Democrat Brandon Presley Launches Populist Campaign for Mississippi Governor

Democratic Public Service Commissioner for the Northern District Brandon Presley
Mississippi Public Service Commissioner for the Northern District Brandon Presley, a Democrat, said he is running for governor of Mississippi in a video announcement on Jan. 12, 2023. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Brandon Presley, the Democratic public service commissioner for Mississippi’s northern district, revealed he is running for governor in an announcement video this morning, emphasizing a populist message focused on corruption and rural infrastructure.

If Democrats choose him as their party’s nominee in the August 2023 primaries, the 45-year-old candidate from Nettleton, Miss., would likely face incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, who is running for re-election this year. Former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller, who ran against Reeves in 2019, has also expressed an interest in challenging him again in the GOP primary.

“We’ve got a great state filled with good people, but horrible politicians, and that includes our governor. Tate Reeves is a man with zero conviction and maximum corruption,” Presley claims in the announcement video. “He looks out for himself and his rich friends instead of the people who put him into office. And he’s been caught in the largest public corruption scandal in state history.”

The Democratic candidate was referring to the massive welfare scandal involving the misuse of Temporary Assistance For Needy Families Funds. Between 2016 and 2019, former Mississippi Department of Human Services Director John Davis and others diverted more than $77 million in TANF funds away from the poor and toward well-connected individuals and their causes, including sports celebrities like Brett Favre.

But despite Presley’s claim, investigators have not accused Reeves, who was lieutenant governor at the time, of any wrongdoing. After news of the scandal broke in early 2020, Reeves returned campaign donations from defendant Nancy New; he had filmed a pro-public education ad at her private school months earlier during his 2019 campaign.

The governor has also faced criticisms for firing Brad Pigott, the attorney who formerly represented the State in a civil lawsuit seeking to recover millions in misspent TANF funds. In December, the Mississippi Free Press reported that Favre sought Reeves’ help obtaining state funds to complete projects at his alma mater after MDHS stopped using TANF money on them, but his conversations with Reeves do not mention welfare dollars. Investigators have not accused Favre of a crime.

“We can build a Mississippi where we fight corruption, not embrace it,” Presley says in his campaign announcement video. “Where we cut taxes, lower the cost of health care and create good jobs. A Mississippi where we finally focus on the future, not the past.”

‘Straight Down To The Dirt’

Presley’s announcement video takes viewers on a tour of Nettleton, Miss., where Presley grew up and served as mayor from 2001 until 2007. He recounts growing up in the small Lee County and Monroe County town, which has a population of under 2,000.

“Growing up here, we could see through the floor straight down to the dirt,” he says in the video, referring to the childhood home where he still lives. “My mama worked the local garment factory before it shut down, then she taught preschool at a church up the street. She was our rock and never let us feel as poor as we were.”

In the video, Presley recounts the loss of his father, “an alcoholic who never made it to recovery” and who “was murdered in cold blood” when he son was 8 years old.

At one point, Presley holds up an aged photograph of his cousin, singer Elvis Presley.

“My cousin grew up just down the road in Tupelo. You’ve probably heard of him,” the candidate says.

The video notes that after college, Presley returned to Nettleton and successfully ran for mayor.

“When I took office, Nettleton was in a heap of trouble with a mountain of debt,” he says. “But we jerked all of the slack out of the chain to get things working again and over the next six years we balanced the budget every year and cut taxes twice,” he says.

Later, as a regulator of the State’s public utilities, Presley says he opposed “boondoggles” like the failed Kemper County power plant, “brought high-speed internet service all the way out here to some of the most rural and forgotten places in our state” and voted against rate hikes.

“I had gone from being a kid who grew up so poor we had the power cut off to being the watchdog in charge of regulating those same power companies my mama couldn’t afford to pay,” Presley says.

Reeves: ‘Good Things Are Happening In Mississippi’

No Democrat has won a governor’s race in Mississippi since Ronnie Musgrove in 1999. In 2019, Reeves defeated Democrat Jim Hood, the former attorney general, by a 52%-to-47% margin.

Like past Democratic candidates, Presley has staked out conservative positions on issues like abortion and guns. Though he does not mention either topic in his announcement video, he has repeatedly described himself as “pro-life” and a supporter of Second Amendment Rights in the past.

After filing for re-election, Reeves declared in a Jan. 8 op-ed for the Magnolia Tribune that “good things are happening in Mississippi” under his watch. He cited a number of policies, including a teacher pay raise, a ban on transgender athletes in school sports, overturning Roe v. Wade and banning abortion and signing a bill into law that he misleadingly claims “banned critical race theory.”

Gov. Tate Reeves
Incumbent Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, filed to run for re-election as governor on Jan. 3, 2023. Photo by Kayode Crown

“There’s more work to be done, and I believe there’s a lot that we can accomplish during this 2023 legislative session,” the governor wrote. “My core promise to you is this: I will continue fighting to ensure your government responsibly spends your money, protect your constitutional rights and defend the values that Mississippians hold dear.”

Primary elections for all of Mississippi’s legislative and statewide offices, including secretary of state, are on Aug. 8, 2023. The general election will follow on Nov. 7, 2023.

Editor’s Note: Attorney Brad Pigott, who is mentioned in the story above, has previously donated to the nonprofit that runs the Mississippi Free Press. Donations have no effect on coverage.

Can you support the Mississippi Free Press?

The Mississippi Free Press is a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) focused on telling stories that center all Mississippians.

With your gift, we can do even more important stories like this one.