Em­power Mis­sis­sippi has in­cum­bents in line of fire

The Commercial Appeal - - In The News - By Ron Maxey

As cam­paign­ing heats up in ad­vance of Mis­sis­sippi’s pri­mary elec­tions, charges and counter charges are bub­bling to the sur­face, in­clud­ing ques­tions about a DeSoto leg­is­la­tor’s con­tri­bu­tions.

Ash­ley Hen­ley, a teacher who is chal­leng­ing state Rep. Pat Nel­son of Southaven in the Aug. 4 GOP pri­mary, ques­tions in a re­cent re­lease the nearly $200,000 in non-item­ized cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions re­ported by Nel­son since 2012. Fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure laws do not re­quire iden­ti­fy­ing donors of $200 or less.

Nel­son scoffs at the claims, not­ing that the con­tri­bu­tions date to 2012, don’t vi­o­late any laws and ac­tu­ally rep­re­sent a level of grass roots sup­port in which he takes pride.

“I’m proud of all con­tri­bu­tions, but es­pe­cially the small ones,” Nel­son said. “Some of the large ones, you don’t know if they’re con­tribut­ing to ev­ery­body to cover the bases. But the small con­tri­bu­tions, those are peo­ple who re­ally sup­port you.”

Hen­ley coun­ters that Nel­son should say who con­tri­bu­tions are com­ing from.

“Cam­paign fi­nance re­ports are in­tended to show vot­ers where you re­ceive your money and where you spend it,” Hen­ley, who is chal­leng­ing Nel­son for the Dis­trict 40 House seat, said in a media re­lease. “I do not hide any­thing in my cam­paign fi­nance re­port, and nei­ther should Rep. Nel­son.”

Nel­son’s most re­cent cam­paign dis­clo­sure shows $67,230.27 cash on hand, in­clud­ing $4,500 in con­tri­bu­tions for the June 1-June 30 pe­riod cov­ered by the most re­cent re­port. All of the June con­tri­bu­tions are item­ized, a to­tal of seven con­tri­bu­tions of $250, $500 or, the largest, $2,000 from the Mis­sis­sippi Bankers As­so­ci­a­tion po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee.

Hen­ley’s re­port for the same pe­riod shows $6,974.60 cash on hand, with two large con­tri­bu­tions to­tal­ing $11,800 dur­ing June, both from the Em­power po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee.

Em­power Mis­sis­sippi is a PAC pro­mot­ing char­ter schools, an ini­tia­tive that has failed to gain much trac­tion in DeSoto County. The county has the state’s largest public school dis­trict, al­ways ranked highly in state ac­count­abil­ity stan­dards, so the idea of char­ter schools has failed to at­tract the level of public sup­port it has in some ar­eas of Mis­sis­sippi where public schools have strug­gled to pro­vide min­i­mal ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards.

The group has tar­geted DeSoto leg­isla­tive in­cum­bents in this year’s pri­maries and gen­eral elec­tion be­cause of what it sees as a lack of sup­port for prochar­ter leg­is­la­tion, and Nel­son says those ef­forts are be­hind the at­tacks on him and other DeSoto in­cum­bents in the state House and Se­nate.

In­deed, Em­power Mis­sis­sippi has tar­geted all leg­isla­tive races in the county, pour­ing money into chal­lengers’ cam­paigns in­clud­ing Hen­ley’s race against Nel­son.

DeSoto has seven House seats ei­ther en­tirely or par­tially within the county’s bound­aries, and six of them will have con­tested races in next month’s GOP pri­mary. The pri­maries are likely to de­cide who will win the seat af­ter the Novem­ber gen­eral elec­tion.

In ad­di­tion to Nel­son, state Reps. Wanda Jen­nings of Southaven, For­rest Hamil­ton of Olive Branch and Gene Al­day of Walls are fac­ing con­ser­va­tive pri­mary chal­lengers.

