Brandon Jones, policy director for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Action Funds, talks with Mississippi Today’s Bobby Harrison and Geoff Pender about results of the poll his organization commissioned on reinstating the ballot initiative process that was struck down by Mississippi Supreme Court.

Stream the episode here and read the transcript below and here.

Read the full transcript for this episode:

Bobby Harrison: [00:00:00] Hello, welcome to The Other Side. I’m Bobby Harrison, a political reporter at Mississippi Today. I’m here with my colleague, Geoff Pender. Geoff, how are you doing?

Geoff Pender: [00:00:16] Hey, Bobby. 

Bobby Harrison: [00:00:17] And we’re fortunate to have today as our guest Brandon Jones. Brandon is the policy director for the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund. And he’s here to talk about a number of things, but the primary issue he’s going to talk about is the poll that his organization has recently done on the initiative process, which was struck down by the Supreme Court. Brandon. Well, first of all, welcome. 

Brandon Jones: [00:00:39] Yeah, good morning. Good to be with you, Bobby and Geoff. Good to see both of you and happy to be part of this podcast that I listen to regularly. 

Bobby Harrison: [00:00:48] Thanks for being here. Let’s just get started. I mean, why did y’all do this poll? 

Brandon Jones: [00:00:54] Yeah. Well, as you both know, we, at this stage of the game, don’t have what I would call ballot initiative culture yet in Mississippi. We’re not a state like California that’s accustomed to voting on these things every year, or even, even Florida and other places that have passed some. But it’s kind of starting to be something that people are looking at more and more. And so this ballot initiative process has become a viable way for citizens to bring an issue up.

It’s just getting short shrift at the Capitol, or maybe getting ignored. You know, I’ve talked to  both of you in the past about restoration of rights. You know, Mississippi is pretty restrictive on who it allows to vote after they serve time. Well, last year, as an example, there were more bills filed on restoration of rights than any other general bill in the Legislature.

There were 21 filed. Not one of them got a hearing. Not one of them got brought up in committee. Nobody talked about them on the floor of the chambers. That’s a perfect example of an issue that clearly there’s an audience for, clearly there’s interest in, but it’s not getting any play. So I think it’s clear that the time has come when more and more Mississippians are interested in exploring the initiative process, and it’s still needed.

It’s still needed. For our part, we were very much involved in Medicaid expansion. That’s an issue that for us, the time is overdue. It’s a no brainer I think financially and in a host of ways for Mississippians. And so we were deep into that campaign. And as you both know, had launched a campaign, had put together a good coalition across ideological spectrums.

There were some conservative groups and progressive groups and folks in between, and were very much in the middle of hiring, starting to figure out what the signatures were going to look like. We had gone to court to make sure that the language on the ballot was going to be appropriate. And so we had very much an interest in it in the short term, but I think for the long term, you were going to see an increasing number of people using this.

I want to say, and I know Bobby I’m giving you a long-winded answer here, but it may be worth noting. I think I’ve heard some of the detractors of the process saying that, “Well, yeah, these Medicaid expansion folks want it. The marijuana  folks want it.” It’s important to note that in the history of the ballot initiative process in Mississippi, I think you could say pretty safely conservatives have been more successful using the process than anybody else.

I mean, the two that come to mind are eminent domain and voter ID, which were passed using this process. So I say that just to make the point. People might hear me and think, “Well, Southern Poverty Law Center, they’ve got a particular angle on this.” Well, actually this has been utilized by conservative groups historically in Mississippi to great effect.

Bobby Harrison: [00:03:41] Yeah. I mean, a lot of people would argue that the other side, the progressive side if you will, was just beginning to use a process when it was struck down. Maybe that was a coincidence, but that’s the way it appears to have happened. 

Brandon Jones: [00:03:52] You do wonder how long this lawsuit, this particular argument, was sitting in the back pocket.

Like I wonder if 42 had— I don’t know. It makes the mind—you wonder a little bit about why now? Why not before? But, you know, you all have observed this process as long as I have, we scratch our heads a lot of times at the timing of things.

