Mississippi Democratic Headquarters Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

The Democratic National Committee recently committed to send $250,000 to boost the Mississippi Democratic Party’s election efforts, including the gubernatorial campaign of Brandon Presley.

But after Tyree Irving, the chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party, fired off a nasty written tirade about a fellow state party official and insisted that he alone ran the state party, some fear the DNC will withdraw that commitment, according to several party leaders and emails shared with Mississippi Today.

Irving and state executive director Andre Wagner had a phone call Thursday morning with DNC staffers to discuss the $250,000 donation — a substantial amount from the national party intended to assist with political programs that could help statewide candidates, according to multiple people with knowledge of the call.

Later that morning, DNC senior advisor Libby Schneider followed up with both Irving and Wagner via email.

“Thank you for hopping on the call,” Schneider wrote to Irving and Wagner, copying two of her DNC colleagues. “Confirming that we are excited to make this historic investment in the state party to support Democrats up and down the ticket in 2023 and 2024 and look forward to working together.”

A few hours later on Thursday night, Irving replied to Schneider. Wagner, DNC attorney Andrea Levien and DNC Director of States Ramsey Reid were copied on the reply.

Irving wrote: “We thank the DNC for the financial investment in the Mississippi Democratic Party, but just to be clear, it is my understanding that it is the hope and desire of the DNC that the Mississippi Democratic Party will make an equal investment in the Brandon Presley campaign, although that is not a requirement for the investment that you are making.”

Several party officials who have since read that email told Mississippi Today that Irving’s email would have raised eyebrows — and perhaps even legal questions — following a routine phone call about general party investment. People with knowledge of the call said that there was no specific talk of sending that money to Presley, the Democrat challenging incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves this year.

So on Friday morning, Wagner replied to the email thread with Irving and the DNC officials in an apparent attempt to clear the air.

“Hey Team,” Wagner wrote. “I think the chair (Irving) misunderstood, we plan to use the funds in accordance with Mississippi law and will use the funds in support of electing Democrats up and down the ticket. And we also acknowledge that the DNC has not earmarked any funds for any particular candidate. Thank you.”

In reply to that email, Irving levied a nasty personal attack on Wagner and again copied the same DNC officials.

“Mr. Wagner, you do not speak for the chair, and you are out of order,” wrote Irving, a 77-year-old former Mississippi Court of Appeals judge. “I am an accomplished jurist. I know and understand things that you cannot know or understand because: you do not have the education level, you do not possess the personal or vicarious experience that I have, and you know nothing about the historical political landscape of Mississippi. You are not in a position to speak for the Mississippi Democratic Party or say how the Mississippi Democratic Party will spend any funds without being granted that authority to speak, and it has not been granted to you. You are a salaried employee and nothing else. You need to find your place and stay in it.”

Irving’s emails were not received well by the party officials. Less than an hour later on Friday afternoon, Wagner forwarded the email exchange to several executive leaders of the Mississippi Democratic Party along with a troubling prediction.

“Because of the Chair’s actions, the DNC will not be sending the money to support our candidates and the Presley campaign,” Wagner shared with the state party leaders on Friday afternoon.

Mississippi Democratic Party officials who have seen the email exchange and spoke with Mississippi Today said that they were not expecting the DNC to follow through on the commitment. The officials, including multiple members of the state party’s executive committee, declined to comment on the record.

DNC officials did not respond to requests for comment about the exchange and the national party commitment. Wagner declined to comment. Irving, when reached on Saturday, said he had not heard concerns about the DNC’s commitment.

“The DNC has confirmed to me via email that they are sending $250,000 to the Mississippi Democratic Party to elect candidates up and down the ballot,” Irving told Mississippi Today on Saturday. “Nobody from the DNC has informed me that they are reneging on that commitment. I have no knowledge that that is the case. I’m operating on the assumption that the DNC is sending the money.”

When asked to comment on the content of his emails or whether he worried they might spook national party officials, Irving replied: “No comment.”

The commitment of $250,000 to aid Democratic campaigns in Mississippi would be a boon to a state party that has long struggled to raise money, has been strapped for cash to pay for basic political operation, and has been plagued by administrative dysfunction for years. 

Presley, in particular, could use political or financial support. The Democratic candidate for governor has been heralded nationally as a candidate with a real chance to defeat incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves. But to win in November, Presley will have to overcome name ID problems across the state and Reeves’ monstrous campaign war chest: $9 million as of the latest campaign finance reports. The Presley campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Sources told Mississippi Today that the $250,000 donation would nearly double the state party’s current cash-on-hand in a critical election year, when all eight statewide offices and many of the state’s 174 legislative seats are up for grabs. The 2023 commitment would far surpass the DNC’s $140,000 investment to the state party in 2019, when Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood was challenging Reeves for the governorship.

Irving was elected chairman of the party in 2020 to serve a four-year term. As of Monday morning, he had not scheduled the next meeting of the state party’s executive committee.

READ MORE: ‘I got absolutely no help’: Dysfunction within the Mississippi Democratic Party leads to historic 2019 loss

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for AL.com, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.