In a rare and dramatic emergency meeting, the Mississippi Democratic Party’s 80-member executive committee voted Thursday night to remove its leader and appoint a new one in the middle of a major election year.
After attendees spent more than an hour screaming over one another, threatening lawsuits, and lobbing personal accusations about fellow party officials, 46 of the party’s 80 committee members voted to remove Chairman Tyree Irving following several days of public calls for his ouster.
A few minutes later, committee members voted to elect state Rep. Cheikh Taylor of Starkville as permanent chairman of the party.
The rare midterm removal and replacement of a major party boss comes in a key statewide election year as Democrats up and down the ballot are vying to wrangle any little bit of power back from Republicans, who have dominated every level of state politics this century. In election years, party leaders often guide political strategy and programming in addition to leading fundraising efforts.
Calls for Irving’s removal began on June 26 after Mississippi Today published Irving’s emails that included a nasty personal attack of the No. 2 leader of the state party. In response, some party officials said they feared Irving’s unprofessionalism could jeopardize a $250,000 donation from the national Democratic Party as they called for his removal.
Irving then announced on July 2 that he was resigning as chairman effective July 22. But dozens of executive committee members who had already been working for days to call an emergency meeting to remove him from office immediately moved forward with those plans, scheduling the special meeting for Thursday night.
The stated purpose of Thursday’s emergency meeting, according to documents shared with Mississippi Today, was to “address the long standing and repeated actions of malfeasance and misfeasance of the Chair of the Mississippi Democratic Party.”
But the drama Thursday commenced even before the 7 p.m. meeting began.
At 5 p.m., Irving emailed every executive committee member and rescinded his resignation. That move came after a couple days of backroom accusations and whispers that Thursday’s emergency meeting had been called improperly.
Still, the 7 p.m. emergency meeting went on as scheduled. The meeting, held virtually on Zoom, devolved immediately into chaos following an opening prayer. Even for the Mississippi Democratic Party’s typically crazed meeting standards, the drama on display Thursday evening was extreme.
One committee member, while votes were being counted, loudly exclaimed: “This is a shame, a charade, a joke.” Amid more than half an hour of screaming and unintelligible bickering among dozens of committee members at one time, one committee member’s comment came through clearly on the Zoom feed: “This (Irving’s ouster) is a lynching.” Another moment, as leaders were trying to determine who made a motion, someone piped up: “The devil made that motion.”
Several times during the meeting, Irving, a former Mississippi Court of Appeals judge, threatened to file lawsuits. At least once, he said he’d file a defamation lawsuit. Another time, he said he’d file a suit for “lack of due process.”
When asked to vote on whether or not to remove himself from office, Irving replied: “This meeting is illegal, and I won’t vote in an illegal meeting.” (He later clarified that he wanted to be marked down as voting “no.”)
After the 46 members of the committee voted to remove Irving from his seat, they then moved on to choosing his replacement.
Taylor, a second-term state representative from Starkville and executive director of a nonprofit that serves residents of the Golden Triangle, was nominated by several committee members to be their new chair. The only other nominee submitted was Irving, who minutes before had been removed from that exact role.
When asked by the committee’s secretary if he was voting for himself or Taylor, Irving replied: “My vote is to make you a defendant.” The secretary did not reply to Irving and continued moving down the roll and counting votes.
After he was elected chairman, Taylor took the floor to make some remarks. He first thanked Irving for his service: “It’s thankless work, and he served this party for three years.” Taylor then talked about his priorities as chairman.
“More than anything else, I’m a faithful and concerned Democrat,” Taylor told committee members. “I’m here to ensure that finances and resources flow to the state of Mississippi. This could be for us, as Mississippians, a very transformative time … I commit to all of you that we work well with laser focus on these important upcoming elections … I look forward to serving all of you.”
Taylor closed his remarks with a not-so-subtle reference to the events of the past few days.
“I commend all of you for taking the hard stances and doing this hard work,” he said. “Let’s always be sure we keep the party above individuality. If we can do that, we can go into the elections with our heads held high and spread resources around to support all our candidates.”