(AP Photos/Rogelio V. Solis)
A total of 56 other Democratic candidates did not file a statement of economic interest by deadline.
Three Democratic candidates qualified to run for governor this year. Frontrunner Brandon Presley was one. African American candidates Bob Hickingbottom and Greg Wash were the other two.
But as of Friday morning, only Brandon Presley remained standing. Bobby Harrison at Mississippi Today reported that Mississippi Democratic Party voted Thursday night not to certify Hickingbottom’s and Wash’s candidacy. The given reason for the decision was that the candidates had failed to file a “statement of economic interest” with the Ethics Commission.
The Democratic Party’s decision raises serious questions about the certification of fifty-six (56) other Democratic candidates. Five (5) other Democratic candidates for statewide office, and fifty-one (51) Democratic candidates for the Legislature, do not appear on the Ethics Commission’s website as having filed a statement of economic interest on or before the deadline to do so for this cycle. (List below).
If the legislative candidates were disqualified under the same standard applied to Hickingbottom and Wash, fourteen (14) seats in the Mississippi House and Senate would have no qualified candidates vying for office.
Magnolia Tribune sought comment from both Democratic Party Chairman Tyree Irving and Democratic Executive Director Andre Wagner. In written questions, we asked for confirmation of the basis of Hickingbottom’s and Wash’s disqualification, and whether the same standard had been applied to others. In response, we received a text from Chairman Irving Saturday afternoon declining comment “until after the process is complete,” but asking if we were aware of other candidates who were similarly situated to Hickingbottom and Wash.
Mississippi law requires a candidate for office to file a statement of economic interest within 15 days of the qualifying deadline. With a qualifying deadline this year of February 1st, candidates were required to file their statements for this cycle by Thursday, February 16th.
What is less clear is whether failure to do so is a disqualifying event. The same law that sets the deadline to file the statement expressly reads that a candidate is not even deemed “delinquent” until thirty (30) days after the statement deadline. In this case, that would be March 18th. At that point, a written notice is provided by the Ethics Commission. The non-compliant candidate then has fifteen (15) days to cure the defect before fines of $50 per day begin accruing. This would mean that it would be early April before a candidate could even begin incurring fines from the Ethics Commission for not filing the statement.
Nothing in the law indicates that filing a statement of economic interest is a condition of being certified as a candidate. But if under some new interpretation it is a disqualifying event, the question is why it would only apply to the two candidates in the gubernatorial race?
Bob Hickingbottom thinks racial politics are at play. “This is a situation where Brandon Presley does not want anyone to take the Black vote away from him.” In an interview on Saturday, Hickingbottom said he was informed, via email, on Friday morning that he had been disqualified.
Even with Hickingbottom and Wash in the race, most political prognosticators believed that Presley would easily emerge as the Democratic nominee. But there are also lingering memories of a 2015 gubernatorial primary that did not go according to party leadership’s expectations.
Vicki Slater, a white Democrat was the favorite that year. She raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the primary contest, only to lose by more than 60,000 votes to Robert Gray. Gray, an African American truck driver, raised no money, did not campaign, and did not even vote in the contest.
Frank Bordeaux, Chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party, said that for their part, the Republican Party has not viewed failure to file a “statement of economic interest” as a disqualifying event, but a matter governed separately by the Ethics Commission.
Below is a list of other Democratic candidates for statewide or legislative offices, who appear on the most recent candidate qualifying list, but who had not filed a statement of economic interest on or before February 16th of this year. Treasurer candidate Addie Green and HD 51 candidate Timaka James filed statements on Friday, February 17th, one day after the deadline reportedly used by the Democratic Party to exclude Hickingbottom and Wash. HD 56 candidate Sharon Moman and HD 66 candidate Fabian Nelson filed on Saturday, February 18th. The remainder did not show up on the Ethics Commission website as having filed as of press time on Sunday morning, February 19th.