Mandy Gunasekara, a Republican candidate on the primary ballot for the Northern District Public Service Commissioner post, answers questions regarding a residency challenge in Hinds County Circuit Court, Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis - Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
The residency of the Northern District Public Service Commissioner candidate was challenged by a DeSoto County candidate for District Attorney. She plans to appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
On Wednesday, special appointed Judge Lamar Pickard heard arguments on whether Mandy Gunasekara would be eligible to run for Northern District Public Service Commissioner. At issue was whether she had an established residency or citizenship in Mississippi as of November 7, 2018, five years prior to the date of the 2023 General Election as statutorily required.
RELATED: Judge Hears Challenge to Gunasekara’s qualifications for office
Gunasekara served as a Senior Advisor and then the Chief of Staff in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington D.C. during the Trump Administration.
DeSoto County resident Matthew Barton, a candidate for District Attorney, first brought the challenge before the Republican State Executive Committee where it was dismissed. Barton then filed an appeal, prompting the court action this week.
Thursday evening, Judge Pickard ruled that Gunasekara failed to meet the requirements under Mississippi law to be placed on the ballot of the Republican Primary for the race. He outlined his reasoning in a letter to both counsels.
The determination of one’s citizenship must be determined by the persons intent and her actions which demonstrate that intent. This Court must examine all of the evidence in order to ascertain the Respondent’s intent as to her citizenship on November 7, 2018. There can be little argument that the display of one’s citizenship is clearly indicated by casting a ballot. It is admitted by the Respondent that she voted in Washington, D.C. on November 6, 2018, clearly expressing her declaration of citizenship in Washington, D.C. at that time. There is nothing in the evidence that indicates any change in that intent in the following 24-hour period, which would be necessary in order to establish citizenship in the State of Mississippi on November 7, 2018.
There is a plethora of evidence supporting Respondent’s Washington, D.C. citizenship on November 7, 2018. It is clear that Respondent did, in fact, relocate and change her citizenship to the State of Mississippi at some point shortly after November 7, 2018. However, that had not occurred on November 7, 2018. Even if this Court found all of that evidence successfully rebutted, which the Court expressly does not do, when all of the evidence is considered as a whole, it is clear, and the Court so finds, that the Respondent was a citizen of Washington, D.C. on November 7, 2018. Accordingly, Respondent fails to meet the requirements under Mississippi law to be placed on the ballot of the Republican Primary at this time.
Gunasekara’s attorney, Spencer Ritchie, told Magnolia Tribune Friday morning that they would be appealing the latest ruling to the state Supreme Court.
“The Judge’s ruling is a departure from well-established precedent that was followed by the Mississippi Republica Party when it determined Mandy was qualified for this race,” Ritchie said. “We look forward to the Mississippi Supreme Court correcting this decision.”
Gunasekara told the Magnolia Tribune that the fight is not over, saying, “it’s merely on to round three.”
“Mississippi voters deserve an experienced candidate that will deliver on building a brighter future in our great state guided by conservative values, and I intend to deliver on this promise,” she said.
There are two other Republican candidates in the Northern PSC race – Tanner Newman and State Rep. Chris Brown. No Democrat filed to run for the seat being vacated by Brandon Presley who decided to run for Governor in 2023. Presley has served on the Public Service Commission for four terms.