003, he became the first Republican and the state’s youngest ever State Treasurer when he defeated the Democratic candidate.  Reeves had worked for a few years in banking after graduating from college.  Gary Anderson had been the state’s appointed Executive Director of Finance and Administration.  If there was any scandal in connection with his time in office, nothing was visible.  Gary Anderson was, however, visibly a Black man.  Reeves defeated him by 5 points.  In 2007, the Democrats did not field a candidate against Reeves.  Nor did the Democrats field a candidate against Reeves in his 2011 campaign to be Lt. Governor.  In 2015, Reeves defeated the Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor 60-36.  By 2019, there were no Democrats remaining in state-wide office.

Tate Reeves has taken positions which might be expected to gain favor from deeply conservative Mississippians.

  • During the worst of the Covid pandemic, he resisted proposals to close crowded indoor areas, resisted mask mandates, and vaccination requirements. He urged reliance on the “power of prayer” to defeat Covid.
  • He resisted, even during the pandemic, making voting easier through early voting or no excuse absentee voting.
  • After Roe v Wade was overturned, he was asked if he would join in efforts to ban contraception. He would not say “no.”
  • He opposed expansion of parole eligibility and rejected calls for commuting Tameka Drummer’s life sentence for possession of 2 oz of marijuana. Here was an instance where he would not say “yes.”
  • He backed down from his insistence that the Mississippi flag should be changed only through a voter referendum. Ultimately, he signed a law removing the confederate battle flag that had been in a corner of the state flag.
  • He backed down from his proposal to eliminate the state’s personal income tax.
  • He has refused to acknowledge that Joe Biden was legitimately elected President and has not backed down from that.

The filing deadline is February 1.  There may be Republican opponents Reeves will need to face on the August 8 primary or even the August 29 primary run off if no one gets more than 50% of the first vote.  I can’t say whether Brandon Presley would do better against Tate Reeves or another Republican.

I can say this.  Let’s Go Brandon … Presley, that is.   His victory would be a small earthquake.  Shake the earth a little. Give Brandon Presley a little financial support.


 February 21 and April 4

Virginia Fourth Congressional District Special Election on February 21

Jennifer McClellan is running to replace the only current vacancy in the US Congress – Virginia’s Four Congressional District. A state senator representing the 9th Senate district, she is the child of a civil rights activist and a university professor. She ran Terry’s McAuliffe’s transition team when he was elected governor in 2013, is vice chair of the Virginia Democratic Party and of the legislature’s Black Caucus.  She is the favorite to defeat Pastor and Navy veteran Leon Benjamin, Sr.   See Len’s Political Note #527.

New Hampshire Special Election on February 21

House District 8, Rochester Ward 4

Incumbent Chuck Grassie is running because of a rarity.  In November, he and former mayor Republican David Walker tied.  Because New Hampshire’s House of Representatives is so large, you would not expect that a single seat would matter much.  This election in February will matter.  Republicans have a narrow majority – 201-198.  Make it a little narrower (201-199)  by helping to reelect Chuck Grassie.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Multiparty Primary on February 21 followed by a General Election on April 4

Janet Protasiewicz is running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  Her win in the February 21st primary and the April 4th General Election would flip the Wisconsin Supreme Court from 4-3 Republican to 4-3 Democrat with enormous implications for issues such as abortion and redistricting.  This is an open seat because a Republican Justice retired.  The election is in the spring rather than November because Wisconsin strives to limit partisanship in judicial elections. See Len’s Political Note #528

Wisconsin Primary on February 21 followed by a Special Election on April 4

Jody Habush Sinykin is running in the special election for Wisconsin’s State Senate District 08.  She is also running to prevent Republicans from having two thirds of the seats in the Wisconsin State Senate.  If the current State Senator for the District were not retiring, Republicans would have 22 of the 33 State Senate seats.  See Len’s Political Note #529