Huffington Post: Brandon Presley Has Made Knitting The State Together And Outreach To Black Mississippians “A Core Part Of His Campaign.”
Mississippi Democrats, Along With Republicans, Have Effectively Made The Infamous Slogan ― “Let’s Go Brandon” ― Their Own, Rallying Behind Brandon Presley for Mississippi
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
October 20, 2023
Nettleton - A recent article from the Huffington Post highlighted the Brandon Presley for Governor campaign’s historic statewide voter outreach, including Brandon’s support from Mississippi Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike. The article, following Brandon around the Jackson State University Homecoming Tailgate, also emphasized Brandon’s significant outreach to Black Mississippians.
As Brandon gains widespread support across the state, he has made the support of Black voters “a core part of his campaign,” while vowing to leave no Mississippi family or county behind. Yesterday, Brandon completed his 82 County Tour, becoming the first candidate in recent history to visit all 82 Mississippi counties, and promised to advocate for all working Mississsipians.
As Governor, Brandon plans to clean up the corruption in state government, expand Medicaid to keep hospitals across the state open, provide healthcare to 220,000 working Mississippians, and cut the grocery tax for Mississippians.
Read more below:
Huffington Post: ‘Let’s Go Brandon’: Why Democrats Are Hoping For An Upset In Mississippi
October 20, 2023
With a boyish grin and a bounce in his cowboy-booted step, Brandon Presley rounded the corner in a crowded parking lot at Jackson State University’s football stadium, where Charles Morris pulled him aside for a chat.
It was homecoming weekend, and thousands of the historically Black university’s alumni were grilling ribs and wings, sipping cocktails, and swaying to Yvette Michelle & DJ Jackson’s “Everyday and Everynight,” and other R&B classics blaring from makeshift sound systems.
Morris, a towering Jackson-based contractor clad in a Jackson State apron for manning a 4-foot wide grill, leaned over to whisper into Presley’s ear as he tried to break through the din of rival soundtracks in neighboring parts of the tailgate party.
His advice? Presley, the white Democratic nominee, needed to convince Black voters that he plans to restore state funding for historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, and reinvest in the city of Jackson.
In the eyes of Morris and many other Jacksonians, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) has treated the capital city, which is 83% Black and 26% impoverished, as an enemy to be tamed, rather than a constituency to be served.
Morris was satisfied with Presley’s affirmative reply, but he was also impressed that Presley showed up to begin with.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen a Democrat, especially of another skin color, walking through,” Morris told HuffPost. “That means he’s not afraid for one. And it means that he’s showing that he cares.”
Morris is one of many Mississippi Democrats, along with more than a few Republicans, who have effectively made an infamous anti-Biden slogan ― “Let’s go Brandon” ― their own.
A combination of unlikely factors have vaulted Presley, the public service commissioner who oversees state-regulated utilities in northern Mississippi, into contention for the governorship of one of the most Republican states in the country.
Reeves’ ethics scandals and his refusal to expand Medicaid have made him the third-most unpopular governor in the country. Mississippi did away with its Jim Crow-era requirement that gubernatorial candidates win both the popular vote and the majority of the state’s 122 state House districts. Presley, a “pro-life” social conservative and second cousin to Elvis from the small town of Nettleton, is one of the last Democrats in the state with a track record of winning Republican and independent support.
And perhaps most importantly, Presley has made outreach to Black residents, who make up about 38% of the state’s population and vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, a core part of his campaign.
“I made a deliberate choice when I got in this race that I was going to go all over the state, that I wanted to run a campaign that knitted the state together,” Presley told HuffPost in his upbeat, small-town drawl. “Mississippi is 40% Black, and I believe that, as a candidate for governor, you cannot expect Black voters to vote for you, but earn their votes by paying attention to the Black community.”
It’s not just a matter of idealism for Presley. Mississippi’s politics are so racially polarized that Democratic candidates routinely struggle to get 20% of the state’s white vote.
Generating high turnout among Black voters, who make up about 35% of the voting-eligible population, is the only way any Democrat has a real shot. Most experts believe that if Presley is to win, he would need Black voters to show up at least in proportion to their share of the voting-eligible population. In 2019, when the Democratic nominee for governor fell five percentage points short, Black voters made up 30% of the electorate, according to data obtained by HuffPost.
“There are a lot of [conservative] folks who are not fans of Tate, but that crossover vote is not enough for Brandon to win,” said Marvin King, a political science professor specializing in elections and ethnic politics at the University of Mississippi. “For Presley to win, he needs [a] very, very high Black turnout. And without it, he doesn’t have a chance.”
“It doesn’t need to be Barack Obama level [Black] turnout, but it needs to be higher than any of the recent Democratic gubernatorial candidates have gotten,” King added.
Given the reality of Mississippi’s forbidding political demography for Democrats, one might think that every statewide Democratic nominee in the state would zealously court Black voters.
But previous Democratic nominees have put in far less work than Presley, who also attended the homecoming game at another HBCU, Alcorn State University, in the Mississippi Delta, on Oct. 7. Those visits were part of Presley’s swing through all 82 counties in the state, including those in the most remote, predominantly Black parts of the Delta. His campaign is also spending more than $100,000 to advertise on Black radio stations.
