As is his tradition, House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, right, shakes the hand and says goodbye to each lawmaker, such as Rep. Shanda Yates, I-Jackson, at the conclusion of the legislative session at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Tuesday, April 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

After blowback from House Republicans, Speaker Philip Gunn and Speaker Pro Tem Jason White have backed out of hosting a fundraiser for former Democratic Rep. Shanda Yates, now an independent.

Gunn and White wrote a mea culpa to the House GOP caucus on Thursday. In their memo, they said, “We believe she is considering joining our party and hope she will,” and said they agreed to help with her fundraiser in an effort to get her to join the Republican Party. They said Yates has “voted with Republicans a large portion of the time, which got her kicked out of the Democratic Party.”

But Gunn and White participating in the fundraiser rankled many Republican House members, who said Yates still votes often with Democrats and is backed by some liberal groups. In their memo, the GOP House leaders acknowledged, “Shanda certainly has some liberal ideas and has cast some liberal votes.”

“In hindsight, as your elected Speaker and Pro Tem, we should not have agreed to host the reception unless she switched party affiliation,” Gunn and White wrote. “… because of the reservations expressed by us to many of you, we have informed Shanda that we will not be able to go forward with hosting or attending any reception for a candidate who is not the member of the Republican Party.”

READ MORE: Mississippi Democrats lost a promising up-and-comer in Rep. Shanda Yates. Now what?

Yates on Friday did not immediately respond to a request for comment and question of whether she is considering a switch to Republican.

Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, on social media on Thursday blasted Gunn and White for planning to host the fundraiser and wrote, “The world has turned upside down!”

“The Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Pro-Tem raising money for the most liberal members of the House,” Currie wrote. “She voted against pro-life abortion bills and the Fairness Act which keeps males out of female sports … The Speaker has informed lobbyist (sic) to send money to him and not legislators so we are able to run for re-election and he will decide how and who the money will be spent on. I guess this is his pick.”

Members of the Mississippi Freedom Caucus, which includes a small group of conservative House members, issued a press release Thursday calling on “Gunn and White to disavow liberal Shanda Yates.”

“Yates, who beat out a longtime Republican Bill Denny, ran under a far-left progressive platform,” the release said. “… During her time in the Legislature, Yates has authored bill to remove the prohibition on same-sex marriage, allow gay couples to adopt children, allow for early voting and online voter registration and several bills to expand Medicaid … This is certainly a new low for the Republican leadership in the Mississippi Legislature to help fundraise for a legislator that holds such extreme liberal views.”

The release also described White, seen as longtime Speaker Gunn’s heir apparent, as “former-Democrat turned Republican Speaker Pro Tem Jason White.” White was first elected to the House as a Democrat in 2011, but switched to Republican in late 2012 and has been a top lieutenant on Gunn’s GOP leadership team.

Yates of Jackson is in her first term representing the District 64 House seat, taking office in 2020. In January, Yates announced she was switching to independent because “members of my own caucus and party made it clear that I was not wanted within the Democratic Party.”


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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.