Bobby Harrison: [00:04:14] But politics is a head-scratcher a lot of times. 

Geoff Pender: [00:04:17] Brandon just for a second.

Could you run through some of the top lines from your poll? What did it show? What is the feeling out there among the public? 

Brandon Jones: [00:04:26] Sure. You know, for us, one of the key things we wanted to figure out was with medical marijuana getting 73% on the November ballot our question was: Okay. We know people are angry.

We know folks are frustrated with the Supreme Court decision back in may. Are they mad because they wanted medical marijuana, which I think we all know now is an issue that is popular with a lot of Mississippians, regardless of what their political stripes are. So what we wanted to know is can we parse out the difference in people who are solely interested in an issue like medical marijuana with folks who are interested in the ballot initiative process itself?

So the top line number for me is 82% of the voters in the state want an initiative process. That is four out of five voters of a 600 voters sample that was tested, tested, and retested to make sure we had the right blend of respondents that looked like a Mississippi election, you know predominantly Republican.

But 82% of them said they wanted an initiative process. So once you establish that, you ask the question of, well, what comes next? Because what the Supreme Court has told us is the Legislature has to do something. So our next question that I think is worth noting for listeners:

Do you want the state Legislature to fix the initiative process? That came in just to touch beneath four out of five, 79%. I mean, statistically four out of five want it. So then, as you all have explored, well, what does that look like? How do you do it? Well, the Legislature only meets during the early months of the year.

If they were going to do something between now and January, it would require the governor to call a special session. So we asked that question: Do you want Governor Reeves to call a special session? And that was three out of four. Seventy-six percent said we would be in favor. And what we noticed was the difference between the big number total and Republicans.

Well,  it was just hardly any sunshine at all between those two. I mean it was the same pretty much regardless of your background within, I think the margin of error. 

Bobby Harrison: [00:06:32] Yeah, the pollster, and you maybe talk a little about the pollster, but he said that in today’s political environment, he’s seldom seen issues where Republicans and Democrats were in such lock step, that they agreed on the issue. And he said that was a surprising element of the poll for him. 

Brandon Jones: [00:06:48] A hundred percent. I mean, you all know better than perhaps anybody in the state that we’re at a divided time in our country. We’re at a particularly divided time in our state.

You can’t get folks to agree on virtually anything. So if you get 80% and it’s coming in from both sides of that. And I’ll just tell you to that point. The folks who I’ve had the most conversations with about  taking action at the Legislature are our movement conservatives in the Legislature who feel very strongly about the ballot initiative process.

Geoff Pender: [00:07:14] Your poll, another analysis type finding is our call was that I forget how you phrased it, but there is some political danger here to not heed this, the sentiment of the voters. I guess for the time being anyway, that would fall on the governor’s shoulders. As far as you know, people wanting him to call a session.

Brandon Jones: [00:07:32] Yeah. You know there’s the question of how do you get state leadership to do something that requires a little bit of movement on their part? Like, I mean— 

Geoff Pender: [00:07:44] It requires some leadership. 

Brandon Jones: [00:07:45] Yeah. I mean, it really is like the governor has to call a special session and then set the agenda and that takes some doing, and so you’re right, Geoff.

I mean, we wanted to test, so you like the initiative process, you believe that the governor should call a special session and those were overwhelming numbers. So we asked people: Well, what if the governor didn’t call a special session? How would that affect your opinion of the governor? And what we found was that, pretty overwhelmingly, 63% said that they would be more likely to vote for a state legislator if they called for a special session. And the numbers flip almost perfectly to how they would feel about the Legislature and those numbers are almost identical to what they said about Governor Reeves. So we’re talking about numbers above the sixties. And so, yeah, I mean, so what we learned was that overwhelmingly people said, “Well, if this doesn’t happen, it’s going to impact our opinion of not only the governor, but also of legislators, depending on how they handle it.

