Empower Mississippi has incumbents in line of fire
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.