Mississippi Sen. Jeremy England has raised over $1,600 for a breast cancer charity after a critic called him a “groomer” because he wore a pink onesie with a mesh skirt and dyed his hair to match for a 2020 fundraiser.
The Vancleave Republican told the Mississippi Free Press on Wednesday that he decided to “see if we can’t raise some money off of some dirty politics today and turn this into a good cause while calling people out for shameful behavior.”
England said the criticism began after an advertisement aired on local television Tuesday evening in which he expressed his support for incumbent Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s re-election in the Aug. 8 Republican primary. Soon after it aired, he received a text message from Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, who is supporting Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, in the lieutenant governor primary.
“My family and I were just sitting there eating dinner and a text pops up from Melanie Sojourner—just my picture there with pink hair and a pink onesie. … It was an obvious attempt to let me know that she thought she had a shameful picture of me. It felt like they were trying to retaliate or bully me,” he said.
England said he explained to the Natchez senator that he wore the costume to raise money for a breast cancer charity during Halloween 2020 when he participated in the Real Men Wear Pink awareness program.
“Back in 2020, it was very difficult to raise money for any sort of fundraiser at the time. We couldn’t hold events and gather in big groups, so my wife and I were trying to come up with ways to raise money, and she said, ‘Why don’t we pick three very embarrassing Halloween costumes and let them donate to which one they think is the worst?’ And I agreed to wear the winning embarrassing costume,” England told the Mississippi Free Press.
“So when that one ended up winning, I went around trick-or-treating with my kids, and I brought a bucket with me that said ‘Donations’ and I raised $300 that night. The whole neighborhood liked it. I did that with a purpose and an intent behind it.”
After England explained the costume’s purpose to Sojourner, “her response was something like, ‘Ok, well somebody just sent it to me,’” he said.
But the next morning, Hardy Case, a McDaniel volunteer and marijuana legalization activist, shared one of the photos on Twitter.
“Hosemann and his groomer weirdos don’t have a chance on August 8th,” Case wrote in a now-deleted tweet. The “groomer” epithet has been frequently used against LGBTQ+ people, but is also increasingly used against anyone who defies gender norms in any way.
England replied to the tweet and explained that he wore the outfit to raise money for breast cancer, but the McDaniel volunteer rejected his rationale. “You dressed up like a woman,” Case wrote. “Grown men should never dress up like women; Mississippians don’t care what group it is. Mississippi folks have to deal with enough crap on TV and internet. Now they gotta deal with state senators dressing up like women? Not acceptable.”
Asked for an interview, Case sent a comment saying that he regrets his tweet about England.
“I deleted the tweet when I fully understood the context and would like to wish him the best of luck,” he wrote. “He should, however, use this opportunity to answer to all Mississippi cancer patients who still can’t get access to medical cannabis, why England fought against Initiative 65 and didn’t pass a ballot initiative restoration law for the past two years.”
In an interview Wednesdy, McDaniel told the Mississippi Free Press that he did not condone Case’s remarks and said he did not know who began circulating the photos.
Sojourner did not respond to requests for comment for this story. She vowed last year to fight to prevent Hosemann from winning re-election after 2021 redistricting turned her Republican-friendly district into an over 60%-Black and Democratic-leaning district. After calling the new map a “political assassination” and saying Hosemann “silenced a Republican woman,” the Natchez senator decided not to run for re-election.
‘I’m Bigger Than That’
Sen. Jeremy England shared screenshots of his interactions with Hardy Case and Sen. Melanie Sojourner in a Facebook post Wednesday.
“Yesterday, an ad I agreed to be featured in was released by the campaign to re-elect Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann. … Now I am receiving threats and being bullied. Or at least that is the idea – but I’m bigger than that,” he wrote as he explained the story to his Facebook followers.
“I have no shame in the pictures being shared, I only wish it was being shared to help raise money for breast cancer awareness as intended,” the senator added.
Supportive comments quickly poured in from constituents and fellow elected leaders. Several asked Sen. Jeremy England for a link to donate to support breast cancer awareness, including Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson—his predecessor in Senate District 51 and a past ally of Sen. Chris McDaniel.
“Senator England, I’ve got my own (re-election) race to run so I’m not engaging in any others, but would you mind sending me a link to make a donation for the fight against breast cancer? Hopefully, others will join me,” Watson wrote.
England reached out to Real Men Wear Pink, which helped him set up a special fundraising page for the American Cancer Society featuring a photo of him in the pink costume that critics had used against him earlier in the day. “Donate to the American Cancer Society to save lives and fund the future of breast cancer research, patient support, and advocacy through Men Wear Pink,” the page says.
The $1,674.88 Sen. England had raised as of 10:30 Thursday morning included a $100 donation from Watson and a $52 donation from Lynn Hosemann, the lieutenant governor’s wife. England’s goal is to raise $2,500.
McDaniel Condemns Criticisms
On Wednesday, Sen. Chris McDaniel told the Mississippi Free Press that he did know not who began circulating the photos of England. When asked about Sen. Melanie Sojourner, who served as his campaign manager when he made an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate in 2014, he said he did not know. “She is not being paid for this campaign. She is a volunteer,” he said. McDaniel said he did not condone Case’s “groomer” rhetoric.
“Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I happen to, despite the fact Jeremy and I are on different sides of this race, I happen to like Jeremy,” the Jones County senator said. “And I appreciate the fact he was fundraising for a very important charity. But to think that a candidate can control hundreds and hundreds of volunteers all across the state seems to be unreasonable. Sometimes volunteers behave in unreasonable ways. … The distinction is I don’t rush to Facebook to air dirty laundry.”
He added that the “modern political environment is very toxic in many ways and passionate, and these volunteers are going to behave in inappropriate ways,” but “you can’t micromanage volunteers.”
England was less conciliatory than McDaniel. He said he supported the Jones County senator in his tumultuous 2014 U.S. Senate bid but later changed his mind.
“It was a mistake. He’s not the type of person he portrays himself to be,” he said. “He’s not a hard worker. He’s all talk and no action. I’ve referred to him before as a lion tamer. I think he rattles the cage and throws red meat out, but there’s no bravery in what he does. He’s just an entertainer.”
Earlier this month, a McDaniel regional chair, Don Abernathy, and a surrogate, Sen. Kathy Chism, shared images of a flyer that they claimed showed Black Lives Matter had endorsed Hosemann’s campaign. Mississippi Today reported that Abernathy said he received “directly from the campaign,” but that McDaniel’s campaign said they had “intentionally not distributed” it because “we have not directly confirmed that could invoke undue harm to our fellow Republicans.”
Chism, a New Albany Republican, criticized Hosemann in June for leading efforts to retire Mississippi’s old Confederate-themed flag in 2020. Both she and Abernathy have since deleted the unverified flyer.
Hosemann’s campaign has accused McDaniel of dirty tricks, with the lieutenant governor calling him a “pathological liar” in a tweet Wednesday.
McDaniel, who fashions himself as a more conservative alternative to Hosemann, will be on the Republican primary ballot with the incumbent on Aug. 8.
Voters who were registered to vote by July 10 can choose to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primaries, where they will select nominees for all statewide and legislative offices. The general election will follow on Nov. 7.
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