Which again, when you’re in the position of trying to persuade people in office to take action, that’s one of the key data points you can bring them is to say, “Well, not only do people care about this, they say they’re going to factor that into how they evaluate you as somebody they’d vote for.” 

Bobby Harrison: [00:09:03] Large majority of the electorate want it fixed, and they want it fixed now. 

Brandon Jones: [00:09:06] Yeah, that’s right. They want it fixed quickly. And you heard, you know, you all talked to Secretary Watson who went into detail about some of the folks he’s heard from on the medical marijuana issue in particular. There is a sense of urgency out there. And there was a sense too, for people who worked on that issue— we did not.

But for folks who advocated on that issue, once they started to put the pieces in place to build out that infrastructure and then they lost it, the impact of that and kind of having people prepared for that. So there is a sense of urgency that comes from that. But as we found here, there’s also a sense of urgency. Just, dadgummit. We want to be able to petition our government. 

Bobby Harrison: [00:09:41] Yeah. When I introduced you, one thing I didn’t mention is that you, I don’t think you do it anymore, but for a period of time, you were a television political analyst with your friend on the Republican side, Austin,Barbour. 

Brandon Jones: [00:09:52] Well it is deeply sad  to me, Bobby, but we still got the show. It’s just only on during the session. 

Bobby Harrison: [00:09:56] Oh, that’s right. Well, that’s right. But anyway, so I may be asking you to do some analysis right now in relation to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is an elected body, but, you know, I would venture to guess most people in the state can’t name the Supreme Court justices.

This has kind of brought them to the forefront. They run every six years. Is this the type of issue that could bring them some political consequences?  When you talked about it, when you released the poll, you referred to their ruling as they were ruling on a technicality.

So, are there political consequences for the justices? 

Brandon Jones: [00:10:32] Yeah. You know, courts have a history of taking antiquated law and kind of weird facts and making them work for the modern era. They do that all the time. And that was the anticipation here. So that’s why I called it a technicality. They hung on this thing that said you couldn’t have more than 20% out of one district, which became impossible under the current math.

Yeah, Bobby, we have all watched as our courts in Mississippi have become increasingly political and as an attorney and, you know, longtime trial lawyer in this state, I think that’s regrettable. I think that’s not a great thing that now we have Supreme Court justices who openly embrace parties and parties openly embrace them.

I couldn’t help but notice in a non-election year Justice Griffis will be speaking at the Neshoba County Fair. I suspect he won’t be talking about the civil rules of procedure. That’ll probably be a quasi political speech. I think that kind of thing is weird, but I think at some point it becomes a question of are you going to deal with the reality of this or not?

Let’s face it. Judges set up campaign committees. Those campaign committees raise money. And depending on which district you’re in, the judges lobby for support from the party, and parties have been happy to give it to them where it worked out. And the business community that funds our statewide elected offices and legislators, it doesn’t take a mathematician or a great accountant to draw a line between the same folks that give money to this guy over here, giving money to the Supreme Court justices. So. Look, I think—

Geoff Pender: [00:11:59] We’ve even seen party endorsements, governors’ endorsements.

Brandon Jones: [00:12:02] That’s right. Yeah. So that the temperature is going way up on all of that. Like nowadays, if somebody was just coming here as an observer that didn’t know anything about how we historically tried to keep that sort of independence, they would probably think, “Well, that looks like a pretty partisan race.”

Now let’s be fair here. Judges aren’t supposed to claim a party, so they don’t say, ” I’m running as a.” But I don’t know how far that really gets. I think that the true reality is it’s political. So to your question, Bobby, yes. I do think that this could have an impact on the way people look at judges, because what we’ve learned is that the same things can be used against any political candidate can be used against the judge.

For example, the 73% of people that just voted for medical marijuana. If the Legislature doesn’t get their act together and figure out a program, if the governor doesn’t call them back in, if somehow this thing doesn’t get delivered, folks are going to be angry. If somehow the Legislature doesn’t figure out the ballot initiative process, if the governor doesn’t call them back in for that, folks could be angry there and they could connect the dots.

 It wouldn’t take a great campaign wizard to connect the dots back to the Supreme Court and back to justices. I think that’s just the reality of it. The problem though, is you mentioned these justices don’t run but every six years and they run on a staggered basis. And so the next Supreme Court race by my account is I believe 2024, so it’s still a couple years out. And you know what we say in politics. Man, it’s a lifetime. I mean, so I think to your question, yes, we tested that a little bit. You know, we, we tested: How do you feel about the ballot initiative process being taken away? People overwhelmingly disapproved.

When we said, how do you feel about it being taken away by the Supreme Court? They even got more upset about that. So clearly you could use that, but you know, two years from now, there might be a dozen other things.  

Geoff Pender: [00:13:59] Brandon, let me ask you in both the case of the ballot initiative and medical marijuana initiative. If and when the Legislature were to take action, there’s already much talk and debate, and it’s highly likely that the action in either case would not mirror the past ballot initiative process we had, our Initiative 65. They would come up with totally different things. They’re talking about perhaps making the ballot initiative where voters cannot change the constitution, but only the state statute. Do you think there’s a political danger if the Legislature comes up with something too totally different of what voters had already approved?

Brandon Jones: [00:14:47] I don’t think there’s any question, Geoff, that, yeah, that would be true. That would be a difficult political posture for elected officials to take. I think we have all seen as our state has sort of solidified behind conservative leadership and sometimes what happens—and this isn’t new to Mississippi.

This happens at the federal level and at state levels and has gone on since time immemorial, but sometimes when one political party or one political piece of the puzzle gets such overwhelming power in a state, as we have in Mississippi, now they start to feel 10 feet tall and bulletproof, and I think they start to think, “Well, 73% is big, but if we just sit, give it back to them in some form or fashion, they’ll be fine with that cause we’re overwhelmingly popular.”  Well, it’s part of the reason you do polls to figure out how true is the narrative that’s running through their minds. And what we saw was,  you know, Governor Reeves is at a tough position. Like if these numbers are and we believe they are correct, 48% favorability to 46%, favorability, that’s not 10 feet tall and bulletproof. That means you can make a misstep that can cost you your job, even if it’s to another Republican or whoever the case may be. And I think similarly, the Legislature can get a little cocky. They can start to feel that they can do things that maybe the voters have already instructed them not to do. 

For the life of me, I don’t know why the Legislature and the leadership in the state wouldn’t when people coalesce around a policy issue, as clearly as they have this one, just sort of step back and let that be the thing. Injecting themselves into this issue in the way that they did last session and in the way that they appear poised to do this time, I think it’s perilous. I think it could be a problem. I mean 73%. It’s a big number. I mean, and if you come back with something that doesn’t resemble that and the people who put the sweat equity into getting that initial idea past the goal line and your idea doesn’t look like theirs, that’s trouble. But, you know, look. The group that’s in power now, the current leadership in the state of Mississippi, have defied the odds in terms of what you think might be harmful. And we have individual politicians who you say, well, they would seem vulnerable. And then when all the votes are cast are not.

And so, you know, I will say that I guess I understand why some folks doing this calculus sort of feel like they can ride this out, but I do think this is one of those moments where the interest is so high. It could be dangerous. 

Bobby Harrison: [00:17:14] I’m interested now. What are you referring to where they’ve kind of bucked the odds. Are you talking about— I mean, I guess you mean issues, positions they’ve taken that are not popular with the public. Are you referencing Medicaid expansion? 

Brandon Jones: [00:17:27] Yeah. I mean, I guess the one that’s just right on the tip of the tongue for me is Medicaid expansion because we’ve seen conservative state after conservative state find their way to Medicaid expansion, including Mike Pence’s state of Indiana. 

Bobby Harrison: [00:17:38] Are we seeing polls in Mississippi? 

Brandon Jones: [00:17:40] We’ve seen polls in Mississippi where it’s overwhelmingly, you know, something people are interested in. So I guess that’s the one that comes to mind, but I think if we dug deeper  and thought about it a little bit, we would remember times where, you know, the feeling and sentiment on the ground seemed pretty clear and the Legislature just kinda decided to do its own thing.

Geoff Pender: [00:17:58] Brandon, one more thing. This is kind of a broad question, more philosophical. You know, some people point out that with ballot initiative, there’s a danger to direct democracy. We have a representative democracy for a reason, so we don’t have mob rules. How do you juxtapose that with this, what appears to be a grassroots push to reinstate ballot initiative?  

Brandon Jones: [00:18:23] Yeah, I’m sensitive to that argument. I’ve heard it referred to as Barabbas’ Law before, and you want to be careful at how how much of that you get into. I think in Mississippi, it’s worth noting that we have the most restrictive ballot initiative process in the country.

So there are so many safeguards and, and some might say, “Well, one of them just worked. The Supreme Court knocked it down after it passed.” But you know, the process you have to go through to get the question certified and then to get it where you are in a position to start collecting signatures and then the harrowing signature process, whether you’re talking about four congressional districts or five is considerable in the cost and sweat equity that goes into that is considerable. And then you have to cross this threshold that is unlike any other electoral threshold we have in the state. So by the time you get to that, it’s been very challenging. I think Geoff, with those safeguards in place, people can have some confidence that you’re not getting something half cocked. Now we’re sitting in Mississippi, and we’re sitting in a state with a questionable pass on a race. We’re sitting in a place with a questionable past on a lot of public policy. We haven’t handled the poor in our state in a way that makes any sense at all.

And so I’m aware that there have been times when 73% of Mississippians could have voted for stuff that was horrible, and we just have to be honest about that. But I think the sentiment here is that there are moments when your government is simply not responsive and we give the government the opportunity in our current process to make a fix as the issue is coming at them. 

Don’t forget members of that Legislature could have adopted a medical marijuana solution before this ever hit the ballot in November. I think their math was Mississippi wasn’t ready to pass it. And then they were proved wrong to the tune of about 35% off their number. So I think that we have enough catches and enough ways to look at this that gives people in government an opportunity to self-correct. And look in the same way that I was mentioning a moment ago, sometimes you have a particular perspective that’s overwhelmingly in power. They might have a platform that by and large the people of the state like. You know, by and large we’re okay with this team. That’s our team. We like them, but it’s never been true that people have coalesced around an entire platform.

There might be a couple issues that they’re like, look, I’m not ready to vote for the other people on this yet, but I do care about that issue and I think this type of direct democracy offers that opportunity. I mean, clearly our leadership has been obstinate on some of these issues, but there’s an appetite for them.

And from a policy perspective, I, you know, I’m a policy guy. I think that gets us to a better spot. So, you know, I think there’s enough safeguards there, but I do hear that concern. And I do think that we’ve kind of factored that into our interesting process. 

Bobby Harrison: [00:21:21] Yeah. Another factor in Mississippi is having to be at Walmart in a parking lot in August gathering signatures. That’s hard. 

Brandon Jones: [00:21:29] That’s right. There’s nothing easy about this process. I think people you know, if you’ve never been a part of a signature gathering process, you ought to do it for at least a week just to see what it’s like. 

Bobby Harrison: [00:21:40] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think it says something that we’ve had it, we had it since ’92 and there’s been two that made it all the way through the process in that time period.

Brandon Jones: [00:21:47] That’s right. That’s right.  That was another thing that kind of had me scratching my head at the Supreme Court , those folks that were concerned about this. You know, again, I say this and this may be a weird way of saying it, but we don’t have ballot initiative culture. Nothing to be afraid of yet.

I mean, it’s still a hard, hard goal line to get across. 

Bobby Harrison: [00:22:02] I want to change directions for just a second. If you’ll indulge me, I mentioned that you were in the Legislature and I just want to go back to your election in 2007, when you were elected to the Legislature and it was a unique time in the state’s history and that was maybe  the last sort of old time speaker’s race.

You don’t have speaker’s races like this now with policy partisan politics, but Jeff Smith, he was a Democrat was running against the incumbent Speaker Bill McCoy. Smith would run in with the support of all the Republicans at the time. The Republicans were still a minority in the Mississippi House at that time.

And he was running with all their support and the support of conservative Democrats. And you were running in what was viewed in Jackson county as a very Republican seat, an open seat and just to make a long story short, you won that election and McCoy won the speakership by 62 to 60. So if you had not won that election— I don’t know. We may still be voting. It was a tie at 61.  So just what were your recollections of that time period?

Brandon Jones: [00:23:06] Well,  my first moments in elected office were some of the most interesting moments of my life. I mean,  it felt like forever that morning, because remember it wasn’t just one vote.

Bobby Harrison: [00:23:16] Right.

Brandon Jones: [00:23:16] But I think about the people involved in that race. You know, we lost Speaker McCoy last year who is one of the most significant legislative leaders of this state whether you’re talking about public education or the development of the highway program, And so we lost a titan of Mississippi politics, and I think just last week they dedicated a portion of highway to him.

That was certainly appropriate.  And look I’ll just tell you, I don’t think he would mind me sharing this. Jeff Smith and I stay in touch. You know, Jeff was lobbying me pretty hard to vote for him. And I certainly wasn’t a personal animus towards him that caused me to vote the other way.

We actually have talked about this very issue because I asked him what he thought his folks over in the Republican Party might do about the initiative issue. So we’ve maintained a friendship. I’ll tell you it’s heady, Bobby and Geoff, for a guy who you know, coming out of Hurricane Katrina grew up in Pascagoula, had not really thought about running for this and then decided to, to win an election so narrowly as I did. You know, my community was clearly equally divided on the question of me. So one of the first calls I get is from Governor Haley Barbour to ask me to vote for Jeff Smith. Yeah. And, and any of you who have heard Governor Barbour or studied him, know that you’re dealing with one of the wildest, smartest you know, most persuasive politicians in the world.

And I remember standing in my backyard having this conversation and I thought, “You know I’m not gonna beat this guy in a battle of wits over Mississippi politics. I’m going to say as little as I can and be as respectful as I can and move on along.” But voting for the speaker, Bobby, was not a hard decision for me.

I think Speaker McCoy was a person whose politics appealed to me, even though we could not have come from farther different parts of the state. I come from Southeast Mississippi. He’s from Northeast Mississippi. It’s about a seven and a half hour drive to get there, to get between those places. 

But this was a guy who believed deeply in addressing the actual emerging problems of the state. And that was something that really fueled his whole process. And  I saw that enacted many times after I got elected, but in the moment, talking to him, getting to know his passion, getting to know what his track record was in that body, it was just not a hard call. We were philosophically aligned, and  I was pleased to support them and really honored to try to be a part of leadership with him for four years. But the moments themselves were harrowing. People can appreciate what it’s like to have a close speaker’s race.

The vote count changed by the hour. There were a lot of frantic phone calls going along between people who’d been in the chamber for 20 years. As people know, we don’t have term limits in Mississippi. So some of these folks had been there for quite some time. My freshmen group, which was a big freshman class— I mean, people remember that class.

There were a lot of us. We apparently were not the easiest votes to count because some of those changed the morning of the election and the speaker’s race. It was tough. You know, now it’s this monolithic thing. Like the Republicans have such overwhelming control that they go into a room, somebody tells them who’s going to be the speaker, they let them yell into a pillow for a minute, and then they go out there and that’s who the speaker is. And you never know who thought anything about it. This thing was the street brawl. Yeah. I mean, this thing, there was no coercion of any kind of the kind we see today. I mean, there was certainly persuasion. There were certainly attempts at coercion, but this thing was a free for all.

And you had such uncertainty that, like I said, tied vote. I know it was at least once.

Bobby Harrison: [00:26:51]  Twice. 

