Willie Simmons, a Mississippi transportation commissioner and one of the top Democratic elected officials in the state, blasted Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Moak in an email to the party’s 80-member executive committee last week and endorsed the man running to unseat Moak as party chairman.
Simmons laid out a long list of grievances to committee members, including that Moak and state party officials “did nothing to assist” during his 2019 campaign for central district transportation commissioner, and that the party has done little to support Black candidates running for office.
“The facts appear to suggest that we do not want real inclusion in the party, and discrimination practices are alive and well in the Mississippi Democratic Party,” Simmons wrote on July 18. “We are suffering from having the knees of members of our own party on our necks and we cannot breathe.”
Simmons continued: “If we are going to win elections going forward we have to overhaul the Party and revise our mission… Today, the Mississippi Democratic Party must have effective leadership that has a commitment to inclusion.”
The email began a back-and-forth exchange between Simmons and Moak, all copying the 80 members of the executive committee. The exchange, ahead of a contentious internal election to decide the next party leader, included direct and indirect character criticisms and a photo of Moak meeting with Simmons’ Democratic primary opponent at a Jackson restaurant.
Moak was elected party chairman in 2016 and is again running for the top leadership position this year. Tyree Irving, a former Mississippi Court of Appeals judge who is Black, is running against Moak. The 80 members of the party’s executive committee will elect the party’s chairman later this week. In his email last week, Simmons directly endorsed Irving in the chair race.
Willie Simmons-Bobby Moak Emails (PDF)
Simmons also wrote in his initial email that party leadership “silenced” former party staffer Jacquie Amos, who was “made ineffective in assisting me and other Black candidates on the ticket.” Amos, a Black woman who was one of the party’s three paid staffers in 2019, resigned in December after working seven years for the party.
The day after Simmons sent the initial email, Moak fired off a 1,300-word reply and responded directly to many of Simmons’ points. Moak wrote that party officials remained in close contact with Simmons’ campaign in 2019.
“First of all, I understand and am sympathetic to the impulse to embellish, exaggerate and distort certain facts while campaigning,” Moak wrote in a July 19 email to Simmons, copying all 80 members of the party’s executive committee. “It’s something I’ve seen often in my dealings over the years with Republicans. In this setting… we must strive to keep an honest dialog and avoid the tendencies to mislead members of our own party. There is a known record here, we’ve saved the receipts and our records do not support a number of the claims you are making.”
Moak also refuted the notion that he “silenced” Amos, the former party staffer.
“Secondly, any insinuation that any member of our staff was silenced is false,” Moak wrote. “MDP provided tremendous flexibility to Ms. Amos when she made her departure known, and accommodated employment while she tried to join numerous campaigns. This accommodation is a far cry from silencing — it’s laying a path forward for a planned staff departure.”
Earlier this year, Mississippi Today chronicled how dysfunction within the state Democratic Party led to the historic 2019 losses, how the state party leaders established and pushed no clear identity, and how the party’s leadership has failed to support and devote resources to Black candidates and constituents.
In his lengthy email, Moak laid out his platform for the chair election, pointing to 22 specific items the party has accomplished during his four years as chairman.
Simmons replied to Moak, writing: “Please know that I never received a call from you during or after the 2019 election.” Simmons also attached a May 2019 photo of Moak meeting at a Jackson restaurant with Marcus Wallace, who ran against Simmons in the August 2019 Democratic primary.
“Today, I am like the late Fannie Lou Hamer, I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Simmons wrote. “We must all work overtime to ensure that Vice President Biden is elected as our next President of these United States. In doing so, we must fix our Mississippi Democratic Party.”