Brandon Presley, a Democrat in his fourth term as a Mississippi utilities regulator, announced Thursday that he is running for governor this year, saying he believes state government and the current Republican governor are disconnected from the needs of working people.
“When you’re more concerned about how much campaign money you can raise than you are with how you can raise the quality of life for the people who are the owners of state government, there’s something bad screwed up,” Presley, a 45-year-old distant cousin of Elvis Presley, told The Associated Press in an interview.
Gov. Tate Reeves, 48, last week filed papers to seek a second term. He is the only Republican in the race so far. Bill Waller Jr., a former Mississippi Supreme Court chief justice who lost to Reeves in the 2019 Republican primary for governor, has said he is considering another run.
Presley will face at least one candidate in the Democratic primary. Gregory Wash ran a low-budget race for governor in 2019 and has filed to run again.
Mississippi, Louisiana and Kentucky are the only states electing governors this year.
In a phone interview Thursday as he was driving in north Mississippi, Presley said a welfare misspending scandal and the financial struggles of several hospitals show that state government is failing. He said Mississippi has had “wink-and-nod cronyism” for too long, and he wants to tighten ethics rules and campaign finance laws.
“I ain’t never owned a tennis racket, I ain’t never had a sweater wrapped around my waist and I ain’t never been a member of a country club,” Presley said. “I’m in Chickasaw County right now. I understand this fella going in there right now to get him a sausage and biscuit to go to work. When my name goes on that ballot, the working families of Mississippi’s names go on the ballot.”
When Reeves announced last week, he said voters should reelect him because Mississippi has limited abortion rights, expanded workforce development, increased teacher salaries and reduced the income tax while he’s been in office. Reeves served two terms as state treasurer and two terms as lieutenant governor before winning the governor’s race four years ago.
Presley was elected mayor of his hometown of Nettleton in 2001, weeks before his 24th birthday, a place so small that he describes it as “a no-stoplight town.”
In 2007, he was elected to the Mississippi Public Service Commission, representing the northern third of the state. He opposed development of a $7.5 billion coal-fueled power plant in eastern Kemper County.
Soon after Presley filed qualifying papers Thursday, he was endorsed by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson — one of the most powerful Democrats in Mississippi. Thompson is the state’s only Black congressman and Presley, who is white, will need to appeal to a diverse base of voters in a state where 38% of residents are Black.
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Thompson said in a statement that Presley “has dedicated his career to fighting to improve the lives of all Mississippians.”
“Right now, our state is in desperate need of a leader who will put the people first and stamp out corruption, not embrace it,” Thompson said.
Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Frank Bordeaux said Thursday that Presley is like a junior varsity version of the 2019 Democratic nominee for governor, then-Attorney General Jim Hood, but that Presley is “more liberal.”
“Governor Tate Reeves has done an exceptional job leading the state through unprecedented times,” Bordeaux wrote on Twitter.
Republicans have held the Mississippi governorship for most of the past three decades, since contractor Kirk Fordice unseated Democratic Gov. Ray Mabus in 1991. The only Democrat to serve as governor since then was attorney Ronnie Musgrove, who served one term before he was unseated by Washington lobbyist and former Republican National Committee chair Haley Barbour in 2003.
Presley recently became engaged to a Katelyn Mabus, a cousin of the former governor. Presley was born weeks before the death of his famous relative. Brandon Presley said his grandfather and Elvis Presley’s grandfather were brothers.
Feb. 1 is the deadline for candidates in Mississippi to qualify for statewide, regional, legislative and county offices. Party primaries are Aug. 8, with runoffs Aug. 29. The general election is Nov. 7, and runoffs are Nov. 28.