The in­cum­bents are mak­ing an is­sue of the money Em­power has put into six DeSoto County leg­isla­tive races so far, es­pe­cially be­cause the group has plenty more cash left. Em­power has raised $428,000 since its cre­ation a year ago and had $337,000 on hand as of June 10.

Of that money, $360,000 came from the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion for Chil­dren, a Washington group that ad­vo­cates for school choice, in­clud­ing char­ter schools and public sub­si­dies for chil­dren to at­tend pri­vate schools. Em­power Mis­sis­sippi ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Grant Callen said that af­ter his group gave fail­ing grades on ed­u­ca­tion choice to Jen­nings, Hamil­ton and Nel­son, “it should come as no sur­prise that we are sup­port­ing chal­lengers that are op­pos­ing some of the worst-rated in­cum­bents.”

Be­ware of a bite to the bill­fold if you park too long in Her­nando’s down­town square start­ing next month. And watch out for de­tours soon, when the city be­gins resur­fac­ing on busy Com­merce Street and Nes­bit Road.

Un­der an or­di­nance ap­proved by the board to take ef­fect in 30 days, street park­ing on the square’s “outer” perime­ter will be lim­ited to a max­i­mum of two hours Mon­day through Fri­day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Her­nando does not con­trol the county’s “in­ner” ring di­rectly ad­ja­cent to the DeSoto Court­house grounds.

Signs will go up soon, fol­low­ing a site in­spec­tion to de­ter­mine place­ment.

“Our down­town busi­nesses have had prob­lems with cus­tomer park­ing for years,” said Al­der­man Gary Hig­don, who re­viewed the is­sue with Al­der­man Michael McLen­don. “They say driv­ers keep cir­cling — and then they go some­place else to shop.”

The or­di­nance has teeth: The fine is $25 for each vi­o­la­tion, and if a ve­hi­cle shows more than eight un­paid ci­ta­tions, po­lice are em­pow­ered to “im­mo­bi­lize” it.

In another street mat­ter, al­der­men ac­cepted the $343,211 bid of LehmanRoberts Co. for resur­fac­ing of bustling Com­merce Street from the Gre­nada Rail­road tracks to In­ter­state 55.

It’s part of a $425,000 pack­age of which 80 per­cent is funded through a Mis­sis­sippi Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion grant ar­ranged by city plan­ning di­rec­tor Jared Darby through the Mem­phis Area Metropoli­tan Plan­ning Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“It’s go­ing to be a lit­tle hec­tic out there” on Com­merce dur­ing the ex­pected 26 work­ing days start­ing later this sum­mer, said city engi­neer Joe Frank Laud­erdale. “We’ll have to de­tour some traf­fic, and there may be some de­lays.”

But the sec­tion’s last sur­fac­ing was 20 years ago, and it’s time, he added.

Also in the pack­age is resur­fac­ing of Nes­bit Road from U.S. 51 to I-55.

Al­der­men ap­proved another bid, not to ex­ceed $76,126, from Al­bro Con­struc­tion of Horn Lake for ren­o­va­tions at Fire Sta­tion No. 1 on the south side of City Hall. Sleep­ing quar­ters for the three­p­er­son pumper crew will shift down­stairs to an old am­bu­lance bay, said Fire Chief Hu­bert Jones.

“It’s a safety mat­ter,” said Jones. “This will al­low the crew more than one way in and out of the sta­tion. We’ve been try­ing to get this done for a long time.”

Al­der­men wel­comed a fundrais­ing re­port from Der­ick Biglane of the Her­nando Soc­cer As­so­ci­a­tion sup­port group that showed grass-roots sup­port for fields. He said $23,300 was raised from 96 in­di­vid­u­als and busi­nesses just weeks af­ter a June 4 ap­peal for that amount for im­prove­ments on six acres of ir­ri­gated fields off Robert­son Road.

Biglane noted that Her­nando has un­der­gone “400 per­cent growth over the last 20 years” but is “near the bot­tom of sim­i­lar cities” when it comes to parks fa­cil­i­ties.

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