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Presley launches attack on Southern...

Presley launches attack on Southern Miss supporters

By: Russ Latino - August 30, 2023
Presley Southern Miss

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley accuses Mississippi business leaders of being crooks for the “crime” of giving money to the University of Southern Mississippi.

Desperation makes people do funny things. On Monday, Democratic gubernatorial challenger Brandon Presley stood in front of the Governor’s mansion he hopes to occupy and accused some of the state’s most respected business leaders of outright crookery. He did so without even a smidge of real evidence, or shame.

Presley argued that incumbent Republican Governor Tate Reeves should return campaign contributions from a long list of Mississippi business icons. He called the support “tainted TANF” funds and contended that Reeves’ donors were “connected” to the welfare scandal.

In support of this claim, his campaign handed out a list of the supposed culprits. Who were these horrible miscreants? Despite there being a circulated list, no one in the media has really said. Headlines and reporting have largely focused on Presley’s allegations of corruption.

A cynic might argue that the reason there’s been almost no reporting of the people on the list, or the purported “link” to the TANF welfare scandal contained in the document, is because doing so would immediately blow up Presley’s outlandish claims.

Among the men named by Presley were Joe Frank Sanderson, who served at the helm of Sanderson Farms for more than 30 years; Bill Yates, Jr. who built one of the most successful construction businesses in the nation; and Tommy and Jim Duff, the brothers behind Southern Tire Mart, and according to Forbes, Mississippi’s wealthiest people.

Sanderson Farms, Yates Construction, and Southern Tire Mart have been in business for decades. They are among the five biggest businesses in the entire state. Combined they have invested hundreds of millions in Mississippi’s economy, employed tens of thousands of people, and given away tens of millions of dollars to charitable causes.

Included in their giving is generous support of Mississippi’s universities. The Duffs, for instance, gave $26 million to the University of Mississippi to help fund construction of a science, technology, engineering and mathematics facility. What jerks!

The University of Southern Mississippi has also benefitted from the support of Sanderson, Yates and the Duffs, with combined gifts well into the millions.

Most rational people would view someone who has done well in life giving back to support education as commendable. That sort of thing generally puts you on positive lists. Help a university, get an ‘attaboy.’ Help them enough, maybe get a building with your name on it.

According to Presley, though, giving money to both Southern Miss and Reeves is proof positive that you are a scoundrel, tainted even.

Under the heading “connection to welfare scandal,” the “evidence” against Sanderson was that he is a bronze member of the USM Gallery of Benefactors. Yates “evidence” is membership in the “Black and Gold Society.” Tommy Duff had the audacity of being named an honorary member of the athletics foundation board. That’s it.

To put a fine point on it, I’m being quite sarcastic here, because the claims deserve dripping ridicule, not softly lent credence. There quite literally isn’t any evidence of any wrong doing by these men. They have been targeted for the “crime” of…checks notes…supporting Southern Miss and supporting Presley’s opponent.

But one thing is almost certain, Reeves will earn more Southern Miss supporters as a result of Presley’s antics on Monday. The Governor will probably raise a fair amount of campaign dollars off of it, too.

Setting aside the dishonesty of the attacks, it is hard to imagine it helps Presley in South Mississippi, where he needs to make up ground to have a chance, or in closing the fundraising gap with Reeves, which is large.

Perhaps the play is to go full Huey Long and take on Mississippi’s entire business community (along with our universities and their alumni). But Presley is not Kingfish and this is not 1928.

It was a hamfisted hail mary.

About the Author(s)
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Russ Latino

Russ is a proud Mississippian and the founder of Magnolia Tribune Institute. His research and writing have been published across the country in newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, National Review, USA Today, The Hill, and The Washington Examiner, among other prominent publications. Russ has served as a national spokesman with outlets like Politico and Bloomberg. He has frequently been called on by both the media and decisionmakers to provide public policy analysis and testimony. In founding Magnolia Tribune Institute, he seeks to build on more than a decade of organizational leadership and communications experience to ensure Mississippians have access to news they can trust and opinion that makes them think deeply. Prior to beginning his non-profit career, Russ practiced business and constitutional law for a decade. Email Russ: