State Rep. Cheikh Taylor, D-Starkville, argues against legislation that would limit how race can be taught in schools and universities on March 3, 2022, in the House Chamber at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

State Rep. Cheikh Taylor has only been the chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party for a few days, but he’s planning to use his transition as the newly minted head of the organization to advocate for more resources into the cash-strapped organization.

The Mississippi Democratic Party’s executive committee, in a rare emergency meeting on July 6, chose Taylor, a 49-year-old House member who represents parts of Oktibbeha, Lowndes and Clay counties, to lead the state party in the middle of a pivotal election year.

Party leaders often help organize messaging, coordinate fundraising, and strategize campaign efforts. When lawmakers and statewide officials are on the ballot, the voice at the top of the system is crucial.

His term is only set to run through the end of next year, but the Golden Triangle resident believes his experience as a legislator and relationships with other Democratic officials will allow him to use his brief time to navigate party and state politics deftly. 

“I think this is just the right amount of time to move with laser focus to secure funding that helps candidates up and down the ballot running for state offices this year,” Taylor said in an interview on Friday. 

A lack of funding and resources are two of the most pressing issues that have hampered the state Democratic Party from growing its influence and presence in a Deep South state dominated in recent years by the Republican Party. 

The Democratic National Committee was in the middle of sending the state party a needed $250,000 donation when Tyree Irving, the former chairman of the party, sent national committee staffers an email filled with personal attacks of the state organization’s No. 2 leader over a discussion on how they should spend the money. 

After state leaders feared Irving’s comments could jeopardize the quarter-of-a-million-dollar contribution, a majority of the state party’s executive committee ultimately ousted the former Court of Appeals judge as its leader.

READ MOREEmails from Democratic party boss prompt calls for removal

Taylor said one of his first acts as the newly elected head of the party was to secure that $250,000 donation from the DNC to invest in voter turnout and races across the Democratic ticket. 

“We’re going to make sure that we have an action plan in place on how the money will be spent, an action plan on how we’re going to help these candidates and to make sure the DNC knows we have the mechanism in place to spend this money wisely and well,” Taylor said. 

The other matter the two-term lawmaker said he hopes to tackle during his term is sharpening the party’s message on issues like Medicaid expansion, K-12 public education and raising the minimum wage — a tool candidates on the campaign trail could utilize. 

Democratic candidates for years have expressed discontent about the lack of support they receive from the state party when running for office and have felt alone when organizing their campaigns.

But Taylor is the first lawmaker since Bobby Moak in 2020 to serve as chairman. He hopes this “boots on the ground” experience, as he calls it, can finally rehab a perception that the party is an out-of-touch fixture in state politics.

“We have to make sure candidates understand the party is there to help and that the party is not some stoic figure or unapproachable,” Taylor said. “The party is there as a friend.” 

But while he may want to extend a warm hand to candidates vying for public office, acrimony within the ranks of the executive committee or Irving himself could continue to be a thorn in the side of Taylor’s push for unity.

READ MORE: Mississippi Democrats vote to remove leader, appoint new one in wild emergency meeting

The new leader acknowledged that there would likely be more party drama as he tries to unite the 80 committee members around key issues and candidates. Still, he hopes his personal touch and listening ear could negate those problems. 

Several committee members passionately tried to keep Irving as leader of the party, potentially leaving bitter divisions in leadership. The former judge has also threatened to sue the party over his ouster, meaning more rancorous debate could continue. 

Still, Taylor praised his predecessor for leading the minority party in the conservative state, a role he’ll soon understand firsthand. 

“There’s going to be talks or distractions,” Taylor said. “But at the end of the day, anyone who serves in this capacity, their name should be held in high regard. These are thankless tasks.”

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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.