UPDATE: A state Democratic Party executive committee meeting scheduled for Thursday night has been cancelled. This story has been updated to include that information.
Longtime state Rep. Earle Banks on Thursday entered a contentious race for the chairmanship of the Mississippi Democratic Party.
And on Thursday afternoon, the party canceled a planned Thursday-night teleconference meeting to elect new officers because of Banks and potentially others entering the race for the chairmanship.
Banks, who has reportedly been suffering from COVID-19 recently, in a message to committee members assured them, “I am on the mend,” and not too sick to run for the office.
A 28-year veteran lawmaker who has served as vice chairman, or second in command, of the state Democratic Party since 2016, Banks said: “This is no time to go back to the leadership of the past. It is time for the Mississippi Democratic Party to have proven leadership that has decades of experience in the party.”
Banks’ entrance into the race comes as longtime state Appeals Court Judge Tyree Irving mounts a challenge to oust party Chairman Bobby Moak, who’s held the position since 2016.
In addition to their service together the past four years as the party’s top leaders, Moak, a former longtime lawmaker, and Banks served together in the state House for many years, where Moak was minority leader.
READ MORE: Inside the battle for control of the Mississippi Democratic Party
Irving this week told Mississippi Today that 45 members of the party’s newly elected 80-member executive committee have pledged support to him, and another eight have told others they’ll vote for him.
Many Democratic leaders and candidates have decried a lack of leadership in the party and support for candidates, particularly amid the party’s dismal showing in the 2019 statewide elections. Republicans swept all statewide offices last year, solidifying supermajority control of the state Legislature and increasing down-ticket wins on the local level.
Some party elders have also criticized Moak and other party leaders for failing to devote resources to electing Black candidates, even as white voters have left the party in droves and Black voters have become a substantial majority of the party’s base. The last six Democratic Party chairmen, including Moak, have been white. Irving and Banks are Black.
For his part, Moak has recently said the party has offered much organized help to candidates in the latest election cycles, has created an unprecedented social media outreach and had fundraising success under his leadership.
Irving and others have accused Moak of delaying a leadership election since the new committee was elected in May because of the move to unseat him. Using a provision in the party’s constitution, Irving supporters had forced a special meeting for Saturday. But after that meeting was called, Moak called one for Thursday night.
On Thursday Moak sent a message to committee members saying the Thursday meeting was canceled, “Due to the entry of at least 3 candidates for office that I have seen today, and acknowledging the concerns some have for that meeting this afternoon.” He said the special called Saturday meeting will be held as scheduled.
Moak also included results of an “independent, in-depth analysis of the MS Democratic Party” that he said shows “many highlights to be proud of — like our current staff’s work and strong finances.” He said it also identifies weaknesses such as a lack of engagement with county and local organizations “along with a game plan for moving ahead.”