By contrast, then-Attorney General Jim Hood, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 2019, did not visit Jackson State, or Alcorn State. He declined to endorse Jennifer Riley Collins, a Black woman who was the Democratic nominee to replace him as attorney general. Those decisions were part of a pattern, many Black Democrats say, of Hood being insufficiently attentive to Black voters.
Black elected officials in the state took notice. Hood did not ask for an endorsement from U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi’s sole Democratic member of Congress. And Thompson did not endorse Hood, who ended up getting just shy of 47% of the vote.
State Rep. Daryl Porter, a Democrat from Pike County in the southwestern part of the state, faulted Hood for putting too much emphasis on courting persuadable white voters, rather than juicing turnout among reliably Democratic Black voters.
“Previous candidates have focused on rural whites,” said Porter, who is Black. “There’s not too much you can do to sway a Trump person. I don’t care how you twist, turn and bend ― they are where they are.”
Critically though, Presley has sought Thompson’s support. Thompson endorsed Presley shortly after he entered the race in January.
“Mississippians deserve a leader who cares,” Thompson said at the time. “That’s who Brandon Presley is, it’s exactly what he will do and why he has my support.”
Thompson campaigned with Presley in the overwhelmingly Black Delta region in August. And House Democratic Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina ― the highest ranking Black House member ― joined Thompson in Jackson this past weekend to meet with local Democrats and campaign for Presley in the capital city.
One of the big gripes Black Democrats have with Reeves is what they see as a punitive approach to the city of Jackson. The GOP-dominated legislature has twice passed funding for upgrades to a major Jackson park, as well as to renovate a public city pool, the parking lot at the city’s convention center, and the city’s planetarium. Reeves vetoed the money both times.
And this past April, Reeves signed a bill expanding the authority of the state Capitol Police to almost the entire city, and appointed un-elected judges and prosecutors to handle crimes committed in a broad area around the state Capitol building, which happens to be one of the whitest and least dangerous parts of the city.
Sinatra Harris, a local radio DJ spinning records for a specific tailgate party in the Jackson State football stadium parking lot, stopped Presley as he walked by and invited him to give an impromptu speech. Presley promised to “bully” the people present to make sure they turned out to vote for him, because, Harris said of Reeves: “Cuz got to go.” (“That don’t mean we [cousins], that mean I’m puttin’ you out,” Harris explained later.)
Harris, who is named after the 20th-century crooner Frank Sinatra, whom his aunt cared for as a nurse, is particularly angry at Reeves for subjecting city residents to what he sees as the draconian tactics of the Capitol Police.
“I live right in the area where Capitol Police is abusing people,” he told me.
In addition, the Biden administration has accused 16 states of shortchanging HBCUs, including Mississippi, which owes its HBCUs nearly $258 million. Republican legislators’ refusal to entertain a proposal to fund a new football stadium for the JSU Tigers is a particular sore point. (The stadium is in need of expensive repairs, and the massive homecoming crowd on Saturday was clearly a strain on the facility’s resources.)
Surrounded by a crowd of JSU fans chanting, “Tate Reeves has got to go,” Presley promised at Saturday’s tailgate party to return to the JSU and Alcorn State homecoming games every year of his governorship, and deliver the funding that the HBCUs lacked “not just in an election year.”
In between discussions with voters, Presley told reporters that he plans to treat JSU and the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) as “the two major economic engines” for the state’s struggling capital city. He anticipates being able to use the state’s $4 billion budget surplus to both eliminate taxes on groceries, and provide JSU and UMMC the needed resources for upgrades.
The most important parts of Presley’s pitch to Black voters though are the same ones he uses to woo the largely white bloc of swing voters who might normally vote for a Republican.
He is running as a “populist at heart” focused on expanding Medicaid in the state and cleaning up corruption in the state capitol.
“The fight is not right versus left, it’s the people on the outside versus people on the inside,” Presley told reporters. “Tate Reeves is on the inside.”
Specifically, Presley ties Reeves to the misuse and redirection of $77 million from the state’s means-tested cash welfare fund to finance pet projects for well-connected individuals like former NFL star Brett Favre. Reeves was lieutenant governor, not governor, at the time that most of the money was squandered, and denies any knowledge of, or involvement in, the scandal.
But Reeves also fired a special attorney hired to lead efforts to claw back the money when the lawyer began homing in on former Gov. Phil Bryant and a conservative talk radio station. And Reeves’ former personal trainer, Paul Lacoste, now being sued by the state, was at least under the impression that his connection to Reeves had ensured his receipt of a $1.3 million payment to his fitness bootcamp.
More recently, Reeves has gotten in hot water for using the state airplane to attend a variety of political events, including a Mardi Gras party in 2020.
“Tate Reeves governs where the lobbyists and the special interests groups lead him,” said Robert Latham, who directed the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency under Bryant, but is now supporting Presley. “I don’t know if I would call that governing.”