Brandon Jones: [00:26:52] Yeah. So two tied votes and think about that. You, you just don’t have that type of political uncertainty. And so as a person who is newly elected, first time there, overwhelmingly Republican district voting for a Democratic speaker that my predecessor Republican Carmel Wells had voted for, but Republicans smelled blood in the water and they saw that they were about to have a chance to take over state leadership.

And they knew that the time was right to strike at leadership. And so there’s no question that the prevailing political winds in my district were to vote for Jeff Smith, who was perceived as the gateway drug to Republican leadership in the House. And so it was wild, and there were friends of mine who are still friends to this day.

I’ve used friends kind of in quotations who were up in the gallery from Jackson County that were yelling down, that were passing notes. But you know,  I think part of what really helped me, Bobby, was when, you know, winning is not assured. 

 Secretary Watson was on the show. He and I ran at the same time. He was running in the Senate. I was running in the House. Our districts were fairly well overlapping, except he went off into the county. I remember asking Michael while we were running, “How do you feel about this?” And he was a hundred percent sure. He was taking on a 20-year incumbent.

 Michael knew he was going to win. There was never any doubt. He asked me the same question. I said, “Who knows? I mean, I might have to really pull something out of a hat here to win it.”  I felt like I was sort of prepared for the uncertainty cause it was like, “I know that four years is probably the best I’m going to get. I’m going to have to swing away. I get this one opportunity. I’m going to use it.”  So if you’ll remember, as scary and weird as that whole thing was, I think I was one of the first speeches after the speaker’s race was settled because we had a rules fight right after that. 

Bobby Harrison: [00:28:47] That’s right. 

Brandon Jones: [00:28:47] And I was fighting against this committee. Now I’ll tell you I’m a lawyer by training, but I didn’t know a whole heck of a lot about the procedure of the House, but I knew I didn’t want to stand sentinel over my desk so that Mark Formby or Greg Snowden or Philip Gunn could call us into a committee at any moment. So I fought like crazy against that.

So it’s a wild time. I mean, it’s not that long ago, but it feels like different generations. 

Bobby Harrison: [00:29:10] And just a little backstory. You mentioned the freshmen class and some people change their votes along the way, but each side had packs where they were supporting candidates, who they thought would be loyal to their speakers candidate.

And if I remember correctly, there was some dispute about whether to waste money on you because they felt there was such a strong Republican district. Do I have that, right? 

Brandon Jones: [00:29:33] Yeah. You did. You do. You know, I was not one of the ones that got the most  assistance, but ultimately the decision to give me some was, I think in my understanding, came from the speaker. But even more significant than that, Bobby, and in the same vein you know, I was a member of the Mississippi Association for Justice, this lawyer’s group, and they decided not to put money in. And they put money in races everywhere.

And I remember having a long conversation with Meredith Cox at the convention. I was like, “Man, I’m a member. I’m on the Board of Governors. I’m a practicing lawyer. I’m in good standing. I do this work every day.” And he just said, “Look, Bubba, you can’t win. And Jerry Nash, doesn’t think you’d win either.” 

Bobby Harrison: [00:30:11] You know who thought you could win? Carmel, your predecessor.

I remember her being in the Capitol during that campaign. And she was not happy about it. She said, “He has a chance to win.”

Brandon Jones: [00:30:21] I don’t think she said that with any excitement. Yeah. Well look, as you both know these races in the Legislature, we have 122 of them across the state.

It’s not that incredibly big, and so shoe leather does matter. You can still win races. I know it’s a little bit more divided than maybe it’s ever been. And partisanship has a huge shadow over this stuff.  As I think about what it took to win, I think about walking through that district two and three times, and man, I’m glad to be sitting in an air conditioned space with you guys.

Bobby Harrison: [00:30:53] It was interesting to talk about this poll and about your unique history and state politics. Thanks for being here and have a good week. 

Brandon Jones: [00:31:00] Yeah. Thank you. 

Geoff Pender: [00:31:01] Thanks, Brandon.

Adam Ganucheau: [00:31:09]

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.

Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.