Brandon Presley, the Democratic candidate for governor, talks about jobs and taxes during a news conference at Conkrete Sneaker Boutique in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, June 22, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

GRENADA — Brandon Presley, the lone Democratic candidate running for governor, declined on Thursday to weigh in on whether Tyree Irving should resign as chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party.

Presley will become the Democratic Party’s official nominee for governor in August, and, if elected to the highest office in the state, will become the de facto leader of that party. Still, the 45-year-old utilities regulator sought to distance himself from the intraparty bickering.

“We’re running our own race, which, frankly and truthfully, doesn’t give me time to divert attention to things that seem to be internal matters within the party or party matters and are not my campaign matters,” Presley told Mississippi Today after speaking to Burning Bush Missionary Baptist Church in Grenada. 

Emails published Monday showed that Irving sharply criticized Andre Wagner, the state party’s executive director and No. 2 leader of the party, in a note that was sent to three Democratic National Committee staffers. 

READ MOREDemocrats fear state leader’s tirade will jeopardize $250K commitment from national party

Shortly before Irving sent the email, the DNC officials had committed to sending the state party $250,000 to boost political programs and support candidates “up and down the ballot.”

Wagner had sought in an email to clarify Irving’s previous comments about how the state party should spend that $250,000 from the national party. Then Irving, a 77-year-old former Mississippi Court of Appeals judge who has been party chairman since 2020, insisted that he alone ran the state party and that Wagner was “out of order.”

“Mr. Wagner, you do not speak for the chair, and you are out of order,” Irving wrote. “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.”

Wagner, in response, forwarded the exchange to other state party leaders and predicted that the national party would pull its commitment to send the money to the state party. Several other Democratic Party officials told Mississippi Today they shared Wagner’s concern.

Since the back-and-forth between Wagner and Irving was brought to light, Shuwaski Young, the Democratic candidate running for secretary of state, has publicly called for Irving to resign as chairman of the party. 

Presley acknowledged to Mississippi Today that the state party could use the DNC’s money for voter engagement efforts, but said he would not attempt to influence the national party’s decision to invest the resources in the Magnolia State. 

“We’re running our own race, and we’re going to continue taking our message to Democrats, Republicans and independents that want to end the corrupt career of Tate Reeves,” Presley said. “And we’re not turning away support, but, obviously, this is a completely internal issue within the Democratic Party. And we don’t have time to focus on those issues.”

Irving was elected chairman of the party in 2020 to serve a four-year term.

READ MORE: Statewide candidate calls for ouster of Mississippi Democratic Party chairman

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Taylor, a native of Grenada, covers state government and statewide elections. He is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and Holmes Community College. Before joining Mississippi Today, Taylor reported on state and local government for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, where he received an award for his coverage of the federal government’s lawsuit against the state’s mental health system.