Reeves, the son of a wealthy businessman who bankrolled his son’s first campaign for public office, is a convenient foil for Presley, who grew up in poverty after his father died when he was a child.
“It makes me way more real,” Presley said. “I understand where the working poor are in Mississippi.”
Presley is running on a suite of ethics and campaign-finance reforms designed to, among other things, limit lobbyist influence, and preclude the firing of another independent investigator into the welfare scandal.
The other central issue in Presley’s campaign is expanding Medicaid. Mississippi has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country, with about 19% of residents living below the poverty line.
But Mississippi is one of just 10 states still refusing to adopt the Affordable Care Act’s incentives to ensure Medicaid covers all state residents with earnings at or near the federal poverty level. Under the terms of the ACA, or Obamacare, the federal government picks up 90% of the costs associated with the expansion.
Reeves’ opposition is such that he even admonished Republican lawmakers in his 2023 State of the State address not to agree to “the expansion of Obamacare, welfare, and socialized medicine.”
Reeves did unveil a plan in September to increase state payments to hospitals, but the proposal would do nothing for the state’s uninsured population.
Expanding Medicaid would eventually result in the enrollment of 230,000 more adults in the program, including at least 100,000 working people who are currently uninsured due to the ACA’s coverage gap.
Several of Presley’s supporters at JSU brought up the topic with Presley unprompted, and often shared their stories about people who cannot afford health care.
“Regardless of if you’re Black, white, Republican, Democrat ― everyone needs health care,” said Eltorry Ficklin, an educator from Gluckstadt.
And state Rep.-elect Timaka James-Jones (D), who is currently clerk of Humphreys County in the Delta, tearfully recounted the tragic story of her niece, Harmony Ball-Stribling, an educator. In July 2021, Ball-Stribling was days away from her due date to give birth and was experiencing severe chest pains, so her husband drove her from their home in Belzoni to the nearest hospital about 25 miles away in Yazoo City, reasoning that it would be much faster than waiting for an ambulance to make the same trip. (The hospital in Belzoni had closed in 2013.)
Ball-Stribling’s symptoms got much worse during the ride and emergency medical personnel informed her husband, Byron Stribling, by phone, that he needed to pull over and perform CPR while he waited for an ambulance that was slow to arrive. She and her unborn daughter, Harper, died that night along the highway, three miles from the hospital.
While Ball-Stribling had health insurance coverage, James-Jones believes that Medicaid expansion could have ensured the presence of a hospital closer to home.
“She could still be here with her new baby daughter and with her husband because that was preventable,” James-Jones said.
Adopting Medicaid expansion would indeed unlock $1.3 billion in new federal funds for the state’s health care providers, according to a 2021 report by the state’s economist.
The sum would be a lifeline to the state’s cash-strapped hospitals, especially in rural areas. Five rural Mississippi hospitals have closed since 2005; 33 out of the remaining 74 are at risk of closing. Many other hospitals that have stayed open have saved money by cutting important services like surgery.
It’s a political winner as well. The vast majority of state residents across party lines support the idea. And Jason White, the next Republican speaker of the state House of Representatives, has said that he plans to “have full discussions” about Medicaid expansion in the next legislative session.
“Our hospital needs that funding,” said Chip Wood, a Republican alderman in the town of Corinth who is backing Presley. “Tate’s totally against it. Brandon is open arms to it.”
Wood printed and distributed bumper stickers that say, “Republicans for Presley. Let’s go Brandon!” before Presley officially announced his bid. And he appears in a TV spot with other Republicans affirming that Presley is “pro-life,” supportive of the Second Amendment, and had a record of cutting taxes as mayor of Nettleton. “Let’s go Brandon!” the Republican officials conclude at the end.
Presley barely uses the word “Democrat” and would not tell me whether he plans to vote for President Joe Biden.
“I am totally concentrated on Nov. 7,” he said, referring to his own election.
That hasn’t stopped Reeves from trying to make the race a referendum on Biden and the Democratic Party. In a TV ad, he faults Presley for sounding like he opposed the state’s new ban on gender-related medical procedures for minors, and then walking it back, though Presley insists in a rebuttal ad that he has, at the very least, been consistent in his opposition to gender reassignment surgeries and that he would not try to undo the current, blanket ban.
“Once upon a time, just because you were a conservative, doesn’t mean you were a Republican. And that’s no longer the case,” said King, the Ole Miss political scientist. “Ideology and partisanship very neatly align now. And so there’s not a lot of wiggle room if you’re not the conservative candidate.”
“Brandon is working hard to earn every last vote, building a strong coalition across party lines — including through historic investments in Black voter outreach — and offering Mississippians a positive vision to end the culture of corruption, expand Medicaid, and cut taxes for working people,” DGA spokesperson Izzi Levy said in a statement.
Porter, the state representative from Pike County, told me that if Reeves wins a second term, “It’s gonna suck, because I believe we have a vindictive governor currently.”
But Presley, with his combination of attentiveness to Black voters and swing voters, could still be a model for future contenders.
“It leaves me hopeful that someone will at least take his blueprint and build on it,” Porter said.