Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley talks about ethics reform in state government during a press conference, Tuesday, May 16, 2023, at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

The Mississippi Association of Educators endorsed Democrat Brandon Presley for governor on Monday over incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves.

The election between Reeves and Presley, the northern district public service commissioner, is drawing national attention, and the candidates are beginning to roll out their policy ideas to voters.

An April Mississippi Today/Siena College poll showed Reeves with an 11-point lead over Presley: 49% of respondents said they would vote for Reeves compared to Presley’s 38%. 

“As a proud product of public schools and the son of a preschool teacher, it’s an honor to earn the support of thousands of educators across this state,” Presley said. He continued, “Mississippi educators know that as governor, I will stand with them to fully fund public education so we can position our state towards the economy of the future.”

MAE President Erica Jones said the decision to endorse Presley was made after reviewing Reeves’ actions during his first term, leading the association to say the first-term governor is “absent as a leader and advocate for public schools.”

Jones elaborated that while Reeves signing the state’s largest teacher pay raise was “an important start,” her organization feels that Presley is the candidate who can step into the leadership role it feels Reeves has not embraced. 

“Governor Tate Reeves promised and then secured the largest pay raise for teachers in Mississippi history,” said Elliott Husbands, Reeves’s campaign manager. “If being a Democrat is more important to MAE than historically raising teacher pay, that’s a decision they are free to make.” 

In 2019, the organization endorsed Democratic candidate Jim Hood for governor, who ran against Reeves and ultimately lost.

This year’s endorsement from one of the state’s teacher unions and one of the largest education associations in Mississippi came alongside 49 others for state legislators. Pam Johnson, the association’s communications director, said the endorsements were based on candidates’ voting records on issues like the teacher pay raise, an extra $100 million for public schools allocated this session, community schools and advancing mental health resources.  

MAE contacted legislators based on their voting records for possible endorsement. The organization said they sent questionnaires to all the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, which Presley responded to and Reeves did not.  

When asked if any candidates had approached the association to discuss policy ideas or goals, Jones said several did throughout the legislative session and since it ended. George Stewart, the president of the local Jackson Association of Educators, also said he was contacted by the Presley campaign to discuss its education platform. 

“As an organization committed to improving education across Mississippi, we believe these candidates have the vision, leadership, and commitment necessary to create a better future for all of our students, educators and communities,” said Jones in a press release. “We urge voters to support them, and to become engaged in the upcoming election — our children and our future depend on it.”

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Julia, a Louisiana native, covers K-12 education. She previously served as an investigative intern with Mississippi Today helping cover the welfare scandal. She is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has also been published in The New York Times and the Clarion-Ledger.